The current global Covid-19 pandemic has caused a monumental shift in manufacturing, both in the way parts are produced but also the processes to produce them. As more companies turn their focus to the medical industry, quality assurance has taken on an increased level of importance. One such manufacturing company involved in this radical challenge is NPI Solutions Ltd.
Established in 2001, NPI are a subcontract machining company specialising in the precision engineering and manufacture of products for diverse sectors including defence, medical and power generation to the more niche, high-end audio market.
The Irvine, Ayrshire-based company has the capacity to fulfil every customer demand, boasting not only a wide range of 4 and 5 axis mills and turning centres, but also modern, fully equipped sheet metal, anodising and powder coating departments - the whole manufacturing process under one roof. It is this one-stop approach that has found NPI growing dramatically, handling upwards of 400 orders per month equating to over 40,000 components.
However, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies have found themselves dedicating resources to the manufacture of ventilators. Such critical medical equipment is ultimately reliant upon components subject to the most stringent quality control requirements.
NPI Operations Director, George Gillespie explains: "As a company we invest a lot of money every year in the latest production equipment, we're quite happy to spend £250k on a machine tool because it produces components. We had not made significant investment in quality and inspection for several years, relying on a combination of manually driven coordinate measuring machines and other standard inspection room equipment. The ventilators gave us the nudge required: we had to get a new, more advanced CNC CMM, and fast!"
"When the ventilator work started coming through at pace, we found ourselves making 3 of the main critical ventilator body components in very large batches. Machined on 3 or 4 faces, the components were intricate and required considerable inspection. We had to be able to check them very accurately and very fast. To have manually checked the required geometry for these components would have been a nightmare."
The main issue facing NPI was that due to the knock-on effect of the pandemic, many CMM manufacturers did not have the ability to demo, supply or install a machine, and certainly not in the required timescale.
George continues: "We knew of Aberlink and the great reputation that the company has and so, assisted by Tony Smith of Northern Metrology, we quickly placed an order for an Axiom too CNC CMM (600x640x500mm). In an ideal world, we needed a CMM installed and operational in two weeks - Aberlink really stepped up to the mark in exceptional circumstances."
Following the successful installation of the cutting-edge Axiom too CNC CMM, complete with fully motorised probe head, the final piece of the puzzle was training, made more difficult by the need for social distancing.
Aberlink were able to offer NPI a full and extensive remote online training session. However, George being a skilled engineer by trade, and faced with increasingly tight deadlines, made the decision to test the waters himself. He explains: "With the support of two or three phone calls to Aberlink's free technical support, I was up and running with the machine. If you are a good CNC machinist and you know your way around parts, the Aberlink Axiom too CMM is so easy to learn. I am a great believer in just diving right in and the included Aberlink 3D measurement software was so easy to learn, even when working with CAD models. Although not a substitute for dedicated, hands-on training, the support videos and manuals supplied with the machine are more than enough to get you up and going."
Now, with the slowing demand for the ventilator components, NPI plan on making the Axiom too an integral part of their manufacturing and it will be heavily relied upon for the accuracy of all projects, including those for the company's many tier 1 and tier 2 customers who demand comprehensive inspection reports.
George reflects on the importance of the purchase: "If I can produce inspection reports straight from the CMM, confidence in our ability to produce quality products grows straight away. In addition, many of the components that are manufactured these days, simply cannot be checked efficiently without a CMM. Now I can put a part on the machine, load the measurement program and hit a button. Something that may have taken a couple of hours to measure previously might now take 5 minutes."
"The fact that the CMM is so user friendly is a credit to Aberlink. We are now using the machine day in day out and do not know how we managed before. A CMM isn't even something that should be on the Wishlist, it's an essential tool."
Designed and manufactured by Aberlink, the largest UK owned Coordinate Measuring Machine manufacturer, the Axiom too is the complete inspection system, which is provided as a turnkey solution to meet the most demanding measurement requirements.
The Axiom too range of CMMs offers measuring volumes from 640 x 600 x 500mm up to 640 x 1500 x 500mm and is available either with manual or full CNC control. Not only is it extremely easy to use but offers incredible value for money. Aberlink are proud to be the only major metrology manufacturer to supply machines with zero annual software maintenance contracts and free software updates for the life of the machine. All of this means that the cost of ownership is very low providing a fast return on investment.
Aberlink are now able to offer remote online demonstrations for the entire range of CMMs, measurement software and accessories to customers who are unable to travel to a regional demo facility.