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Is Custom Engineered Metrology Right For You?

CW Moran
By CW Moran Marketing Specialist, Metrology Division, The L.S. Starrett Company
A pneumatic vibration isolation system (shown) is designed to dampen out vibration coming from the floor, keeping the system isolated from ground-born vibration. (Provided by The L.S. Starrett Company)

Even with the wide range of standard metrology equipment available today, a customized vision system or digital comparator solution may provide an optimal setup for your application.

To help determine if a custom solution is required, a good place to start is by examining application requirements such as the parts volume and accuracy, travel, fixturing, unique optics or images needed, as well as any environmental considerations.

Volume of Parts
If an application calls for more than one metrology system to handle the volume of parts inspection, it may justify the extra engineering time and associated costs to develop a unique solution that will ultimately save costs. In some cases, one company may need 10 or more systems to handle the volume of parts’ inspection.

Accuracy and Resolution
Determine what geometry and dimensions need to be measured, and to what level of uncertainty. How repeatable does the system need to be and is it feasible with a standard or custom system?

Travel Considerations
Often a different sized travel stage, including for larger parts, may be needed than what is offered on a standard in-line system.

Precision Motion Platform
These platforms can be integrated with a metrology system or can be used on their own, depending on application requirements.

Fixturing Capabilities
If a part is long and/or heavy, custom fixturing may be needed to provide support at a midpoint or from both sides of the part to prevent it from flexing down or moving when being inspected.

Environmental Considerations
This can refer to both the physical environment and IT requirements, all of which may indicate a custom metrology solution. IT may require an air-gapped system with no connection (wired or wireless) to a network, or may need special security software. Physical environments can be equally challenging, including large temperature swings making it difficult to determine accuracy. Metrology systems can be customized to minimize the effects of temperature fluctuations, and they can also be manufactured to be isolated from large amounts of vibration in the facility.

Unique Optics or Imaging
When obtaining contrast on hard-to-identify edges, custom metrology solutions can include infrared cameras with red lighting or provide internal lighting of recessed areas. Also, a custom backlight capability can be added to clearly see blind features such as bore holes.

Determine the Optimal Source

Shown is a custom laser ablation system for semiconductor R&D. (Provided by The L.S. Starrett Company)

It is important to find an advanced metrology manufacturer or supplier that is willing to work one-on-one with you to design and manufacture custom tools for applications where standard products cannot meet unique measurement requirements.

Custom solutions typically fall under one of three approaches. First, the majority of projects involve the customization of standard products. This involves making changes to a standard metrology system including modifying the size, type and travel of the stage, optics, lighting, fixturing capabilities, environmental isolation and other characteristics.

Secondly, and also quite common, is building custom precision motion platforms to use as standalone stages or to be equipped on the metrology system.

Finally, full custom solutions are the rarest. This involves a full, from the ground up, design of a metrology system.

After the application requirements are determined, a metrology solution should be carefully reviewed from an engineering standpoint to determine if a standard in-line system will be viable or if a unique, custom solution is best. If it is the latter, its feasibility should be carefully evaluated. Is the metrology supplier confident they can deliver the solution and how much work will it take in terms of hours of development, production and delivery time, and cost?

If validation is a requirement, look again to standard in-line systems that might already have the needed accuracy and versatility. Also, your metrology supplier should try to anticipate the effects customization might have on other areas of the system. For example, changing the stage or extending the travel on a stage could potentially affect backlighting.

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