Cutting Tool Engineering
January 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 1

Liberating islands of manufacturing data

By Ping Fang, Wilcox Associates Inc.

Manufacturing equipment suppliers have produced a mind-boggling array of systems for capturing manufacturing data. Available measurement tools include hand gages, surface measurement tools, comparators, portable arms and coordinate measuring machines of all sizes equipped with a variety of sensors, vision and multisensor systems, on-machine gaging systems and laser trackers.

And modern measurement tools produce reliable digital results. That alone dramatically reduces the potential for human error. In addition, the variety of tools available helps end users devise cost-effective measurement solutions that efficiently collect the types of data they need to verify process integrity in various phases of manufacturing.

As a result, data is ubiquitous throughout manufacturing operations of all sizes. That’s good, because what has been measured can be evaluated, controlled and refined. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening as often as it should be because the vast majority of this data resides within or near the device that collected it.

As a result, the data is readily available only to the people collecting it. Sure, the data is available upon request. But how long will it take to receive? What format will it be delivered in? And if the delivered data format is not what’s needed, does the recipient have the nerve to ask the data “owner” to send it again in a different format? Probably not.

While frustrating and wasteful, this “islands of information” problem has been solved in other applications, from retail banking service delivery to consumer and commercial product order status tracking. Many of the hardware and software solutions are well understood, thoroughly tested and readily available. They don’t even cost much and manufacturers may have some of them in place already.

The following is a short list of the most important tools needed to liberate those islands of manufacturing data, enabling access for everyone who needs it. This resolves critical issues involving the dimensional integrity of machined parts.

1. A powerful, open database.

2. Networking infrastructure.

3. A software tool for accessing the data, culling information from it and distributing it in reports with concise, actionable information.

A parts manufacturer may already have such a database. It consists of hardware and software that may reside in an information technology, engineering or QC department. If not, the cost of a database is minuscule compared to some new CNC machine tools, for instance. Such a state-of-the-art database relies on fast microprocessors and a terabyte of memory storage to take in and dish out data almost instantaneously. One terabyte can accommodate a large enterprise for more than 1 year.

The networking infrastructure is probably also in place at most manufacturers. It could be a hardwired or Wi-Fi-based LAN, which can be extended to remote manufacturing and customer locations via the Internet or an intranet. Some tweaking may be required to resolve data access and security issues, but this is routinely done by businesses of all types. It’s not rocket science.

The final piece is a software tool that allows only authorized users to access the database, extract data and analyze it in various ways before making the extracted information available to anyone who needs it. Ideally, such software gives the user access to statistical analysis tools and the ability to overlay the most important information on graphic representations of the parts and part features in question for absolute clarity in communications. These tools have been available for some time, and integrated software with the requisite functionality is being introduced this year.

Will liberating islands of data be easy? Well, there is one more prerequisite to solving this problem: a piece of human software called “resolve.” Many companies are reluctant to address the human relations issues that inevitably arise when information is allowed to flow without restriction across departmental boundaries. However, the ones with resolve—the early adopters—will move ahead of their competitors to reap an enormous competitive advantage. CTE

Ping Fang.tif About the Author: Ping Fang is product manager of PC-DMIS Reporting for Wilcox Associates Inc., North Kingstown, R.I., a Hexagon Metrology company. For more information about the company’s software for integrating CAD, manufacturing and inspection operations into metrology systems, call (401) 886-2981, visit
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