An Expert Insight into Metrology

Trevor TomanTrevor Toman is Head of Metrology at Coventry University and has over 40 years experience working extensively in calibration and measurement within the manufacturing industry. From early beginnings with PSA Peugeot Citroën UK, Trevor’s expertise is now sought by global heavyweights including Rolls-Royce, Ford, BMW and Airbus.

Can you tell us a little bit about what Coventry University’s involvement in metrology is?

Coventry University launched Metrology as a focus in 2006. We cover a wide range of areas within metrology – but are primarily focused on applied dimensional metrology. We’ve developed working relationships for the delivery of underpinning training, educational qualifications, research and consultancy in dimensional metrology to a wide range of organisations, both nationally and internationally. We have also developed and deliver the UK’s first (possibly the world’s first) Foundation Degree in Metrology.

So, what exactly is “dimensional metrology”?

Dimensional measurement is about determining the size and shape of objects. In a manufacturing context everything from the pen we write with, the watch we own, our motor vehicles, planes we fly in, the chairs and building we sit in are all measured to determine they conform to the design intent. The precision required to make chair parts is less demanding than the precision required making components for a formula one car, so how accurately can you measure, how well you can evidence that is a core question to answer.

Can you say who your major clients are?

We’re working with a number of different companies within a variety of manufacturing sectors and their support network such as calibration companies, measuring equipment manufacturers and supply chain. To name a small sample we have worked with Rolls-Royce Plc, Ford, BMW, Faro, Nikon metrology, Airbus and Trescal. We work very closely with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), who is licensed by government as the organisation responsible for maintaining our national standards in metrology. We have also and will continue to work with in partnership with Unipart, as one of the core disciplines within the new Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering that we have jointly initiated with Government funding support.

Do you just work with larger companies?

No. We also support small companies in a wide variety of ways, perhaps doing some small measurement validation or consultancy for them as well as training. In smaller companies metrology expertise can often be lacking and so we can supply that expertise for them as required. We can also help resolve issues that often occur between customer and supplier where independent advice on best practice can reduce supplier risk and save unnecessary extra work.

What do you see as the biggest challenge that the manufacturing industry is facing with metrology?

Lean manufacturing is starting to focus companies on not only making good quality parts, but making them at a cost effective and therefore competitive price. Improvement and corrective decisions are made based on data supplied by measurements taken, bad data will confuse or stifle a company’s ability to make good decisions based on that data. Metrologists focus on the methods and cost effectiveness of taking measurement data and the resultant accuracy of that data, so that valid decisions can be made from it. In order to understand the process properly, you really do need to understand your measurement system first. If you can quantify your measurement system it will give you the confidence to make better decisions based on the numbers it provides, and measurement will be an added value activity and not just an inconvenient on cost. Good metrology and an effective measurement capability will help assure a company’s process control, offering a route to continuous improvement and driving down cost. This combined with an ageing workforce and a general skills shortage across engineering, which is epitomised by metrology skill shortages, is creating a huge challenge to UK manufacturing. Getting the right people, qualified Metrologists who can deliver is a challenge at almost every level. Metrology has become a diluted if not almost a forgotten skill. As well as skills shortages technology has tended to dumb down the understanding of the core principles of metrology. There are many research reports out there talking about a shortage of skills in engineering and manufacturing. The government’s 2006 Leitch Report talks about a lack of core skills within manufacturing, of which metrology is a key technical area.

There are a lot of people out there who can understand flowcharting, process capability etcetera. Six Sigma green and black belts are good at this and more, and they do deliver in most cases. However, for them to be able to put their analytical skills to use you need someone who can supply and assure that they receive good data that they can trust and have confidence in. That is what a good Metrologist can provide. Metrology will define the level of quality of the measurement process, the measurement process will define the quality of the parts or service being supplied to the customer.

So, how important is metrology within the manufacturing process?

Very important! Metrology underpins all added value activities within a business by driving good measurement, informing a business about process capability and showing opportunities for driving down production costs. All businesses have a certain amount of risk associated with their decision making. That’s why they pay good money to people to make good decisions that support the business moving forward. But if you’re making decisions based on data that isn’t factual it won’t matter how good you are at decision-making. Bad data, even in the hands of a really good decision maker, still results in a bad decision.

A Metrologist’s primary job is to understand how accurate and precise the data is and how it behaves. By understanding this they facilitate information that good decision making relies upon across any manufacturing business and even in in non-manufacturing. For example Coventry University have been involved with the NHS where measurements are also taken and metrology skills are required. Metrologist’s are not lone wolves, they also support the manufacturing process by advising on best practice measurement methods, supporting inspection and quality teams, and working on new product integrations and making sure bad measurement is not siphoning away a company’s profits.

Smaller businesses might not be able to have a dedicated Metrologist. Does this matter?

Metrology is as important in a small business as it is in a Ford or Rolls-Royce. But smaller companies may not have metrology skills in the business or even require those skills on a regular basis. The perfect scenario is to go and employ a Metrologist. However this isn’t always practical. It can be just as effective to call in that skilled resource as and when you need it. The UK’s major companies should support their supply chains – it is in the interests of both parties to do so, So if as a small business you are missing certain core skills and core knowledge that will help you understand your measurement better, your customer may be able to supply that expertise and support you. If you’re customer cannot or will not supply that expertise, there are many organisations like ourselves at Coventry University that can supply that expertise as it is needed.

If any business decides to embed that skill into their business rather than buy it in, you can gain these skills through organisations like Coventry University and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). We run short courses that are certified by NPL to give people core measurement skills and knowledge, leading to our Foundation Degree in Metrology (FDiM) to build to a metrologist. You may not end up going all the way to growing your own metrologist, but you can have one or two dedicated people who become the metrology champions within your organisation and an effective measurement resource.

What’s next for metrology at CU?

It will definitely continue to grow. Our student numbers are growing for the Foundation Degree, our training courses (CPD) take-up is growing rapidly and our support of companies in consultancy is paying dividends to those companies.

We’re currently looking to build on our current offerings by developing a bite sized modular Masters programme. As with everything we do, a well-grounded and relevant course with real world activities and projects.

The Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering – a Unipart and Coventry University partnership – that is still in its infancy, will have a large emphasis on metrology. Companies are continuously trying to improve and that’s why we try to instil metrology knowledge into the workforce.

As technology improves, as jet or car engines need to be more efficient, as an aircraft needs to be put together more quickly, or as materials or energy get more expensive – all these things are driving manufacturing to make things to a higher standard of quality, quicker and more cost effectively. Metrology is at the heart of this drive and will play an important part in the future competitiveness of the UK in a worldwide economy.

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