Software standardisation makes inspection easy

The metrology industry has seen incredible changes over recent years, both in terms of the supplier base and the types of measuring technology on offer.


There was a time when the metrology tool of choice was the traditional granite-based CMM, and for many organisations that is still the case. However, there are now many other types of disruptive technologies available, such as white-light scanning, red and blue lasers, portable arms, laser trackers, photogrammetry, … the list goes on, all making claims to be the ‘new standard’ in metrology.

The rise of these new technologies has seen suppliers focus their attention on the hardware devices, with everyone talking about speed, accuracy and portability. However, the one thing that makes all of these devices work and produce measurement results is the inspection software. The problem is that every manufacturer seems to have created their own software that works with only their own products – in some cases, one manufacturer may have to offer several completely different software packages depending on what type of technology they try to sell you. By accepting a hardware manufacturer’s own software, users are immediately limited to what that brand can offer in the future.

<An independent software solution>

The latest Metrolog X4 software from Metrologic Group is designed to provide metrology professionals with a cohesive, single software platform that works with any type of measuring device technology. Metrologic Group has for many years been the leading developer of device independent software, such that users only have to learn one software solution irrespective of the measuring system that is being used, the complexity of the measuring application, or the type of data that will be utilised.

The company was founded in the 1980s, providing electronic counter boxes for basic 3-axis layout machines. This led to the development of the World’s first ever truly Windows-based measuring software. Equipment suppliers at the time, in particular CMM manufacturers, completely overlooked Metrologic stating that Windows software would never work. However, several major automotive companies quickly recognised the advantage of having one standardised software on every CMM, and Metrologic Group grew quickly while the CMM manufacturers soon realised the error of their ways.

Metrologic Group is now the World’s largest independent metrology software company, with over 20,000 users worldwide and sales in excess of €40million. All R&D is aimed at developing software solutions, unlike the hardware suppliers who must develop measuring devices first and foremost, and then try to keep up in terms of software. Metrologic Group has always maintained a position of being completely independent of hardware brands, enabling users to choose the right tool for the job rather than be limited in choice, as they know that whatever device they wish to use will work with Metrolog X4. The software boasts direct interfaces to just about every 3D measuring device possible, so users can easily switch between measuring technologies or introduce new measuring technologies in the future without having to completely re-learn new software every week. Most of the automotive and aerospace industry’s major manufacturers now use Metrologic software, many on a worldwide basis. It is therefore no surprise that measuring device manufacturers are keen to ensure that their devices work seamlessly with Metrolog software due to customer demand, often before the device is released onto the market. Many even offer Metrolog X4 in preference to their own software, as users are not prepared to be tied to the limitations of having to use one brand of measuring system, or worse still multiple software platforms.

<What is Metrolog X4>

Metrolog X4 is to the measurement and metrology industry what Google is to internet browsing. Users want one software that is able to deal with any application, provide results in a format that is easy to understand, and to do it all without any fuss and bother. The latest Metrolog X4 software provides users with a fully customisable user interface that is able to work with any type of measuring device. The legacy of Metrolog as CMM software is unrivalled, having started out as CMM software over 30 years ago. Other software systems having come and gone, but Metrolog X4 is still the only software that is able to interface directly to almost every CNC or manual CMM controller that is still in use today. Even old or obsolete machines that are no longer supported by the original manufacturer are still able to work with the software.

This CMM heritage has been carried over to fully utilise the new measuring technologies that are available today. Metrolog X4 treats all measuring devices as XYZ data point collectors, so irrespective of whether it is a traditional touch probe CMM taking 10 points per minute or a 3D scanner taking 500,000 points per second, the software works in exactly the same way. The user can choose between three typical modes of operation - manual measurement for one-off inspection activities, semi-automated repeat measurement of a selection or group of features, or fully automated measurement cycles with user guidance. In all cases, a familiar user interface means the user always feels ‘at home’, whatever the complexity of the application or measuring data capture technology being utilised.

The software is completely modular, with several standard packages available according to the data capture device to be used and the type and complexity of measurement application to be undertaken. With several hundred direct device interface combinations available, users can create a solution that precisely meets their needs, irrespective of what measuring device they currently have or may require in the future. Even in its standard package formats, Metrolog X4 is still a highly advanced measuring software, as device specific options are automatically included – for example, if the software is to be used with a laser tracker, the common large scale metrology tools are automatically configured e.g. build/inspect for jig and tool adjustment. In addition, a range of application specific modules can be included to adapt the software configuration to specific needs. Some examples of these modules include Advanced Reporting & Data Export, Advanced GD&T Analysis, Blade Measurement for aerospace applications, Twin or Multi-Device connections, High Level Programming, CMM simulation, i-Remote control using hand-held devices (iPad, smartphone, etc.), and so on.

<Built for the future>

Fully compatible with Windows7 and Windows10, both in 32 and 64-bit guises, Metrolog X4 is designed to make full use of the latest Microsoft Windows operating system and computer hardware architectures. Full use of multi-processing means the toughest of tasks are handled with ease. For example, huge CAD files and data point clouds can be easily loaded and manipulated within the software, thanks mainly to the use of intelligent processor and memory management, and utilisation of the industry standard OpenGL graphics engine. This ensures that Metrolog X4 provides users with a serious, long-term software solution that is able to meet their needs for many years into the future, and not just a quick fix based on the latest widgets.

However, Metrologic Group doesn’t simply develop software in response to the hardware manufacturer’s product developments. For many years, the company has developed software that has predicted and often defined the future of measurement. Back in the early days, CMM’s were predominantly used to measure prismatic or geometric features, replacing the old-fashioned methods of first-principle measurement. However, at that time Metrologic focused their attention on measurement of free-form surfaces (such as car body applications) with direct comparison to 3D CAD data, something that had never been seen or even imagined before. Many of the features you see in most measuring software today, such as colour maps, graphical results with result labels or stickers, and customisable report layouts, all originated from that early Metrologic software. They were also one of the first companies to successfully combine laser scanning heads onto CNC CMMs, when even the scanning device manufacturers focused only on portable measuring arms.

A more recent development has been Metrolog X4 i-Robot, a software solution that turns any make of industrial robot into a fully programmable CMM solution. First introduced almost five years ago, at the international Control Show in Germany, Metrologic were able to show how it is possible to program an industrial robot directly from within a traditional metrology software package, without the need for specialist PLC programming. Most people at the time couldn’t see the need for such a solution – compare that to the most recent Control Show, where almost every measuring device manufacturer had a robot on display, the vast majority of them using Metrolog X4 i-Robot software. In much the same way, they have always treated CMM’s, the philosophy of Metrologic Group software towards robot inspection is still the same – one software that directly connects and controls any make of robot, with any make of measuring device attached, all in a seamless solution that is familiar to every user.

<Advantage Metrolog X4>

When a customer standardises all measuring devices and applications based on a single software platform, the initial cost of doing so is soon recouped through the many advantages provided. Of course, there is always an initial cost involved, which can sometimes seem to be a heavy price to pay at first glance. However, compare that to the cost of having to replace software on a regular basis and constantly re-train engineers in different software platforms, in addition to the fact that users will never become experts if they have to maintain their knowledge of several different software. The flexibility of Metrolog X4 knows no boundaries, so users must consider that they are investing in not just a solution for today, but in a long-term solution that will be with them for many years to come.

This is best summed up by Iain Caville, managing director of Measurement Solutions, the UK sales and support partner for Metrologic Group since 1998.

“Having been personally involved in the metrology sector for almost 30 years, I have seen many companies, technologies and concepts burst onto the scene only to disappear just as quickly,” he states. “Metrologic Group have been at the forefront of metrology software for over 30 years, and today their software is still used every day by the world’s leading manufacturing organisations to solve complex measurement problems. I know of many companies that have gone through the pain of having to change software several times in recent years due to lack of software development or product support – that can’t be efficient or cost-effective for the user.”

The use of Metrolog X4 also provides many hidden benefits that may not be immediately apparent. A good example is the ease with which new measuring technologies can be introduced into an organisation. Generally, to achieve this requires extensive operator training in new software, and painful data exchanges to achieve meaningful results as there is very often no compatibility between two products from different suppliers (or in some cases from the same supplier). With Metrolog X4, existing users will only require minimal training in the measuring hardware itself, so payback on the equipment is achieved much sooner. In addition, devices from different manufacturers can be easily combined due to the one common software. This also means users are not trapped into using one hardware brand due to software restrictions, but have the flexibility to choose the right hardware, at the right price, for the requirements in hand. Add to this the fact that Metrologic Group regularly update the software to maintain compatibility with the latest CAD data formats and operating systems, and users are assured of a solution with which they can grow in the future, irrespective of the user’s needs, the complexity of the application, and the technology available on the market.

For anybody that is considering measuring software or is not satisfied with the development or support for their current software, Measurement Solutions are able to visit users and very quickly connect a laptop PC to just about any device for a live demo using the customer’s own measuring equipment.

“The look of disbelief from users when we visit them and have their equipment measuring using Metrolog X4 within a few minutes of arriving on site is great to see,” comments Caville. “This is most noticeable on CNC CMM’s or robot-based systems, where we can quickly and confidently take full control of the measuring system under one software, with no “ifs or buts” – it just works, every time.”



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