Request a Demo!
1000 characters left


What is a 3D Coordinate Measuring Machine?

A 3D Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM) is a precision measurement device that accurately collects XYZ coordinate points from an object's surface to define and analyze its dimensions and geometric characteristics in three-dimensional space. Various types of probes are used in CMMs, the most common being mechanical and laser sensors. The most advanced 3D coordinate measuring machines use non-contact optical blue light technology.

blue light 3D scanner
Industries like aerospace, automotive, and high-tech manufacturing require precise measurements. The accuracy of these measurements is directly linked to the functionality and quality of the product produced. When purchasing a 3D coordinate measuring machine, it is essential to understand the differences between the types of 3D coordinate measuring machines available on the market to ensure that you use your budget correctly and get the results you need. Investing in the right system reduces unnecessary costs, complexity, and measurement issues in the future.

This article will explore the benefits of 3D coordinate measuring machines, the training required to operate them, and the cost associated with these systems. We will also provide insights into the factors that must be considered when choosing the type of 3D coordinate measuring machine for your specific application.

What are the Benefits of 3D Coordinate Measuring Machines?

3D coordinate measuring machines have several benefits, including accuracy, automation, and repeatability. The accuracy of a 3D coordinate measuring machine is much greater than manual measurement (using traditional metrology equipment), considering the number of points measured and the probes' precision. 3D coordinate measuring machines can easily measure complex geometries, providing detailed information about the object's physical dimensions.

3D coordinate measuring machines can be automated, allowing faster and more efficient measurements. An automated 3D coordinate measuring machine reduces the time required for inspection, enabling faster production times. 3D coordinate measuring machines are also highly repeatable, meaning that the measurement results obtained are consistent, ensuring quality in the manufacturing process.

Bridge and gantry CMMs are ideal for larger parts, such as those used in the aerospace and automotive industries. These types of tactile CMMs have an extensive measuring range, allowing them to measure objects too big for stationary CMMs. Tactile CMMs are often located in metrology labs or near-line areas for process and quality control of production lines. On the other hand, portable CMMs, also known as PCMMs, such as those with articulated arms and handheld scanners, are more versatile and can be used in a broader range of applications.

automated 3D coordinate measuring machineFor non-contact 3D coordinate measuring machines, the benefits include speed, portability, and full-field data. Non-contact CMMs are faster than traditional CMMs, as they do not require physical contact with the object being measured. A robot-controlled 3D scanner, for example, the ATOS ScanBox Series, can pass over an automotive panel and capture millions of accurate data points in seconds, with minimal fixturing and manipulation of the component. Automated loading and unloading of the components can be achieved using the ATOS ScanBox BPS, which increases speed and decreases downtime when high-output production is needed.

Non-contact 3D scanners capture millions of data points in seconds, providing much higher resolution than tactile CMMs. Non-contact CMMs also provide full-field data, meaning that the object's entire surface is measured rather than discrete points. The resulting digital twin provides a more comprehensive understanding of the object's physical dimensions and contours, allowing for better quality control.

portable 3d coordinate measuring machine
Additionally, non-contact CMMs can be portable, allowing measurements to be collected off-site and in the field rather than transporting the object to a measuring facility. This flexibility saves time and reduces the risk of damage to an object during transportation. Portable non-contact CMMs provide vital use cases in various engineering services labs, workshops, construction and restoration settings. The ZEISS T-SCAN hawk 2 is the leading handheld 3D scanner on the market. With portability, speed and precision, the handheld 3D coordinate measuring machine can rapidly pass over surfaces and objects to collect measurements and contour data for detailed analysis.

Do You Need Training to Learn How to Use a 3D Coordinate Measuring Machine?

A traditional tactile CMM collects measurements where the probe touches the object's surface. The system calculates the coordinates of the point with reference to a 3-dimensional axis system. As more measurements are captured point by point, the software can build up a picture of the part. The measurement probes may be moved manually (attached to an articulating arm on the system) or the probe attached to a robotic arm which can be programmed to move to the measurement points by CMM programmers.

easy to use 3D coordinate measuring machine

CMM programmers are required to operate the device to ensure proper inspection. These individuals are highly trained and possess a deep understanding of metrology and measurement systems. They are responsible for programming the CMM, setting up the probes, and interpreting the measurement results.

If you don't have a trained individual operating your tactile 3D coordinate measuring machine, you can risk damage to your CMM, resulting in high repair costs. Moreover, inaccurate measurements can lead to serious quality control issues, which can have severe consequences in some industries. It is essential to invest in proper training to ensure that your tactile 3D coordinate measuring machine remains accurate and reliable throughout its lifespan.

On the other hand, non-contact CMMs (such as 3D scanners) are intuitive and user-friendly, allowing for easy operation. 3D scanners can be stationary or passed over the surface of a component for measurement, capturing millions of points per second. The non-contact 3D coordinate measuring machine builds a real-time 3D model, or digital twin, of the component as measurement data is collected. Many modern non-contact CMMs come equipped with software that guides the user through the measurement process, eliminating the need for extensive training. You can learn to operate most 3D scanners with very little training, making them ideal for companies without dedicated CMM operators on staff.

What is the Cost of a 3D Coordinate Measuring Machine? 

The cost of a traditional tactile 3D coordinate measuring machine includes the hardware, required software, a clean room or dedicated lab, and a trained professional CMM operator on staff. The initial investment required for a traditional tactile CMM can be quite substantial, making it a significant capital expenditure.

3D inspection software
Meanwhile, non-contact 3D coordinate measuring machines require hardware costs, software and initial training. A good 3D scanning company will package such costs together, making it possible to get everything you need in one stop. Choosing a company that can be your metrology partner throughout the purchase and beyond sets your business up for success. The right partner will provide ongoing support, training, and maintenance, ensuring your non-contact 3D coordinate measuring machine remains accurate and reliable throughout its lifecycle.
Additionally, they can provide customized solutions for specific applications and industries, ensuring you get the most out of your investment.


How to Choose the Right Type of 3D Coordinate Measuring Machine for Your Application

Choosing the right type of 3D coordinate measuring machine for your application is essential to ensure optimal results. Factors to consider include accuracy, speed, environment, ease of use, versatility, and cost. It's also important to consider the types of parts that you need to measure and analyze with your 3D coordinate measuring machines.

While tactile 3D coordinate measuring machines have long been the gold standard, non-contact 3D coordinate measuring machines are faster, more portable, and provide a complete digital twin of your physical part. The choice between the two depends on the specific needs of your industry and the product you are manufacturing.

Download our ROI calculator or contact us for help, consultation, or a demo so we can help you make the best decision for your company. We are committed to providing our customers with the highest quality 3D coordinate measuring machines and support services, ensuring they achieve their quality control objectives and reach success. Contact us today!

© Copyright 2023. CAPTURE 3D, LLC. All Rights Reserved.