2014 Measurement & Inspection Outlook
As metrology becomes more sophisticated, shops continually try to measure things faster, do more things on the production floor and less in the lab. This need for speed is increasing opportunities for optical measurement technology across a broad spectrum of market sectors and applications.
Business has been stable and increasing throughout 2013. A key indicator for this is the typical year-end rush of capital goods orders — larger metrology systems ranging in cost from $50,000 to $250,000 or so.
When the economy is reasonably good there is typically a surge in these orders, with everyone trying to “spend it or lose it.” When it’s not so good, or bad, people aren’t allowed to spend these capital funds at year-end. Everything is put on hold or frozen. This year has seen a strong surge, so that’s a good sign.
Smaller dollar, more commodity-type items haven’t had this big boom at the end of the year, but they, too, have been stable and steadily increasing throughout the year. Also, activity has been pretty much market wide, with spending in automotive, aerospace, small job shops, medical: a broad spectrum of market sectors and applications.
I don’t see any major new trends, but a couple of long-term trends have been driving our business for a number of years. One of these is that people are continually trying to measure things faster: they want to do more things in production and less in the lab. This has increased opportunities for optical measurement, which can often be faster than tactile measurement.
The industry is responding with the introduction of new products, such as optical shaft measuring for turned parts using a matrix camera, white light interferometer and confocal systems, and other applications. OEMs are investing in and devoting more resources that provide continued optics research and development and support for these systems.
The second part of this ongoing trend is that while metrology is generally becoming faster and more sophisticated, and more and more important to manufacturing processes in general, manufacturers today typically have fewer in-house experts to apply the technology. Our industry faces a growing skills gap and a growing need for applications expertise.
To fill that need, innovative OEMs are becoming the application expert for their customers. Some companies may have thick catalogs and can sell a shop something, but if that shop doesn’t have the expertise to know what they actually need, or how to customize it, they are not really gaining.
If that shop doesn’t know how to program a system to measure their parts, or doesn’t know how to do the data analysis necessary to understand what they need to know about their parts, a sophisticated metrology system doesn’t do much good.
Because these creative OEMs know how to do that, they are now implementing more and more metrology systems on the shop floor, and doing more and more integration with production systems. Beyond just selling a machine, they help their customers understand the actual application the machine is used for, and do whatever configuration and customization is necessary to make that machine the ideal solution for their application.