QMT Features: February 2012
Hub of metrology
Translating metrology assisted automation research into large volume production projects is the aim of LIMA. By Brendan Coyne.

The Laboratory for Integrated Metrology Applications, LIMA, is an independent centre of excellence for collaborative research and development of innovative metrology enabled applications. Established in 2009 at the University of Bath in the UK, its role is to integrate fundamental research with industrial applications to develop new technologies and processes.

It was formed in order to fill the gaps in the understanding of large volume metrology and to assist UK industry to fully exploit these enabling technologies.With an investment of £3.5m in mobile and lab-based facilities,  it is primarily concerned with the integration of large volume metrology and metrology enabled automation into emerging manufacturing system

LIMA has the ability to organise large multi-partner research collaborations engaging metrology vendors, research organisations as well as other universities. It has completed projects for a wide range of advanced engineering and aerospace companies including, Airbus, Astrium and Rolls-Royce.  The LIMA Group disseminates research and development via three business units, Research, Consultancy and the Business Technology Centre (BTC).

A major role for LIMA is the management of the Metrology Assisted Assembly, MAA, Hub for Airbus, formed in 2009.  Ben Adeline, commercial director at LIMA BTC explains “One thing Airbus is very keen on is for universities with different core competencies to form research hubs that can pull together a lot of complementing capabilities with industry, equipment vendors and research organisations. This now forms part of what we have at Bath University, the Metrology Assisted Assembly Hub. This engages various sources and competencies and then delivers that to Airbus R&D as a single interface for metrology research.”

The metrology developed from this collaboration can then be rolled out to the wider SME manufacturing community and this is where the LIMA Business Technology Centre comes in. Its role is to disseminate this knowledge to SMEs, primarily in the South West region. It is a role positively supported by Airbus. An example of this is the development in understanding measurement through the complete design and manufacturing cycle. LIMA has supported a right first time approach to manufacturing with Airbus, ensuring datums and tolerances are understood and then developing the method for verifying parts and assemblies as they are produced.

Now the challenge  is to ensure the supply chain adopts a similar approach to ensure parts supplied in are correct. This then has benefits for Airbus, which  receives correct parts, and for the supply chain company, which can then operate more efficiently.

Research projects
Under the MAA Hub umbrella,  research activities have helped to characterise emerging technology for large scale metrology assisted automation.   Ben Adeline explains,” There are different levels to our relationship with Airbus. There is a fundamental level of PhDs carrying out generic metrology research, not directly related to projects within Airbus.  These can spark ideas that can then be aligned to specific projects and requirements within Airbus. For example, integrated tooling and metrology was being investigated as a fundamental concept at PhD level.  In parallel there was an Airbus project looking at new assembly methods for composite wings.  Once the PhD study reached a maturity aligned with this project,  the research then focussed on delivering a specific solution to the project requirements.  

Utilising the composite wing programme as a specific test case., the LIMA Group took on this project to deliver a more specific solution directly into Airbus. The next step for us would be to develop the idea into a more production related scenario, working with vendors that would supply the ultimate solution to push that through higher TRL levels.”  

Another project that the LIMA Group supported was ALCAS, Advanced Low Cost Aircraft Structures. As part of the project, Airbus was to assemble a full scale composite wing, using new materials to build the composite structure. The project was also intended to develop new manufacturing techniques, processes and technologies to put the wing together. Part of the project was to develop better interface management between the cover and the rib feet, a process based on Rib Foot Fettling. The programme was to develop a way of analysing the build up of a tolerance stack into one area and then machining back that tolerance. The work LIMA put into that was to develop the tolerancing and datumming philosophy and then  to suppport the associated uncertainty budgets and calculations in order to determine whether this whole process would deliver the required tolerances. The LIMA Group then supported the actual hands-on metrology for the project, physically being on the ground with a laser tracker and photogrammetry kit.. l
email: Ben Adeline: ben@limauk.com
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