Camera-based machine tool measurement systems

While in the headline above we use the term “machine tool” in a general sense, accuracy (as we’ll discover!) matters in this subject so it’s worth reminding ourselves that these tools come in a variety of guises, each suited to a specific manufacturing technique. The techniques include shaping, cutting, drilling, grinding and others, all of them required to manipulate a material in a specific way to make a finished product (or part). Though different to one another, in common to all the tools is the importance of measurement and machine tool measurement systems. In this blog, we’ll discover why.

To set the stage, it’s worth briefly being a little more specific about what’s being measured – the tools themselves. The most common include:

  • CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines, which are essentially versions of the above automated and controlled by computers. Examples are CNC milling machines, CNC lathes, CNC routers, and others.
  • Turning machines and lathes, which rotate a workpiece on its axis as the basis for subsequently performing a variety of functions including cutting, drilling, facing, and turning.
  • Milling machines, which deploy rotary cutters to remove material from a workpiece in a controlled way. This allows them to create complex shapes and features.
  • Drilling machines, which make holes of varying sizes and complexity in materials using rotating drill bits.
  • Grinding machines, which use abrasive wheels to remove material from a workpiece’s surface to deliver high precision and surface finishes.
  • Boring machines, which enlarge existing holes or create new ones with a single point cutting tool. They are used to work on large parts that require high accuracy, for instance engine blocks and cylinders.
  • Cutting machines, which cut materials into specific shapes or sizes and include shearing machines, laser cutters, water jet cutters, and plasma cutters.

There are others, too. For example, press machines use force to deform, shape, or cut materials. EDM machines use electrical discharges to remove material from a workpiece. Turning Centers combine the capabilities of a lathe and a machining center, allowing for turning, milling, and drilling operations in a single setup.

As we noted, the important point to keep in mind is that common to all is the requirement for accuracy, and that where’s machine tool measurement systems come into the picture.

Why is it important to measure machine tools accurately?

There are several reasons why the accurate measurement of machine tools is vital. Let’s look at five leading of the leading ones.

  1. To be usable, the parts manufactured by machine tools must meet required specifications. Particularly in industries like aerospace, automotive, and medical devices, there is no margin for error and precision is paramount. If the machine tools themselves are inaccurate, the parts they produce will be too.
  • The raw materials from which parts are made are often expensive, and time and waste in manufacturing is money. Accurate machine tools reduce the chances of producing defective parts, so they minimize material waste and reduce re-work. This leads to cost savings in both materials and labor.
  • Many industries (for example those noted in point 1, above) have regulatory standards and certifications that require precise measurements to ensure compliance. Meetings standards isn’t optional; it’s often necessary for legal and contractual reasons.
  • When regularly measured and calibrated, machine tools can perform at peak levels, increasing their efficiency and prolonging their lifespans, reducing the cost of replacement.
  • Of course, the consistent production of accurate parts enhances customer satisfaction because products meet or exceed their expectations.

Again, there are other reasons. One other example is safety, which can never be taken for granted. Inaccurate machine tools can pose safety risks to operators and workers and precisely measuring them can help to identify potential issues before they cause accidents. In summary though, it should be very clear that machine tool measurement systems have an important role to play in the manufacturing process.

A common error for turning machine operators is to insert the tools with the wrong orientation. The CU2 Tool – Turning measurement system from Conoptica can detect this, and prevent potentially dangerous situations, in which the operator is guiding the tools into the workpiece with a misaligned tool.

What are the consequences of inaccurately measured machine tools?

The other side of the coin, then: what happens if you ignore or underestimate the importance of investing in machine tool measurement systems? Several consequences are possible, none of them good.

For one, the obvious risk of product defects – parts that do not meet their required specifications. If this happens, consequences can include product recalls, rework, and sometimes customer retention and satisfaction issues if the defects are not caught before delivery. At the same time, there’s increased production of scrap and rework which leads to additional material and labor costs. There’s also potentially the added cost of diagnosing and repairing the underlying issues that led to the inaccuracy, and this can be significant.

As well, we’ve already mentioned the safety risks of using inaccurate machine tools. In industries like aerospace or automotive, faulty parts could lead to accidents or malfunctions. These, in turn, could result in loss or reputation (sometimes even loss of life), negatively impacting a company’s reputation for quality and reliability which can result in a loss of customers, contracts, and market share. The knock-on effect here is reduced competitiveness. Companies that consistently struggle with accuracy issues in their manufacturing processes often end up at a competitive disadvantage compared to rivals who can reliably produce high-quality products.

And, of course, there’s always the most obvious consequence of inaccuracy of all; downtime and production delays. If machine tools are making inaccurate parts, time will be required for diagnosis, calibration, and repair. This usually means stopping production lines, disrupting schedules, and delaying deliveries.

The bottom line? investing in accurate measurement systems and regular calibration offsets almost all of the issues above. It’s essential for maintaining quality and competitiveness in modern manufacturing environments.

Machine tools and measurement systems

In industry, then, we can confidently say that with machine tools, measurement accuracy is critical to assuring performance. Margins for error are limited (if they exist at all) even though achieving accurate outcomes isn’t straightforward.

One reason for the latter is that manufacturing environments often work against accuracy; many industrial parts are built in harsh surroundings where the presence of oils and coolants are common, often coating everything in sight, metal chips removed from workpieces fly about, and machine tools are exposed to a high degree of continuous stress. All this means accuracy isn’t easy to achieve, let alone sustain.

The above makes the deployment of machine tool measurement systems even more critical, and a key feature of successful manufacturing processes. So, let’s consider one practical example of such a solution that backs up that assertion: in this case a camera-based machine tool measurement system.

Made for measuring tools in a demanding environment, effective deployment of such a system will improve manufacturing outcomes. While any measurement system can make a difference, camera-based systems are particularly effective in highly demanding manufacturing environments because unlike others, camera-based technology can be effective even when the tools are dirty – provided you can create a reference measurement of the tools themselves.

Deploying and continuously using measurement tools such as a camera-based system will be an investment that helps the manufacturer maximize its return. There are no shortcuts to accuracy, and a lot of parameters to consider if you want to achieve it. If you’d like to discuss these with us directly, please get in touch.

About Conoptica

Conoptica has been providing high tech camera-based measurement solutions for the metal working industry since the 1993. We make sure that the metal working industry has access to key quantitative data about their products and tools. Conoptica is the market leader for measurement equipment in the wire & cable industry.