New metrology centre of excellence can save industry millions

A new £25m centre of excellence in metrology will save British industry millions of pounds and hours in new “smart factories”, an audience of industry experts has been told in Huddersfield.

L-R: Prof Liam Blunt, Prof Dame Jane Jiang (Hub director) & Dr Andrew Longstaff

The Future Metrology Hub, one of eight EPSRC-funded future manufacturing hubs, headquartered at Huddersfield University, will organise the research and development of a range of new measurement methods that form part of accelerating Britain’s manufacturing into the “fourth industrial revolution”.

Millions of components are machined and fabricated every day and measured and validated at the end of the process. New techniques can integrate the measurement inside the manufacturing process, saving industry millions of hours of production time.

Official estimates from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), say that up to one fifth of the total value of UK manufacturing activity is in product verification. The Hub has identified technologies to systematically reduce the time and cost of this testing and validation.

“By embedding metrology inside the process, using universal metrology informatics, and running this through the whole value chain, we can achieve a step change in manufacturing productivity,” said Prof Dame Jane Jiang, the hub’s director.

Measuring manufactured parts during machining, rather than in a separate offline process using a CMM machine, is just one application at the centre that counts Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN, the NPL, IBM and Cummins among its industrial partners. Smart metrology analytics, design for verification platforms and process control systems are some of the other research areas.

The Metrology Hub is one of eight Future Manufacturing Hubs part funded with £10m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council last year. A further £15m is provided by industry, with 29 companies and institutions involved in the hub. Joining Huddersfield in the hub are researchers from the Universities of Bath, Sheffield and Loughborough.

Metrology is fundamentally important to all sectors of manufacturing. Director of engineering at partner Renishaw, Geoff McFarland, stressed that accurate and rapid metrology techniques have transformed operations at customers in the automotive, aerospace, power generation and more recently healthcare sectors. One automotive customer had reduced rework (costly corrections) by 80 per cent using machine tool probes to allow in-process measurement.

Closed loop feedback with mid-process measurements to allow real-time adjustments to manufacture will be the future of manufacturing products more flexibly, he said. Part test and validation is often seen in industry as a costly, unwelcome stage in manufacturing. “Metrology has got to accelerate these changes, then it won’t be deemed as the wart on the side of manufacturing,” McFarland said.

But metrology’s role in 4IR, or the development of more productive, smart factories, could transform its image in the manufacturing sector and underline its role to the government, which is working on an Industrial Strategy. Much of the Hub’s work will focus on data analysis, both capturing “good data” and assessing which data is needed to improve a process.

Factory GPS

The NPL is working with partners on applying GPS technology used in smart phones to factories. “GPS allows us to group together data to reduce the uncertainty of where we are, and phones could share this data to reduce measurement uncertainty further,” said Prof. Paul Shore, head of engineering at the NPL, which has the NPL North branch located at Huddersfield University. “You apply that principle to everything inside a factory – with ‘satellites’ that are fixed around a factory, with seeing and recognition capability; then the metrology capability is embedded within the building. The challenge is to link this to all the machines and measurement systems in there to improve the whole effectiveness of the factory.”

The metrology hub says its structure is designed to deliver impact on the money invested by its partners, by answering a wide range of industry’s real measurement problems, and ultimately provide solutions to societal problems.