Speeding Up the Process of Precision Engineering

Oct. 19, 2023
A shop that specializes in projects for Formula 1 teams finds that a CMM makes quality inspection faster, simpler, and more exacting – and opens more opportunities for new business.

Much of subcontractor Driven Engineering's turnover comes from the Formula 1 circuit, although the cost cap imposed on teams over recent years has somewhat reduced that volume. This has led the British shop to give more focus to aerospace, automotive and general engineering project. Typically. Driven Engineering owner Ray Harris machined jigs, fixtures, and molds for F1 teams, who advised him that to supply parts for race cars he would have to improve his component inspection procedures and quality reports.

Coordinate measuring machine (CMM) manufacturer LK Metrology benefitted from those conversations once Harris placed an order for an AlteraC 10.7.7 CMM. During the installation at Driven Engineering's shop in Havant, England, the machine was reduced in height by about 100 mm so that it would fit through the entrance and sit comfortably within a new quality control room that was being added.

Along with the machine, Driven Engineering acquired a single licence for PolyWorks Inspector software, which is swappable between the CMM and an articulated arm that Harris had acquired previously.

"LK seems to be one of the metrology industry's best-kept secrets,” he offered, noting his appreciation for its “small-company feel” despite its 60 years of development and global customer portfolio.

“I got the impression that I would receive good support and back-up, which so far has been the case. In addition, the CMM is well-built, and the software provided is easy to use, including on the portable arm," Harris explained.

Stepping up to CMM metrology immediately brought in extra F1 work, mainly prismatic machining on three Hermle five-axis, high-speed machining centers – two of which are fitted with automatic pallet storage and retrieval systems for automated, 24/7 operation. Parts produced are typically for hydraulic manifolds as well as the racecar front and rear wings and floor. A lot of titanium is processed, plus stainless steel, aluminum, and some engineering plastics.

Unlike jigs and fixtures, which have fairly open tolerances, the latest parts have drawing tolerances down to 25 µm true position, which is impossible to check using a portable arm. On the other hand, the CMM is able to measure features an order of magnitude smaller, so it’s easily capable of completing the inspection tasks.

During programming in PolyWorks, Harris simply picks the features and profiles he wants to inspect. Then, the software automatically sequences the points for the most efficient inspection routine, including all axis movements, head rotations and collision avoidance strategies. He described the software as particularly easy to use and ideal for someone new to CNC CMM operation. Data is captured both by touch-probing discrete points and tactile scanning using a Renishaw SP25M probe. Vastly more data is generated in a shorter time compared with touch-trigger probing only, enabling faster inspection and hence improved quality control.

PolyWorks also allows more comprehensive reports to be populated with richer information on the accuracy of freeform areas on components, as well as dimensions. The software is able to present this data flexibly in a form that the customers prefer and are able to understand easily.

The articulated measuring arm that the shop had acquired in 2020 was supplied with a touch probe and a laser scanner, but now it’s used exclusively with the latter sensor – for speed of operation when inspecting, for example, one in five of a batch of 920 aluminum mold tool halves having a complex profile, machined for the aerospace industry. The CMM, on the other hand, was supplied with tactile probing capability only, although it was prepared for laser scanning with a view to adding that capability in the future.

Before he invested in the machine, Harris was invited to visit LK Metrology’s factory at Castle Donington, England, for a demonstration of an Altera 10.7.7 CMM inspecting one of his components. As a test object, he sent an F1 car water system, together with the CAD model, and watched the demonstration online as LK showed him two ways of inspecting the component: first by touch-probing to orientate it on the granite and then laser scanning, and secondly using an SP25M to probe and touch-scan the part.

Suitably impressed with the latter metrology process, Harris made the investment in the CMM and PolyWorks, whose ease-of-use is a boost to inspection productivity at Driven Engineering. The level of automation provided by the software means that can be conducted in as little as 10 minutes, depending on component complexity. Unlike when using an arm, the CMM programming can be done in advance from the CAD model.

Installing the CMM has opened up a number of different prospects for Driven Engineering, as availability of advanced metrology makes new business easier to win, especially tight-tolerance work. Additionally, Harris intends to start manufacturing a proprietary range of parts for the Ginetta GT race car he recently acquired (to hire out for events) such as uprights, bearing supports, axle extensions and drive shafts.

The ability to control the quality of such parts to a higher level than would previously have been possible – thanks to the LK Metrology CMM – will also enhance this new enterprise.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)