It has been a common complaint in recent years that the lack of understanding of the principles and practice of metrology are hampering manufacturing improvement, particularly in the uptake and application of measurement technology, whether at the design, engineering or manufacturing shopfloor levels.
Knowing how to use a measurement tool is not the same as knowing how to use measurement as a tool. Measurement is a science to be applied with skill, not simply following a manual.
To address this skills deficit, in 2006, the National Physical Laboratory launched the UK’s only independent national measurement training programme. Providing a skills training framework, it consists of a set of training modules and assessments that certify an understanding of the principles of measurement. The aim is to ensure those working on the front line of manufacturing know how to apply the power of measurement to real problems, helping organisations reduce waste, take better informed decisions and avoid operational mistakes.
Delivering the programme is through a collective approach, based on the UK’s measurement community of measurement equipment suppliers, trade associations, manufacturing organisations, training providers and government regulators. This collective approach, under the umbrella of the NPL, ensures a consistent, accredited, credible qualification underpinned by a syllabus that will evolve to reflect the changing requirements of industry.
The framework consists four levels of measurement skills training:
- Level 1: measurement user
- Level 2: measurement applier
- Level 3: measurement developer
- Level 4: measurement definer
Each level is divided into modules that can be taken separately or joined together to complete an entire level.
The programme takes candidates up from the basics, revisiting foundation of measurement skills and identifying how they should be used in practice. It is practical, application-based training, supported by workshops and seminars with a continuous assessment and workbook approach. Its modular framework enables the training to be completed alongside existing work commitments.
A key feature of the NPL Training framework is APLE (Accredited Prior Learning and Experience). Many training courses consist of a number of day’s classroom-based learning with no evaluation of the knowledge or skilled gained as a result. APLE allows delegates to demonstrate the level of competency they possess following a training course and maintains an ongoing record of their full capability.
The training is delivered by NPL accredited experts in measurement and can be undertaken on site at the participating company or at a convenient regional location. The nationally accredited qualification (which is not an NVQ) is fully transferable across industries and also represents a vocational career path for metrology specialists.
Rolls-Royce, a global aerospace company, is one of the first to roll out the NPL Training framework. Rolls-Royce believes it can increase staff efficiency, make more informed decisions and spread decision making across a wider network of employees. “The programme will enable participants to make better manufacturing decisions and take a more consistent approach to problem solving and process capability improvements,” says Dr Hamid Mughal, executive vice president, Manufacturing Engineering at Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce use a number of accredited NPL Training providers, such as Mitutoyo (UK), Hexagon Metrology, Leeds College of Technology and The West Midlands Manufacturing Measurement Centre at Coventry.
“Waiting lists for NPL Training courses are already commonplace,” says Bryan Carrington, Manufacturing Engineering, Rolls-Royce. “Our employees recognise NPL Training can help them grow their potential and offer a clear career path to more senior positions. It is an ideal programme that supports the whole infrastructure of measurement, providing core skills. It fits in nicely with the Rolls-Royce Manufacturing Excellence programme to upskill employees, particularly in dimensional measurement. It is particularly targeted at graduates who will end up in manufacturing engineering. For those graduates who want to become senior metrologists, we can now offer a clear career path to get there.”
Following the introduction of Level 1 training, more than 96% of participants rated the course as good or excellent. Rolls-Royce is now expanding the framework across the rest of the UK, Germany and North America and has recently run its first level 2 programme.
Paul Nash of the NPL sees rolling out level 2 to the manufacturing sector as a priority. The NPL is now ready to launch the second module of its dimensional measurement curriculum to wider industry, “ Building on the success of Level 1 with companies such as Rolls-Royce and Nikon is critical.” he says. “We piloted Level 2 at Rolls Royce and are now seeing similar results to Level 1. Levels 3 and 4 are being developed and will be available this year (2008).” Paul Nash emphasises that the programme is not just for the larger companies but is also relevant to SMEs. In the longer term, the NPL training framework will be developed across other sectors such as aerospace and automotive supply chains, nuclear, defence and medical, with a more generic approach covering measurement sciences such as temperature, radiation, materials, mass, flow and so on. A final comment from Bryan Carrington of Rolls-Royce could (hopefully) be applied to this wider rollout, “It meets expectations and has been long awaited. The NPL Training framework will make a big difference.”