Precision stampings specialist Batten & Allen Ltd is using a range of OGP SmartScope machines for the measurement of its miniature parts. Among the systems is a recently installed SmartScope Vantage 250 that is helping the company maintain quality excellence for a host of customers in sectors that include electronics, medical, automotive, telecommunications and solar energy.
Based in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, Batten & Allen deploys a programme of continuous investment for manufacturing, testing and inspection, along with investment in the competence of its workforce. It is this progressive philosophy that sees the privately-owned company compete successfully with rivals in the Far East and elsewhere for contracts to supply component quantities that run into hundreds of millions a month.
"If we encounter any disadvantages due to lower labour costs overseas, we manage to offset these by deploying a planned programme of investment in the latest manufacturing and metrology systems," explains Phil Purser, Batten & Allen's management systems representative.
A good example of Batten & Allen's commitment in this area can be seen within the company's quality department. Here, an array of OGP SmartScope video-based CMM systems are deployed to measure components and features beyond the capability of many competitor machines.
"Originally we had two machines similar in principal to the OGP systems," says Mr Purser. "However, component complexity would often mean two set-ups were required to inspect the part, which in turn meant setting up both machines and transferring components between the two. This was deemed inefficient and not in keeping with our production ethos."
In 2004 an OGP SmartScope ZIP 250 was installed at the 100-employee company to perform the same task but in a single operation. This was made possible through the advantage of z-axis functionality. Such was the success of the ZIP 250 that two identical models have since been added along with a SmartScope Flare 250. Mr Purser said, "The tightest tolerance currently specified on our parts is 0.05mm, which is a dimension we need to measure in the z-axis."
Components at the ISO9001 and ISO14001 accredited company are stamped on automatic presses that also produce any forms required in the same hit. Dimensional measurement is required to check features that include diameters, pitches, widths, thicknesses, angles and form positions.
With many of the parts and features being so small, illumination is a critical feature of successful measurement. The SmartScope Vantage 250 incorporates patented illumination technologies that include a fixed array of LED lights that track the x-axis and provide square-on profile lighting.
Surface illumination is provided by SmartRing, OGP's patented vector light that gives total control of lighting angles, making it easy to pick out important features for repeatable and accurate optical probing.
The excellent illumination also gives Batten & Allen the opportunity to take crisp and clear component images. This is handy when products are at the development stage and the company needs to discuss certain issues with the customer. Images can be sent by email and discussed over the telephone. SmartScope images are also used to create visual aids for personnel in the stamping shop. Images showing potential problems can help lead to early identification of a process wandering from its tolerance limits..
The Vantage 250 is programmed by Batten & Allen's quality engineers using OGP's intuitive MeasureMind 3D software. Fully automatic measurement routines can be programmed in minutes and data outputs can be customised to meet specific reporting formats or used by analysis packages to compute 3D surface profiles, part-to-CAD comparisons, SPC or for reverse engineering.
"We are very comfortable with MeasureMind. We can program offline or online as the need requires. Typically, many of our parts are minor variations on similar themes, so it is sometimes quicker for us to make program changes at the machine. The average run time for our programs is around three minutes."
Components manufactured by Batten & Allen are produced on automatic, high speed presses. Specially designed tool sets typically produce a group of components in a single hit. The parts are then spooled on to a reel ready for the customer. Samples are provided at the end of each reel for all products. Each sample is visually inspected but dimensional checks are only performed in line with the relevant sampling plan (which is product-specific).
"Because many of the components need to have exceptional conductive properties, metals such as beryllium copper and selective gold plating are not uncommon," says Mr Purser. "Inspection has a vital role to play - if there is a problem at the start of a reel we need to stop the press and address the issue as soon as possible to avoid wasting expensive material. As part of our programme of continuous improvement, if such a problem is highlighted by our SmartScope machines we now have the ability to stop any of our presses remotely from the quality department. Overall, the machines have increased our accuracy capability and boosted our speed considerably - throughput has risen enormously without increasing manpower."l