Embracing Engineering

Investing in systemization is not just for large or dedicated manufacturers. Trends a metrology company is seeing apply to manufacturing in general as well.


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As customers for machined parts demand ever-tighter tolerances, that move eventually crosses a line where the shop needs some capability it did not need before. Perhaps surface finish might once have been taken for granted, but now needs to be measured to ensure that the contribution of roughness isn’t enough to break tolerance. In such a case, Jenoptik might get a call. 

I recently visited this metrology technology company’s facility in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Surface measuring devices (some users call them “rah” meters, pronouncing Ra like a word) are among the company’s products. These devices can be ordered by phone. That’s one way the company sells them. But Jenoptik also has engineering staff and manufacturing resources devoted to providing the equipment in a different way: as part of custom systems designed to assure that particular parts are measured effectively.

Surface measurement merits this kind of support, because finish has to be measured consistently (always the same angle with respect to machining lines, for example) for the results to have meaning. Jenoptik VP Andreas Blind showed me one system the company was building for a customer. Various jigs were created to properly orient gage and workpiece for various part numbers, with a monitor providing illustrated setup and measurement instructions for different parts. Thus, the same gage that could have been bought off the shelf now sat at the heart of a system made far more valuable through custom engineering. 

And in this added value, I think I see something significant about where shops’ relationships with their technology providers are heading.

Tighter precision is not the only trend. Another is tighter lead time. Yet another is increased reliance on employees who lack credentialed skills. As a result of these trends, not only is inspection becoming more demanding, but it is also moving closer to machining (for the sake of speed) while increasingly being done by non-machinists. Meanwhile—most significantly—inspection is just on the leading edge of these trends. In any process, likely there are also various other points at which the need for increased speed or sophistication is being faced by a declining number of people able to address those challenges using their own professional knowledge and experience. 

Automation is part of the answer. But automation is part of a larger class of solutions. The larger idea is this: In manufacturing, there will be a growing place for technology suppliers able to not just ship a machine or device, but also to step into a shop’s process to create a custom system. That is, a system so that the machine or device does just what it must for the shop’s process, without the operator having to make skilled or subtle choices.

Indeed, the time to step into that future might be right now. Is there a point of high difficulty or complexity in one of your shop’s processes? 

If so, then what freedom could you find by investing with one of your current suppliers to obtain a customized, methodical system for reliably carrying out that step?