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In this blog we’re going to compare 3D scanners, Measuring Arms, CMMs and Manual gauges across criteria like portability, accuracy, speed, reliability, and cost.

Engineers like you are continuously designing and developing new products, tooling and manufacturing processes that require precision, accuracy and reliability. In order to support this ‘always on’ evolution, they depended on having the right metrology tools for the right job.

Over the years, metrology tooling has made significant advancements; pushing the boundaries in terms of accuracy, speed, and portability. Just as the software you use to develop your products has improved, so has the hardware you use to capture your data.  Scanners, CMMs machines, Arms, and even manual gauges all have their uses.

But which metrology tooling is best suited for your application? And how much “better” are the leading industry metrology tools compared to the naked eye and a bit of experience?

CMM Machine Measuring

The Different Metrology Tools

Metrology offers lots of tooling options, each of which has pros and cons and each of which are right for a specific task, need or environment.  Scanners are accurate, easy to use & highly portable, making them a versatile choice.  CMMs offer unparalleled accuracy but are often hampered by speed and location.   Below are a few of the most popular choices of metrology tools:

3D Scanner

Digital 3D Scanners have very quickly become the go-to option for engineers who want to transfer live, real-world data into 3-dimensional software. This process of scanning physical objects is fast, and easy and can achieve an accuracy of up to 0.025mm (almost the width of a human hair).

This high accuracy combined with the 3D scanners’ fast-paced efficiency allows engineers to capture highly detailed measurements within minutes with little chance of error.


A coordinate-measuring machine is a device used to assess the geometry of physical objects by detecting specific points on the object’s surface using a probe. CMMs utilise a variety of probes, with mechanical and laser sensors being the most prevalent, although optical and white light sensors are also available.

This extreme level of measurement allows engineers to refine their products for pinpoint accuracy but there is a trade-off – time.  It takes time for a CMM to collect the same volume of data that a scanner can in seconds.  This often leads to bottle necks and backlogs suggesting that CMMs should only be used where a tolerance below 0.025mm is a critical factor.

Measurement Arm

Measuring arms bridge the gap between CMMs and portable 3D scanners. They offer an increase in speed and portability over a CMM whilst retaining high levels of accuracy. Arms are often portable too, meaning they’re great for measurements directly on production floors (though they can be prone to environmental factors). This portability helps to avoid the logistical challenges of transporting large or sensitive components to dedicated measuring locations and avoiding bottlenecks.

There are drawbacks though, the initial cost, needed for operator training, and regular maintenance should all be considered carefully. Additionally, environmental factors like temperature and vibrations can impact measurement accuracy, necessitating careful handling, regular maintenance, and calibration. Despite these challenges, measuring arms, still remain crucial for applications demanding high precision and operational flexibility.

Manual Gauge

Manual gauges are traditional tools used for precise measurements in various industries. They are operated by hand, requiring the user to directly interact with the gauge to assess dimensions such as length, thickness, or diameter. These gauges often feature simple mechanisms, such as Vernier scales or dial indicators, which provide accurate readings based on physical contact with the object being measured. Manual gauges are valued for their reliability, ease of use, and ability to provide immediate measurements without relying on complex electronic systems.

Manual gauges are a great tool for on-the-move measurement but do suffer when it comes to measuring complex geometries.

Comparing Measurement Tooling

If you’re looking at the next step in your metrology journey then it’s worth looking at the table below where we compare the four main options against a whole host of criteria:

Regardless of your measurement needs, there is a metrology tool that will be more relevant to your specific requirements. Whether you need to measure within mm’s to microns Measurement Solutions has the solution to meet your needs.

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