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Case studies

Product verification support leads to significant savings for precision engineering company

The need

Anglia CNC Engineering (ACE) is an SME based in Cambridge which specialises in supplying high-quality metallic machined parts and assemblies to a variety of industries, including aerospace, defence and Formula 1. Components manufactured at ACE are to very tight tolerances and stringent specifications required from the customers, this means they are inherently reliant on a high level of skilled workforce and accuracy required from machines and measurement systems throughout the business. ACE approached NPL to assist them meet these challenging requirements without increasing costs with the assistance from a grant with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The solution

NPL's team of product verification specialists visited ACE to conduct a product verification health check. This highlighted opportunities to optimise manufacturing and inspection processes through improved measurement practices and techniques. Three key opportunities for improvement were identified:

Calibration project

NPL worked with ACE to develop their capability to perform in-house calibrations of measurement equipment. This was realised through NPL guidance and demonstrated that with the right training and practices the business could calibrate its own gauges and equipment using their own precision standard references. This reduced the annual cost of using a third party supplier to achieve this, as well as eliminating the associated dangers and delays with shipping.

Machine tool verification

An NPL specialist tested all 15 CNC machines in the company by using Renishaw ball bar equipment. The quick and easy test showed how capable each machine was and any associated errors that were inherent. The data gathered is very useful, as without knowing how accurate a machine is you are solely reliant upon operator skill and programming. The results showed some machines required maintenance for improvement, some had immediate corrections added thus improving the accuracy via compensation values input into the controller and most were still well within their expected accuracy specification.

The use of the ball bar data was supplemented with a generic measurement capability factoring, to help the company choose the machines that would be capable of meeting customer feature tolerance challenges in conjunction with the right choice of measurement device. This verification processes reduced manufacturing risk.

Improved machine setting process

This process delivered rigour and precision regarding the needs of setting a machine. It was configured as a single workbook that the business could use to select what criteria were needed, and also allowed improvements to the master template to be recorded. The criteria were then used as a competency test to assess operator skills so that any gaps could be added to the skill and development plan of staff.

The impact

High specification manufacturing processes are costly and it is important to ensure that products are manufactured right first time, this enables machining costs and wastage to be reduced and competitiveness increased. The use of NPL expertise and LEP funding gave ACE access to specialists, equipment and the definitive knowledge provided by NPL, the UK National Measurement Institute. The Product Verification Health Check gave a broad guide to how and where to improve, and the three small projects delivered targeted improvements quickly and practically to the business. This product verification process resulted in more than £50k of savings per year for ACE and enabled them to compete with confidence, gain an edge over their competitors with the potential to win new contracts and satisfy customer requirements.

Find out more about NPL's Product Verification Programme and SiG

I was aware that NPL is known as a measurement institute, but can be seen as an ivory tower, certainly to an SME as it operates with the bigger players. However, I found that the NPL team quickly understood my company's challenges. They were flexible to my business's needs, which really impressed me and made an immediate tangible difference to my business.

Graham Fenn - Managing Director, Anglia CNC Ltd