Metrology training measures up

Posted on 5 May 2009 by The Manufacturer

A recession is precisely the time to up-skill staff says Tom Ashby, business development manager for training at the National Physical Laboratory, the UK’s national measurement institute.

We all know it is a tough time for manufacturing. Whether household names or small firms, companies across the UK are feeling the pinch. In these circumstances there are two ways to maintain a profitable business — either increase sales or reduce costs and wastage. The former is becoming increasingly difficult, so ways to make manufacturing leaner and more efficient are becoming ever more important.

That is why appropriate staff training is now more crucial than ever, particularly the right training from the right people. Training that sees a return on investment and affects the bottom line.

Since launching in 2006, over 120 companies and 600 delegates have gone through level 1 and level 2 of our dimensional measurement training framework, with more signing up every day. Customers include BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, GKN, AWE and Bentley as well as small and medium sized businesses.

These manufacturers are seeing that dimensional measurement training has a real effect on their efficiency and productivity. We take a generation of workers and reintroduce the questioning and planning culture into their daily routine. For example, machines that measure co-ordinates are a wonderful thing but are they always the best way of measuring a particular part or component? What are you actually measuring, under which conditions? People who have undertaken our dimensional measurement programme have started to ask questions like these.

The problem is that some workers know less about the principles of measurement today because advances in technology mean they don’t have to know them. New equipment has become easier to use so operators do not need the depth of measurement training they did twenty years ago. This can lead to poor decisions and mistakes with expensive consequences. The result is fewer companies with appropriate measurement expertise and the slow decline of industry’s measurement competency. It is the National Physical Laboratory (NPL)’s responsibility to address this key issue.

The training framework
Our dimensional measurement training addresses this issue head-on. We base our programme on a framework of four levels.

Level 1 provides the underpinning knowledge and expertise for anyone using dimensional measurement tools or requiring an appreciation of the importance of measurement. It covers an introduction to geometrical product specification, cartesian and polar co-ordinate measurements, a guide to tolerancing and an introduction to the principals of measurement. Level 1 is a three day course.

Level 2 comprises six modules and builds on what candidates have already learned. It encompasses geometric product specification, co-ordinate principles, first principle measurement, principles of process control, measurement calculations and a competence module in co-ordinate methods.

The courses are workbook-based, providing the evidence that the delegate has completed the course and the tasks within it. Upon completion they will receive an NPL certificate of qualification for that respective level.

Later in 2009 we will roll out level 3 of the training framework which will be aimed at those in the design community, those calling up geometrical tolerancing or those on the shopfloor putting measurement into practice. This level is for measurement developers, people who are looking to bring best practices into business and manufacturing environments, those who would know and recognise through the training they’ve had how to bring new equipment into a business. There will also be modules on surface roughness measurement and process control taught to a very high level. This is about training that has an impact on the bottom line.

Level 4 will be for people whose career paths are very definitely set on becoming senior metrologists within their business. It is project-oriented and will involve a secondment at NPL doing actual measurement development and innovation. Alternatively, candidates might identify an area of measurement innovation and definition in their own business and could collaborate with a university or NPL to develop a new measurement strategy.

Who delivers?
Traditionally, NPL Training is given through one of its ten approved training deliverers. These are typically equipment manufacturers or training service providers who act as NPL accredited third parties, promoting NPL courses and training delegates from a variety of industries.

Recently NPL accredited BAE Systems’ staff to deliver the training in-house as an end user. BAE Systems picked a select group of experienced employees to be trained in delivering the programme at BAE Systems’ Barrow Calibration Centre. Now training courses take place on site at times that suit delegates, supervisors and the management team. Two to three NPL training courses will take place each month at the BAE Systems’ Calibration Centre based at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

But it’s not all about the big boys. We have been working with SMEs across the country, companies like Dawson Precision Components in Shaw, Greater Manchester.

Measuring up for the future
As well as rolling out levels 3 and 4 of our dimensional measurement programme, NPL is working on electrical measurement and temperature measurement training courses, as well as other courses specific to the nuclear and healthcare industries. The objective is for these to have as much impact in their respective markets as our work within the manufacturing industry.

Many companies are trying to cut labour costs at the moment and training budgets are under tight scrutiny. Budget holders have to decide which are the areas where they can’t afford not to invest. Skills training for staff that cuts costs and increases quality is surely a good candidate.