This paper describes the development of a highly sensitive optical profilometer well suited for the detection of faults with millimeter lateral dimensions and a micrometer depth. The objective is to meet the requirements of the automotive industry. The principle combines the high sensitivity of reflection techniques with the evaluation potential of phase shifted fringe projection. After a mathematical description the paper gives a number of experimental results with both reference surfaces and original sheet metal parts. © 2000 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.