What is a CMM?

A Coordinate Measuring Machine is a sophisticated device used for measuring the physical geometrical characteristics of an object. It provides highly accurate and precise dimensional measurements of both simple and complex components. Industries such as automotive, aerospace, and medical use CMMs as precision and quality control are critical.

The Technology Behind CMMs:

The fundamental principle behind CMMs involves capturing the three-dimensional coordinates of points on an object's surface and analysing their spatial relationships. CMMs utilise several key components to achieve this:

Probing System:

CMMs are equipped with a probing system, typically a touch-trigger probe or a scanning probe. These probes make contact with the object being measured to collect coordinate data.

3D Scanning System:

Scanning systems collect a large amount of data from the surface of a part, which provides a more detailed and accurate picture of its form and shape. This makes scanning ideal for measurement applications where the shape of a feature is critical, or where complex surfaces need to be inspected.

Mechanical Structure:

CMMs feature a robust mechanical structure that allows precise movement of the measuring probe in three orthogonal axes (X, Y, and Z). The structure consists of a granite or aluminium base, columns, and an overhead bridge, ensuring stability and minimising vibrations.

Control System:

CMMs are controlled by specialised software that operates the machine, captures data, and performs complex mathematical calculations. The software enables the user to define measurement routines, interpret the collected data, and generate detailed reports.

CMMs vs Handheld 3D Scanning Devices

While handheld 3D scanning devices have their advantages, there are specific scenarios where a CMM outperforms them. Here are some reasons why you might need a CMM over a handheld 3D scanning device:

Accuracy and Precision: CMMs are known for their exceptional accuracy and precision in dimensional measurement. They offer sub-micron or even sub-micrometre level accuracy, which is crucial for industries that require precise measurements. Handheld 3D scanning devices may not provide the same level of accuracy, especially for complex geometries or tight tolerances.

Stability and Repeatability: CMMs are built with a solid mechanical structure, often using granite or aluminium, ensuring stability and minimal vibration. This stability contributes to high repeatability, allowing consistent and reliable measurement results. Handheld devices can be influenced by user factors, such as hand tremors or inconsistent scanning speed, leading to variability in measurement accuracy.

Handling Large or Heavy Objects: CMMs are capable of measuring large and heavy objects due to their robust structure and the availability of larger measurement volumes. Handheld devices may struggle with scanning larger or heavier components, limiting their applicability in certain industries.

Surface Accessibility and Complexity: CMMs equipped with touch-trigger probes or scanning probes can measure complex geometries and hard-to-reach surfaces. They can access features hidden from direct line-of-sight or with limited accessibility. Handheld devices may encounter challenges in capturing data from intricate or recessed areas.

Automation and Batch Measurement: CMMs can be integrated with automation features such as robotic loading/unloading and pallet systems. This enables unattended operation and efficient measurement of a large batch of parts, reducing labour costs. Handheld devices are typically operated manually and may not offer the same level of automation.

It's important to assess your specific requirements, budget, and intended applications when choosing between a CMM and a handheld 3D scanning device. While handheld devices excel in certain scenarios, CMMs remain the gold standard for high-accuracy dimensional measurement, particularly in industries that demand stringent quality control and precise metrology.

The main types of CMMs include

Bridge CMM: This type of CMM features a bridge-like structure with a horizontal arm that moves along the X-axis and a vertical column that moves along the Z-axis. The measuring probe is attached to the vertical column and can move along the Y-axis.

Cantilever CMM: In a cantilever CMM, the vertical column is fixed at one end, and the horizontal arm extends outwards, resembling a cantilever. The measuring probe is attached to the end of the cantilever arm and can move along the X, Y, and Z axes.

Gantry CMM: A gantry CMM consists of a horizontal bridge supported by vertical columns at both ends. The measuring probe is mounted on the bridge and can move along the X, Y, and Z axes.

Horizontal Arm CMM: In a horizontal arm CMM, the measuring probe is attached to a horizontal arm that moves along the X-axis. The arm is typically mounted on a stationary base, and the Y and Z axes are positioned above the base, allowing movement in these directions as well.


PolyWorks|Inspector revolutionises the approach to inspection projects on CNC CMMs by providing a versatile, intuitive, and efficient operational framework, akin to the one available for portable metrology devices. This high-productivity CNC CMM solution streamlines the setup and execution of inspections, enhancing user experience and overall productivity.