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Metrology: Automation’s Unsung Hero

As manufacturers lean more and more into automation, the only way to measure the success of their efforts is with … measurement. Investments in metrology, like other forms of automation, contribute to the overall efficiency ...
Feb 20, 2023

When contemplating automation, it is easy to envision a robot moving material from point A to point B, parts coming out of a machine and being ferried by conveyors to the next step, or pallet changers reloading fresh stock back into a machine. In this same vein, automation, as a piece of equipment that increases efficiency of a manufacturing process or improves the quality of the final product, may include inspection equipment, also called metrology, which offers a compelling return on investment. Inspection equipment can introduce efficiencies through nearly the entire manufacturing process, from determining if a cutting tool is ready for use, to determining the position of the stock in the machine, to measuring if the final part falls within the desired specifications.

Utilizing the U.S. Manufacturing Technology Order (USMTO) data published by AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, this article will explore the trends in metrology orders over the past several years. The USMTO data released the second Monday of each month contains data on orders of metal-cutting and metal-forming equipment; however, participants in the survey also have access to data on “Other Manufacturing Technology,” which contains products such as robotics, additive, filtration, and cleaning equipment, as well as metrology.

Recent Trends in Metrology

Beginning around 2012, demand for inspection equipment began to grow, and orders increased significantly. In 2015 and 2016 there was a general decline in orders for manufacturing technology; however, the robust demand for metrology remained through the general decline. The annual growth in orders for inspection equipment outperformed the general market until 2021, when machinery orders experienced astronomical growth. While orders have generally been steady over the last several years, there has been some significant turnover in which industries are making investments in additional measuring equipment.

As with other forms of automation, one early adopter of industrial metrology was the automotive sector. However, since 2014, their total spending had been steadily declining. Unsurprisingly, the aerospace sector steadily increased orders for metrology over that same time, peaking in 2018 but maintaining an elevated pace since. While job shops generally account for the largest share of manufacturing technology orders, they are not usually the largest purchasers of inspection equipment – the major exception being 2021, when orders from job shops increased dramatically.

Measuring Success

As manufacturers lean more and more into automation, the only way to measure the success of their efforts is with … measurement. Investments in metrology, like other forms of automation, contribute to the overall efficiency of the manufacturing operation as well as ensuring the overall quality of the finished product. Some industries have been making investments in metrology for the past several years, and others are just beginning to increase their orders. In reviewing orders across the industries tracked in the USMTO data, it is clear there is opportunity for the deployment of additional technology in industries that have yet to invest. 

If you have any questions about this information, please contact Chris at cchidzik@AMTonline.org.

Christopher Chidzik
Principal Economist
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