In 1980 a young French engineer called Philippe Cimadomo formed a small electrical engineering company in Grenoble dedicated to improving efficiency in Quality Control – Metrologic Group was born.
With the arrival of desktop computing and Windows operating systems in the early eighties, the company introduced the first ever Windows based 3D measuring software, known as Metrolog. Little could they have known at that moment in time the impact this innovation would have on the 3D inspection market. The company now has an annual turnover of around £40million with offices and resellers located throughout the World, and thousands of licences of the latest Metrolog X4 software in daily use throughout all major manufacturing industries. In 2018, Metrologic Group was acquired by Sandvik Group for over £300million, a record acquisition within the metrology sector, bearing in mind that Metrologic Group is predominantly a software company.
In recent years, there has been a market perception that Metrolog X4 software is expensive to buy and maintain, and in some respects this is true as several cheaper software solutions exist. This is particularly the case for those offered directly by the measuring device manufacturers, even though they do not offer the vast array of functionalities and flexibility of Metrolog X4. For example, no other software can interface directly to CNC CMM’s (even those deemed obsolete by the OEM), portable measuring devices, laser trackers, scanning systems and industrial robot cells like Metrolog X4 – all other software solutions either demand specific interface requirements, specific hardware configurations or upgrades, or in most cases the software simply can’t do it. Nevertheless, for smaller organisations with limited measuring capability, such flexibility isn’t necessarily required, and “make do” software has become the norm, often due to cost.
Following the recent acquisition by Sandvik, Metrologic Group aim to dispel this perception with the introduction of completely new licensing models. In its simplest form, there are now only 2 versions of Metrolog X4 software available – Essential and Expert. The only difference between the two versions is that with X4 Expert the user can deal with highly complex measurement requirements by the availability of advanced programming commands such as using variables, high level language, conditional statements, etc. … in essence, those functions only required on the most extreme of CMM programming needs. For most cases, X4 Essential will cover all bases as it includes as standard a complete GD&T engine with advanced multi-feature and composite tolerances, Metrologic’s renowned reporting and report editing module, multiple data import and export formats, all types of alignment from basic 3-2-1 to the most advanced best fit analysis, and STEP and IGES CAD import. For those familiar with Metrolog of old, almost every one of these functionalities was an extra-cost option in the past, whereas they are all now included.
When it comes to device interfaces, the philosophy has again completely changed. Unlike a CMM, which is acquired and used typically for 20 years or more, organisations are now investing in and upgrading to the latest portable metrology on a regular basis. So, when a customer decides to acquire Metrolog X4 for use with a portable device, EVERY portable device interface is supplied as standard. If the device is exchanged or upgraded, the software can continue to operate with the new device at no additional cost. In addition, all functionalities commonly associated with such devices are included, such as bundle adjustments, build/inspect, leapfrog, etc. This is fine if the user intends to use the software with multiple devices, but Metrologic have also considered those who may only want the software for one device. In this case, the user may select a single device e.g. a Creaform HandySCAN, and the price of the software is reduced significantly to reflect the limitation imposed.
For many, Metrolog X4 is perceived to be expensive, but that has all changed. For example, it is now possible to have the software installed on a CNC CMM, with all the advanced functionalities mentioned previously, from as little as £12,000 including 12 months software maintenance and product support.
So, what Is Metrolog X4 ?
Metrolog X4 is to the measurement and metrology industry what Google is to internet browsing. Users want one software that can deal with any application, work with any type of measuring device, 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 can 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, irrespective of the age of the CMM.
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 1,000,000 points per second, the software works in the same way. 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.
Fully compatible with Windows 10, 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 quickly loaded and manipulated within the software, thanks mainly to the use of intelligent processor & 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 will 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 CMM’s, 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 5 years ago at the international Control Show in Germany, Metrologic were able to show how it is possible to program any make of industrial robot fitted with any make of 3D scanner directly from within a traditional metrology software package, without the need for specialist robot PLC programming. Most people at the time couldn’t see the need for such a solution – compare that to the number of scanner manufacturers now promoting the use of scanners on the end of industrial robots, the vast majority using Metrolog X4 i-Robot software to make it work. 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.
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 must maintain their knowledge of several different softwares. The flexibility of Metrolog X4 knows no boundaries, so users 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.
Peterborough and Derby based Measurement Solutions have been the UK sales and support partner for Metrologic Group since 1998. The advantage to be gained by using Metrolog X4 is best summed up by Andrew Tagg, Managing Director: “For many years, we have seen companies, technologies and concepts burst onto the scene only to disappear just as quickly. Throughout that time, Metrologic Group have been at the forefront of metrology software, 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 customers 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. 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 2 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, such that 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.
For anybody that is considering measuring software, Measurement Solutions will 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 Andrew Tagg. “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”.