John Cove explains the role of precision measurement for large scale manufacturing in the energy and aerospace markets
All contractors will be familiar with the combination square: a ruled blade with interchangeable heads to measure angles in workshops, construction sites and metalworking.
Invented in 1883 by L. S Starrett, the combination square quickly became an integral measurement device in all contractors’ toolkits.
However, in most modern manufacturing applications, a far greater level of precision is required.
Absolute accuracy in dimensional measurement and measurement of the forces associated with any part or process are necessary requirements in almost every industry, and the practice is becoming an integral — and highly regulated — aspect of all product design and development.
However, there is a common misconception that highly accurate precision is only necessary for small and intricate applications — such as touch screens on electronic visual displays, like mobile phones and tablets.
That being said, you would be hard pushed to find another industry where precision is such a vital consideration as aerospace manufacturing. In an industry with copious regulatory requirements, and costly fines for failing to meet standards, ensuring that components are safe, fully functional and reliable could not be more important.
However, manufacturers in this sector will be familiar with the complexities of retaining these high levels of precision when working on large scale products, like aircraft wings, external panels turbine and helicopter blades.
For both the aerospace and the energy industries, high precision can be required on incredibly large scales.
Take the blades of wind turbines as an example. Until recently, the manufacture of wind turbines has involved limited concern for quality control standards. This is because mass production of wind turbines is relatively new and, as a result, standards are yet to be set.
Despite this lack of standards, for the wind turbine to effectively and safely generate power, mistakes in manufacturing simply cannot happen.
Efforts are now being made by the Government and manufacturers to establish a standard for wind turbines and other applications related to new forms of energy generation.
In the meantime, it is in manufacturer’s best interest to maintain high level of precision now — avoiding potential problems in the future.
Unlike small applications, precision measurement for large applications cannot be assessed using handheld measurement tools and entry-level equipment.
Instead, manufacturers should invest in specialist metrology systems that are designed to handle heavy equipment and irregular loads. Alongside precision hardware, manufacturers must also consider choosing sophisticated force measurement and metrology systems to test the components they make.
For example, Starrett’s force measurement software, L2 Plus, can provide a comprehensive analysis of a measurement test — providing exact force measurement results from simple peak load measurement to more complex break determination.
Inputting the requirements of a part, material or component allows the software to generate high-resolution graphs based on load, distance, height and time of measurement.
Using this data, quality control managers can rest assured that parts will meet industry standards are unlikely to fall victim to manufacturing errors.
Starrett HDV500 digital video projector has a travel on the workstage of 500mm x 200mm, and a workstage weight capacity of 150kg, making it suitable for measuring larger, heavier parts.
Retaining accuracy during product design and manufacturing is an integral part of maintaining quality control and meeting industry regulations.
Just as the combination square became a vital part of a contractors’ toolkit, investing in technical measurement equipment — and software — will soon be just as imperative for manufacturers and engineers.
John Cove ismarketing manager at Starrett.