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Probingwithout limits

Jonathan Newell talks to Solartron Metrology about how its digital measurement system reaches into the heart of the automotive industry


ndustry 4.0 is something very new to many industries. It requires a shift in thinking to bring connected intelligence to the shop floor, through information processing at the edge of

the network, smart sensors and decision making software. However, for some companies,

connected industry is something that they’ve already been offering for a long time – the advent of I4.0 merely provides them with more filaments in the web of collaborative devices. One such company is Solartron

Metrology, part of Ametek Ultra Precision Technologies. I met the company’s Justin Cottrell and James Leighton at the Advanced Engineering Show in November at the NEC, where I saw the company’s Orbit 3 DigitalMeasurement System. It is a modular approach to gathering and sharing linear measuring transducer data, as well as data from other types of sensors.

DIGITAL MEASUREMENT The purpose of Orbit 3 is to bring all measurement sensors into one network and eliminate the necessity for analogue transducers and amplifiers, which would require individually setting up and maintaining. The modular system comprises

measurement modules, PC and network controllers, drivers and software

50 /// Environmental Engineering /// December 2016

applications, all designed to make the capture of data easier. The DIN rail-mounted systemcan be

used with third party sensors and transducers. It can be related to linear measurement, temperature and pressure monitoring, as well as other applications, the data fromwhich can be shared across the connected network. A software development kit (SDK) is

available to engineers for programming the output fromthe DAQ units to provide the information needed, such as absolute measurements, comparisons to standard, degree of conformance, process drift or a simple pass/fail decision.

AUTOMOTIVE APPLICATIONS SolartronMetrology produces a range of different sensor probes with accuracies down to fractions ofmicrons, which can be arranged in arrays for performing measurement and gauging on components. This technique is frequently used for comparing production parts to an established “gold product”. At the inspection station, output can be

a simple pass or fail, but the data fromthe sensors can also be analysed by engineers to detect a drift in process parameters and take action before parts start to reach tolerance limits and fail inspection. According to Cottrell, there are still often

instances in the automotive industry, and generally inmechanical assemblies, where

absolutemeasurement and tolerance conformance is not a pressing issue. This is because there is still some selective assembly in the industry, whereby an oversized part can bemated with a correspondingly undersized part. However, this ismuch less the case now

than in the past and sensitivity to tolerance is increasing in the automotive industry, especially asmaintenance issuesmake selective assembly an issue of poor repeatability and quality. Cottrell gave the example of where

sensor probes of different sizes – fromas small as 3mmdiameter – are used for piston crown inspection. “The profile of the piston crown is something on which the sensors can be used as a gauge. Three millimetre sensor probes can be arranged in a tight array and offered up to the gold standard, the software records the readings and then a production part is placed in the sensor array in place of the gold standard and gauged,” he explains. The profile of parts is not limited to

precision engine components, but increasingly also on parts thatmay not have previously been associated with tight tolerances. “We are seeing changes in the automotive industry which are creating more demands on the sensor systemsmade by us,” says Cottrell. “One such change is in themeasurement of windscreen profiles, something for which there is no flexibility in tolerance.” EE

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