Friday, August 12, 2011

Why 3D Metrology Systems are like Cars

Those familiar with optical metrology systems are aware that there are "high-end" "mid-level," and "economy" price/performance choices. Many of them share common traits: portability, some statement of accuracy, some visibility in the marketplace, some sort of marketing statement, and a nice-looking package. They are the "general-purpose" products that, in general, make the 3D metrology world go 'round. They are also similar enough to each other that they often compete with each other into a common market, differentiated on levels of marginal performance, marginal price, or packaging. They are, in effect, the "passenger cars" of the 3D metrology industry. They help the masses of people get from point A to point B using well-established workflows, business models, and sales channels.

HOWEVER, there is a category of 3D metrology systems that don't look at all like the mass-marketed systems. They are the "trucks, race cars, amphibious vehicles, tractors, go-carts, motorcycles, busses, and off-roaders." They are purpose-built, high-performance, highly-customized, and highly-effective at performing under the conditions they are designed for. This is where we prefer to focus our efforts.

This customized, focused effort relies on hand-picked or custom-engineered hardware, and custom-engineered software, algorithms, and Graphical User Interfaces. Each of our products may have 1 to a few dozen customers -- not the 1000s that most 3D metrology companies expect.

For example, a 3D scanner with a 20-foot field of view? No sweat. 100-foot field of view? No problem. Measuring a shiny part? No biggie. Measuring the head of a pin? Not an issue. 30-second cycle time for 100% inspection of parts with hundreds of dimensions? Can do. Crack propogation? Yes. Razor-thin blades? Of course.

Of course, don't expect these highly-specialized products to look anything like what you might find at a trade show. Some of our 3D measurement devices are drilled into concrete and weight 6,000 lbs., filled with sand. Some of them are bolted onto factory structural beams. Some of them sit inside robotic enclosures. They do not look at all like what you expect from a "passenger car" 3D scanner. Many of them are ugly to look at (and therefore beautiful). Many of them are industrial (and therefore functional). Many of them are immovable (and therefore accurate/stable). And, some of them look exactly like a 3D scanner you are used to, but the software is worlds apart.

From a software perspective, some of them don't have a Graphical User Interface -- they are run from a command line, and then close down when the measurements are finished. Some of the GUIs have only one button (Start). Some of the GUIs are exceedingly sophisticated, but designed for an exact task or workflow.

The algorithms, too, are customized. They are set up to find the exact features they are programmed for, and therefore optimal. The 3D reconstruction is designed to output ONLY the 3D data required for that task, and nothing else. The reporting is tied in to each customer's site-specific database.

Large deployments of software/hardware are managed from a central database, and multi-site installations of new software updates take place on all workstations from a centralized location. The software works within each customer's Information Technology security environments.

Some customers need passenger cars, while some customers need something very different. We exist to serve those that need something different. Every system installed is GUARANTEED to work in each customer's environment for its intended task. This means cycle time, accuracy, ease of use, and budget.

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