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Measuring Productivity Fueled By The Launchpad

Two coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) manufactured by LK Metrology have largely superseded the use of a pair of smaller capacity, 15-year-old machines in the inspection room at contract machining specialists WLR Precision Engineering.

To enable production operators as well as quality inspectors to operate the new CMMs and access the measurement reports easily, the machines have been supplied with LK Launchpad, an icon-driven, touch-screen operator menu, and a network of viewing screens and tablets. The simplified operator menu lists all the available inspection programs and the exact position the part should be placed on the machine table for inspection, giving operators the confidence to perform measurement tasks in just a few clicks. Launchpad greatly enhances flexibility and opens up the measuring system for use by non-specialist CMM operators. Measured results and automatically generated reports may be shared between screens, tablets and other networked devices for easy access and viewing from any location.

UK based WLR is widely regarded by its customers as an all-encompassing service provider, as in fulfilling virtually every contract it manages the entire production process. A proportion of the value of each part is rigorous metrology, often involving 100% inspection. Contracts are received mainly from the oil & gas, pharmaceutical, medical, laboratory and scientific instrumentation industries, which place great reliance on the accuracy and consistency of parts delivered. The company’s sales manager Tom Parr said, “The increasing confidence that our customers have in the accuracy and consistency of components they receive from us has resulted in our winning considerably more business in virtually every sector that we serve.”

What has helped above all in raising that level of confidence was the purchase in 2015 of the first LK CMM, an AlteraS 15.10.8 with a measuring volume of 1,524 mm x 1,016 mm x 813 mm. It quickly transformed quality control activities in the Wilford factory, making it faster, much more efficient and less labour-intensive in respect of both measuring parts and preparing inspection reports. The machine’s acquisition was triggered by a steep increase in components ordered by key customers coupled with a requirement for more comprehensive, 100% inspection and detailed reporting. Soon afterwards, a customer in the defence sector had a similar requirement for the provision of traceable measurements and certified reports covering the supply of critical, matched components.

A major benefit of the CMM is its large table area, approximately 1.0 x 1.5 metres, which is able to accept up to 12 identical components at a time for batch inspection. It is unusual within manufacturing industry to see a measuring machine nested with multiple components in this way, but the subcontractor attests that it is a perfectly feasible way of operation. Typically, five batches can be inspected during a day shift with a load time of about five minutes between each batch.

After components have been placed in-situ, an inspector presses a button and every part is measured in a single, automatic cycle, the longest of which is two hours. The person is thus free to work elsewhere on other metrology equipment for the majority of the day and the time the inspection will take is known exactly. Efficiency is much increased compared with the former method, whereby an inspector was committed to sitting by a CMM all day loading each part individually prior to every automatic measurement cycle, all of which took an indeterminate amount of time that was longer than the equivalent automatic batch cycle.

With the previous metrology route, subsequently preparing reports by hand on 12 inspected parts would then take typically three hours, which was not just time consuming but also tedious. Now, big savings are again evident due to the CAMIO software’s ability to perform the task fully automatically. A comprehensive, graphically supported inspection report is generated on an entire batch in a matter of minutes, covering some 30 to 40 critical dimensions on each part, complete with colour-coded content in the event of any non-conformance. The report data is exported, via a CSV-type file especially formatted by WLR, directly into an Excel spreadsheet.

LK Launchpad Deskills and Automates CMM Inspection

In 2021 an increase in batch measuring capacity was needed, a requirement was also introduced for in-process inspection of a particular family of components for a customer which led to the purchase of a smaller LK AlteraS 10.10.8 with a working volume of 1,016 mm x 1,016 mm x 813 mm and again the LK Launchpad software. The easy-to-use, graphical interface enables the operator to load parts singly or in batches of up to six.

Launchpad makes it simple to load the correct program for inspecting a component, which is easily identified from stored data, with details called up via simple graphical menus and icons on a screen positioned by the machine. The operator can locate the component by selecting the customer by name, or via the part category, or by directly calling up the part itself complete with details of the machining process. Set-up on the CMM is straightforward, assisted by 12 mm thick aluminium fixture plates pre-drilled with a grid of holes at a 50 mm pitch fitted across the granite table of the machine. The operator simply places the component in a numbered location on one of the fixture plates, as indicated by the Launchpad graphic, and instigates the measuring program by pressing a button on the touch-screen. Despite being a powerful process, WLR confirms that the software is remarkably flexible and easy to use.

For convenience, the same inspection results that appear on the screen adjacent to the machine are also available on networked tablets used by machinists on the shop floor and the information may also be shared with other devices. It enables more robust inspection and less downtime as well as creating an environment where machinists become invested in the procedure. The next step will be to include functionality that allows operators to be alerted via their tablet when the measuring cycle is complete, so there will be no need for the person to keep an eye on the time.

On the implementation of the successful metrology upgrade at WLR, Mr Blood commented, “Our new measuring processes can be used by personnel with a wide range of experience levels. The high degree of automation plus the ability to increase speed by scanning as well as touch-probing have helped us save time and remove inspection bottlenecks. Automation and deskilling of operations have also allowed us to enhance inspection efficiency without adding to our headcount. Added to this, every day there is a further economic advantage through the ability to run the CMMs unattended for up to two hours at the end of each day shift due to our strategy of batch loading.

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