National Physical Laboratory

Measurement in Advanced Manufacturing

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry hosted the 'Measurement in Advanced Manufacturing' event organised jointly by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the British Measurement and Testing Association (BMTA) on Tuesday 19 March 2013. Over 50 delegates listened to presentations from industry, academia and research based organisations covering three themes within measurement:

Measurement in Advanced Manufacturing
  • The Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) experience, measurement in practice
  • New measurement technologies and techniques
  • People and skills, including the challenge of recruiting measurement professionals

Delegates were able to tour the impressive facilities at the MTC and also take part in a hands-on workshop facilitated by NPL Training and designed to highlight the importance of practical measurement skills.

Poor measurement practice can drastically compromise product quality - and is important throughout the internal and external manufacturing supply chains. That was the key message given by Jeff Llewellyn, President and Chief Executive of the BMTA as he opened the meeting. This sentiment was immediately endorsed by Peter Taylor from motor manufacturer BMW, who described his company's perspective on what is meant by effective measurement. Peter explained that the facilities and resources for effective measurement had been considered at the design stage for the BMW Hams Hall engine manufacturing facility and were part of BMW's strategy to achieve standardised methods for producing and sharing data around its global production network. He described the improvement programmes the company is implementing to simplify the measurement hierarchy and move to a situation where the collection and analysis of measurement data is integrated into the production system - speeding up the decision making process and allowing changes to be made in real time wherever possible. Peter also described one of the key challenges faced by BMW - that of the recruitment of metrology engineers - and one of the responses, which has been to establish metrology apprenticeships. The competency of staff is of vital importance in ensuring that the data produced is consistent, meaningful, accurate and acted upon.

Phil Bamforth from Rolls-Royce endorsed many of these messages and it became clear that aerospace faces many of same measurement challenges as the automotive industry. Phil described a number of initiatives being pursued by Rolls-Royce to improve product verification capability and capacity in its own facilities and in its supply chain. He expressed the need for a long term view - citing, for example, situations where in the short term better measurement capability can actually lead to a temporary drop in the productivity as improvements are worked. However, in the long term, improved measurement capability opens the door to significant productivity benefits as improvements deliver. Phil also described ways in which new measurement technology and manufacturing practices are challenging and dislodging traditional approaches to measurement. Manufacturing is becoming increasingly data driven and so there is a need to continually assess the validity of the data produced and ensure that something useful is done with it! As well as the need for more skilled professionals, Phil also called for simpler, practically oriented measurement standards so that these could be embedded in the design and implementation of kit in the factory. The perspective given by these two presentations from industry provided invaluable context and a useful framework for the remaining sessions in the programme.

Mark Deven from equipment supplier Struers showed how his company is responding to the increasing demands of technology intensive manufacturing. He reiterated the dangers of becoming 'data rich - information poor'. Mike McCarthy from the National Freeform Centre at NPL used video and audio clips to illustrate how manufacturing has radically changed over the last few decades. Measurement technology has evolved at a significant pace too - and Mike described the challenges of measuring freeform structures and the evolution of non-contact tools and techniques, showing how these are of growing importance in industry.

The role of research and development in measurement was explained in a joint presentation by Craig Davey and Oliver Martin from the Laboratory for Integrated Metrology Applications (LIMA) at the University of Bath. They communicated the concept of metrology assisted assembly and a roadmap of both funding for, and industry involvement in, research and development. More industry trends were identified, including the need for low cost reconfigurable systems and better practice in design for verification.

Over an extended lunch break, delegates were able to tour the facilities at the Manufacturing Technology Centre and could also participate in a hands-on measurement exercise and discussion facilitated by NPL's Training framework Product Manager, Keith Bevan. The importance of practical measurement skills, whatever the technology being applied, was emphasised by Keith in the plenary session where he presented the results of the workshop and highlighted complementary research on the subject that has been undertaken at the international level.

The need for effective training and structured career development pathways was emphasised in the presentation that followed from Jafar Jamshidi of Coventry University. Jafar discussed the challenges of capturing, codifying and transferring the implicit knowledge that underpins many measurement practices. He also pointed to the concern that as measurement equipment becomes ever more sophisticated - the need for skilled operators increases. Jafar concluded by describing the way in which the university was responding to the skills gaps and shortfalls described by earlier presentations.

The final presentation was delivered by Peter Russell from NPL, who described a new initiative called the Product Verification Programme which has been implemented by NPL and partners to directly address some of the challenges highlighted during the day.

View presentations from Measurement in Advanced Manufacturing: Lessons from Automotive and Aerospace

For more information, please contact Shelley Sharma

Last Updated: 16 Apr 2013
Created: 15 Apr 2013