Middlesex Aerospace couples Hexagon CMMs with PC-DMIS to improve quality and efficiency

by Ian Mottashed, Product Marketing Manager, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division  

Airplane on runway Middlesex Aerospace Manufacturing

Engineering Reality 2023 volume 2 edition

Empowering Makers for an autonomous sustainable future

Founded in 1945, Middlesex Aerospace is a global aerospace component manufacturer. With over 75 years of experience in machining, it focuses on pursuing effective, sustainable, and agile operations through dedicated enterprise-wide collaboration and effective supply chain management.

After using Hexagon’s Edgecam and Javelin software for the past few years, the division recently invested in two new coordinate measurement machines (CMMs) to use alongside PC-DMIS metrology software. It aims to use these to reduce bottlenecks and improve its workflow.

Bottlenecks are reducing efficiency as quality standards increase

In a recent discussion, Middlesex Aerospace’s Managing Director Lawrence Foulds explains, “We have had a long-standing partnership with Hexagon, and while our recent investment in their metrology products is a new development, we have relied on their other software systems throughout our relationship. Our association with Hexagon enables us to produce intricate components efficiently and deliver them to our customers on time.”

Consistently producing components that meet required standards is fundamental to any manufacturer’s success. Quality standards are exacting, and engineers typically work to very tight tolerances. Historically, engineers would measure components to ensure they met the dimensions laid down in their specifications. To do this, they would use various
tools, including micrometres, callipers, and vernier gauges. These tools are still popular today as they are excellent for straightforward visual inspections. For instance, a micrometre bought over the counter can check for accuracy down to one-thousandth of a millimetre.

With such demands placed on their production teams, automating the measurement of machined components was the logical next step. They did this using a CMM. This automation helped them to inspect components by referencing dimensions provided in their PC-DMIS metrology software. The CMM uses a probe to identify the specific measurements of each part, and that helps them determine whether it met or exceeded set standards.

While the CMM provided the necessary data, it required programming downtime, resulting in bottlenecks and disrupting an otherwise smooth workflow within the company. This issue was highlighted by production staff, whom they encourage to continually look for quality and business improvements as part of their Kaizen programme.

Improvements in the operation and usage of CMM units meant that new units could perform tasks faster, to increasingly higher tolerances, using less energy. This resulted in an opportunity to improve production workflow across several metrics and ensure that they are future-proofed for their value streams’ increasingly stringent quality standards. Prompted by the Aluminium Prismatic (AP) and Quality teams, they reviewed how to reduce bottlenecks and improve their level of customer service. They also discussed the cost of quality (COQ) and worked to make the flow of product and process validation more efficient.

Figure 1. Preparing CNC toolpaths for part milling with EDGECAM

Figure 1. Preparing CNC toolpaths for part milling with EDGECAM.

“Over time, quality standards and manufacturing efficiencies have improved. Today, we work to tolerances well below one micron. As part of the production process, we also inspect machined areas that can be hard to reach. We need to be able to document inspections and ensure the measurement process is subject to oversight from senior staff,” adds Foulds.

Figure 2. Aerospace control surface actuator linkages after inspection

Figure 2. Aerospace control surface actuator linkages after inspection.

PC-DMIS metrology software is used to drive the CMM. It provides us with the critical measurement data we need to ensure accuracy in the production process. We take advantage of many supporting features to reduce bottlenecks. For instance, we can save time by automatically rotating probe tip angles during the inspection. In the future, we also intend to import PMI dimensional data embedded within the CAD model to minimise programming time. Best of all, our quality engineers say it is user-friendly and easy to pick up and use, adds Page.

Using Hexagon’s CMMs to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency

After detailed research of possible solutions, they decided to invest in two new CMMs made by Hexagon. Chris Page, the Sales and Marketing Manager at Middlesex Aerospace, explains, “We have relied on Javelin as our go-to software for several years now. It is an integral part of our business operations, from generating initial quotes to releasing job cards on the shop floor and delivering products to our customers. What sets Javelin apart is its seamless integration of engineering, shop floor, and quality, providing us unparalleled traceability and efficiency across the board.”

They positioned each CMM within a value stream designed to reduce inspection time and production bottlenecks. The first, a Global S Chrome 7.10.7, is now within their AP area. The second, a Hexagon Global S Chrome 12.22.10, is within their Large Mill Turn (LMT) area.

Figure 3. PC-DMIS metrology software measures everything from simple prismatic parts to complex aerospace and automotive components

Figure 3. PC-DMIS metrology software measures everything from simple prismatic parts to complex aerospace and automotive components.

This reduces bottlenecks  caused by downtime and allows the CMM to process multiple pieces of work simultaneously, thereby improving production efficiency.  The new machines will also play a significant role in conforming to First Article Inspection (FAI) – a process that involves inspecting an item for the first time following a change in the production process. FAI is vital in maintaining specifications and standards throughout a supply chain. The new machines help to automate mandatory paperwork by outputting the results into an AS9102 format. This saves them approximately 141 days in resources lost to compiling the information yearly.
Figure 4. Precision milling of aerospace components

Figure 4. Precision milling of aerospace components.

Both CMM units sit within production areas, and staff will continue to use them to make components. The CMMs can be used by anyone on the shop floor, which makes the inspection process more flexible. However, this does not come at the expense of reduced oversight. The machines are cloud-enabled, which means quality staff can monitor them easily.

Programming each machine to measure components has also become significantly easier. Their new machines can be up and running in nearly two-thirds of the time their old machines would require.

Automating the measurement of components has sped up the process significantly. The new machines reduce inspection times by 50% compared to their previous units. This helps to make their workflow more efficient and reduces potential bottlenecks. But higher speed doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of more energy. For example, the new machines will continue using compressed air to undertake certain finite measurements but reduce their use by 25%. That equates to less loading on their existing air compressor installation and, thus, a healthy reduction in energy consumption.

Smoother workflows, higher throughput, and increased customer satisfaction

Since they commissioned the new machines in September, the impact has been immediate. Workflows are smoother, there has been less disruption caused by machine downtime, and throughput is far higher. The result is a marked improvement in product delivery, which has further improved their ability to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers.

Foulds explains, “Consistent and flawless quality of aerospace components is of utmost importance. We manufacture five critical components; any defect discovered renders them unusable, resulting in significant financial losses. Therefore, it is imperative that we achieve 100% first-time quality every time we produce these components.”

Looking ahead, the ability to integrate the machines with their existing Javelin and Edgecam software and the potential purchase of other solutions puts them well-placed to embrace the new opportunities presented by Industry 4.0.

Figure 5. GLOBAL S CMM delivers measurement productivity tailored to your workflow, addressing the widest range of production requirements including throughput, precision, multi-purpose and shop-floor capabilities

Figure 5. GLOBAL S CMM delivers measurement productivity tailored to your workflow, addressing the widest range of production requirements including throughput, precision, multi-purpose and shop-floor capabilities.

Engineering Reality magazine Volume XVI – issue 2

Accelerate Smart Manufacturing