FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS OUTSOURCING FOR METROLOGY SERVICES?
Many inspection labs provide two types of measurement
services, which both fall under the scope of inspection
outsourcing. One is standard dimensional inspection service
and the other is reverse engineering. The breakdown for our
company is approximately 80% dimensional inspection and 20% in
the area of reverse engineering.
Inspection outsourcing is when a manufacturing company (or in
some cases, a parts distribution warehouse) sends parts and
prints to a dimensional lab for dimensional verification. The
company sends a part or parts and a blueprint for a quote. If
the quote is acceptable, the company generates a PO and the
work is performed. Sometimes the customer requires a full part
layout (all dimensions measured) and other times, only
selected (critical) dimensions are measured. Among other
items, the final report will include a certificate and a
report detailing all work performed and to what standards.
If a customer has a need for “reverse engineering,” they would
send a part without the blueprint. In most instances, the
company desires a CAD file, point cloud or other output. This
information is then used to create a mold that will reproduce
the part. The part can come to us in completed form,
Styrofoam, clay or any other material that would be
appropriate to make a scale model of the desired part.
Sometimes the customer will send many parts of an assembly,
each part requiring full dimensional evaluation. Please see
http://www.qcinspect.com/rev.htm for more info on reverse
An example of a measuring system used for reverse engineering
is the 3D laser scanner. With this scanner, we
are able to scan a “patch” or segment of a surface or the
entire surface. The
scanner collects 3 dimensional data points, known as a point
cloud. After the data (sometimes millions of data points)
are all collected, the software “joins” or globally aligns
the patches for a complete point cloud of the entire part.
The point cloud is then converted to a solid model or
surface file for future import into a CAD program.
2. WHAT ARE SOME ADVANTAGES TO OUTSOURCING?
The first three categories below show the obvious cost savings
associated with outsourcing inspection work to outside labs.
The others are examples of “value added” advantages.
Seasonal work or economic downturn:
One large advantage in outsourcing, especially in this current
economy, is lower employee costs. Many companies are choosing
the flexibility of using our services as a temporary solution
prior to making the commitment to hiring full time personnel.
Our customers send parts to us for inspection when they have
employees out on leave. During these times, there is a
shortage of personnel, but the work still comes in! Rather
than implementing mandatory overtime, many companies opt to
send us their parts for inspection.
Short term projects:
When a client receives a project that requires more equipment
than they currently have, they can outsource the inspection
portion of the project rather than buying an expensive CMM.
Then, when the job starts to look more “permanent,” the
clients can re-evaluate the need for their own CMM. Here’s the
real clincher: In addition to the initial cost of a new CMM
(up to hundreds of thousands of dollars), there are other
costs... like an environmentally controlled CMM room, design
and manufacture of holding fixtures, the need to hire a
dedicated technician and on-going training for the new CMM
Lack of expertise:
Many companies, especially small to mid sized companies do not
have the experienced specialists to perform the work. In our
Minnesota facility, our staff has a combined 234 years
manufacturing and quality experience. Most of our specialists
are experts at programming and measuring parts on CMMs. In a
nutshell, this is all we do, all day long – we’re the experts!
Another point to be made in this area is that most of the jobs
we receive from our customers are jobs that they don’t want to
do themselves mostly due to the complexity of the project!
Third Party evaluation:
Many times, there may be a disagreement between a manufacturer
and their supplier relating to the function or characteristic
of a part. An arbitrator, or other acting intermediary
contracts us as an accredited lab to measure the part or parts
in question, whether at our facility, or somewhere else. Using
a third party inspection service, the results are unbiased.
3. WHO OUTSOURCES? ARE THE COMPANIES TYPICALLY SMALL, LARGE,
MID-SIZED, ALL OF THE ABOVE?
Companies of every size outsource inspection work. In our
case, we have worked with small, medium and large fortune 500
companies. The average company for us is a medium sized
company with 50-200 employees.
Industries served are medical, plastics, automotive,
telecommunications, aerospace, defense, electronics and
others. During this current “down” economy, the medical and
leisure (believe it or not) are doing the most outsourcing.
4. HOW DOES OUTSOURCING WORK? DO YOU SEND PEOPLE TO THEIR SITE
OR DO THEY SEND YOU THEIR EQUIPMENT?
Our in-house (our lab) inspection work, where clients will
send their parts to our lab for evaluation and how it is done,
is addressed in question #1.
In addition to parts being sent to us, in many cases, we take
our portable CMM to our customers’ facilities. A typical
scenario for this is large part measurement using our portable
CMM. This is a “6 jointed” arm that can be used to measure
larger objects such as boats, small planes, tractor cabs,
street sweepers and other very large parts. Even though we
only have a six-foot “reach” with this CMM, we can utilize
“leap frog” technology. This is where the technician will
measure all features within the reach of the CMM, then measure
three reference spheres (affixed to the part being measured),
move the CMM to its new location, re-measure the same
reference spheres and magically, the CMM “knows” where it is
again! Now, we can go on measuring the rest of the part!
One notable difference between portable measurement and
measurement using our in-house measurement equipment is in the
area of accuracy. The accuracies of our non-portable CMMs are
in the area of .0002” (on the average). But using a portable
CMM, due to the “portability” factor, we are only achieving
.003” to .004” accuracy (average).
5. WHAT SHOULD A COMPANY CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING WHETHER OR
NOT IT SHOULD OUTSOURCE?
As companies evaluate whether or not to
send out parts to us, some of the factors include cost,
lead-time and others. Can we do the work soon enough for their
needs? Is the lab accredited to any known reputable standards?
(Ex. ISO, A2LA, etc.) Expertise is a major consideration –
does this lab have the people with the experience and
knowledge? Does the inspection company have the appropriate
equipment? Is it accurate enough? How old is the equipment?
How long has the lab been operating?
6. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO OUTSOURCE?
Normally, projects such as dimensional inspection projects or
white light scanning projects can range from $45 per hour
(just simple hand tool or sorting operations) to $120 per hour
for our most advanced equipment. In cases where we need to
travel, of course they would reimburse us at cost. Most jobs
we quote, where all of the variables are known, we provide a
firm quote. But, if there are unknown variables, we will do a
The cost also depends on the complexity of the project. Some
outsourcing jobs that we have done would be more appropriately
called Managed Projects. This is where we will perform sorting
operations and other operations in our own facility using our
managers, our procedures and our equipment.
For example, we did a major, long-term managed project for a
company in Minnesota. We hired seven technicians to perform
sorting operations using microscopes in a “class 10,000” clean
room environment. After initial start-up costs, the ongoing
cost for this project was approximately $25 per hour per
technician. We have performed many of these projects – at our
facility and at our customers’ facilities.
7. WHEN IS OUTSOURCING A DISADVANTAGE?
Sometimes the location of the lab can be a disadvantage if the
lab is located in a different state. One disadvantage can be
in the area of communication. Another is in shipping costs.
Even though there are some possible drawbacks to sending parts
to a lab in a different part of the country, they can be
easily overcome. With next day delivery, the time (shipping)
factor becomes negligible. Also, using email, digital
photography and other new technologies, communication with the
customer is much less a problem.
Another example of where outsourcing may not be conducive is
where the manufacturing company must make a “lot” of, say,
1000 parts. They need an in-process inspection check on the
location of a hole, and they need to measure it after every
40th part. Here is where they need to find a way to measure
the part in their own facility, maybe right there at their own
machine. It would be difficult to send out the part, wait for
the results from the outside lab while the machine is NOT
running, and then continue machining parts when the results
arrive. We have done this for customers in the past, but only
when they absolutely could not do it themselves!
We have seen an increase in companies outside of our state
sending projects to us, usually based on referrals. In fact,
in the last two years we have done jobs for companies in 31
states (only 59% of inspection jobs are in our home state,
8. CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF ONE OUTSOURCING PACKAGE YOUR
COMPANY OFFERS, INCLUDING THE TIME IT TAKES, THE PRICE, THE
An example of a client utilizing a full range of our inspection lab
services is a very large software firm out of Redmond,
Washington. It is difficult to relate the price because there
were so many services provided for them on so many different
part types over an extended period of time. Hopefully, this
example below will help:
First, our client utilized our inspection and reverse engineering
services by using our CMMs to measure their molds (used to
make mice, keyboards, etc.). We also created blueprints for
some of their parts after “reverse engineering” them.
Prior to actually measuring their parts we had do design holding
fixtures* to hold the part at the correct “datums” so that the
CMM could measure the part accurately. We then did a full
“First Article” inspection on some of their initial parts.
We designed and created dimensional inspection fixtures (not holding
fixtures) to measure “critical” dimensions on the parts as
they are being produced at their supplier’s facility, and
wrote in-process inspection procedures for their staff and
their supplier’s staff.
We then designed, manufactured and validated multiple inspection
fixtures – one for us, one for their overseas supplier and one
for their own use. To validate these fixtures, we performed a
gage repeatability and reproducibility study (Gage R&R) on
*A note on holding fixtures: It is very important when measuring the same
parts, say, next month as you measured today to have the
ability to locate the part in exactly the same way as the
first time it was measured, especially on a CMM. To that end
(or should I say beginning) we sometimes need to first design
and build (and sometimes verify dimensionally) holding
fixtures. This increases the cost of the project slightly, but
most of the time we can use our set of universal fixturing to
hold the client’s part. This universal fixture provides the X
and Y coordinates of the “building blocks” (like and erector
set), which are used to position the part appropriately. These
coordinates and building block set-up are then recorded in the
customer’s file for future use in repeat jobs.
9. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INSPECTION
Some things potential clients should look for when evaluating which lab to
send their parts to are, number of years in business, combined
experience of their specialists, certification of lab
technicians (are they CMI certified?), whether or not the lab
is accredited and to what extent the lab is environmentally
controlled. Some “labs” are actually located in a garage or
Is the inspection company a CMM seller who performs inspection on the
side? (This is a very important and unobvious question –
sometimes the CMM that the seller used to measure the part has
been sold, and a different CMM will be used to measure the
next “round” of parts to be inspected. Now, the “uncertainty”
value of the CMM is different.)
Does the lab have a good reputation?
Always ask for a list of references and check them out.
What is their policy on the training of their staff? Are the
“uncertainty values” known for each piece of equipment? Do
they participate in “round robins” to validate their claims of
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