There comes a time when older inspection equipment gets to the stage where its performance threatens to create a bottleneck in production. This was the situation reached with a 10-year-old Vision Measuring System at Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells (JMFC) in the fuel cell component manufacturing facility at Swindon, a facility built to give the company a leading position as a producer of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) to the highly demanding quality requirements of fuel-cell customers.
Some recently developed parts were taking up to 20 minutes to measure, and this was becoming unacceptable in view of the cost and projected impact on future production schedules. Part of the problem was that the measurement had to be completed manually, and management determined that this machine had to go and be replaced by a more efficient solution, preferably featuring unattended CNC capability. “We were looking for equipment that would be able to perform these measurement operations much faster,” says Jamie McBrien, Mechanical Engineer at JMFC. “The challenge is that our parts can be very difficult to measure due to the nature of the materials used. After a thorough search of the market a member of the QV Series of CNC Vision Measuring Machines from Mitutoyo was identified as being a suitable piece of equipment to improve our JMFC processes.”
A QV Apex 606 Pro was recommended by Darren Chambers, Mitutoyo Vision Measurement Specialist, as being the most suitable model and this was subsequently acquired together with Mitutoyo’s Measurlink 7 software package to handle data collection, storage, and analysis, including Statistical Process Control (SPC). This particular model was chosen for such productivity enhancing features as a laser autofocus feature that enables highspeed focusing, which makes it optimal for high-speed height measurement, and a high maximum drive speed to significantly reduce cycle time when running programs involving lengthy traverses.
In operation it was found that this machine reduced measuring time from 20 minutes to 2 minutes for a particular component. At a typical rate of 50 parts per week this has resulted, roughly, in a labour saving of 15 hours per week. The intention is to now start using the system for other parts to achieve a similar cycle time reduction. “The installation of the QV Apex went very smoothly and we received a lot of support and advice from Darren who made a number of visits to our site to help. It is a very good piece of equipment that is very interactive and easy to use,” observed Jamie.
The SPC capability of the Measurlink 7 software has really proved its worth in helping to keep processes under control by enabling real-time data collection and result tracking to enable practically any SPC activities desired. Matthew Parker, Mitutoyo SPC manager, who advised on installation and use says, “Companies who use SPC find that it becomes the bedrock of manufacturing process control and often wonder what they did without it. The ability to know that a process is definitely under control and so be able to predict its behaviour for hours, days and even weeks ahead is tremendously liberating for the quality control engineer.”
Jamie echoed these remarks and added: “MeasurLink enables us to meet customer requirements and have live monitoring of data as we collect it from the machine. This allows us to track trends and any variation in the product easily. It is very simple to set up for use with the QVPak control software and new part-programs can be generated easily in a few minutes. It has a very clear, easyto- use interface that can be customised to show exactly
the information that you need. It provides a clear visual aid for operators as they measure components. Being able to collate data for a part from several different pieces of measuring equipment is a big advantage and allows for much better storage of data. The added benefit that the program can use CAD models directly is also very helpful and is great for saving our design team lots of time.”
The future looks bright for JMFC and Mitutoyo is very pleased to be associated with such success for, as Jamie says, “It is expected that, as we expand, more Mitutoyo Vision systems will be required to cope with the demand, as production is confidently predicted to increase to 10 times the current volume in the next few years.”