UK manufacturing must ‘measure up’ for a digital future

Posted on 19 Jun 2020 by Jonny Williamson

A new report has been published to help UK manufacturers exploit growing commercial opportunities and to identify future R&D priorities around measurement and control techniques.

Metrology lies at the heart of the ‘digital manufacturing’ step-change, as the measurement data it yields can be used to control the process and/or inspect the quality of the product.

Whereas metrology has traditionally been carried out post-production, today the trend is for integrated metrology – real-time, accurate measurements carried out during manufacturing and by in-built technology on factory machines.

“In the near future integrated metrology has the potential to become an essential part of a manufacturing process as well as a common function on a machine tool. To reach this goal, comprehensive developments in hardware and software are essential,” explains report author and Professor in Metrology at the University of Nottingham, Richard Leach.

The document, Integrated Metrology: 10-year Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing is the result of a project funded by EPSRC and the HVM Catapult with the aim to outline possible routes to develop:

  1. A systematic approach to integrated measurement and control for advanced manufacturing
  2. Identify and guide opportunities for commercialisation of early research
  3. Guide future research themes across the Manufacturing Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)

Research for the road map was carried out with support of six of the seven HVM Catapult sites across the UK. Each site was visited to benchmark existing integrated metrology, log future requirements, R&D programmes and barriers to development; along with interviews with key staff.

To establish additional critical requirements from UK industry a survey generated responses from five countries including the US, China and the UK, with more than four in five (81%) from SMEs, giving insight into current capabilities for smaller manufacturers.

Key roadmap findings

  • Industrial developers are locking customers into their integrated metrology with proprietary formats. This trend is limiting supply chain connectivity with a knock-on effect for UK manufacturing.
  • HVM Catapult should act as an independent advisor to industry on the adoption of new integrated metrology technology and whether it is valid and fit for purpose.
  • HVM Catapult should help engineering councils and institutes to build metrology into the UK-SPEC. Without this action, the next generation of engineers will lack the knowledge to advance to Industry 4.0.
  • A new library of digital twin models of sensors and automated controls should be developed by the HVM Catapult to serve as a reference for SMEs to validate and calibrate their technology against.
  • Standardised definitions should be applied around integrated metrology to streamline the development of automated process control and defect detection operations through machine learning. This is essential if the UK’s 10-year goal of fully automated decision-making manufacturing is to be realised.
  • In addition to ‘good’ data, metrology solutions embedded in a factory setting require data trust. A new suite of internationally-recognised regulations and standards is vital to ensure integrated metrology across the entire supply chain.
  • New materials are required to ensure sensor resilience, speed and accuracy when integrated into machines for new in-situ measurements. All these developments need extensive research in the next 10 years.
  • Many integrated metrology techniques need migrating from off-line to in-process. More research is therefore needed to create novel on-machine inspection with measuring technology integrated into the manufacturing process.
  • More than three-quarters of survey participants (77%) wanted to incorporate automation into their current integrated metrology practices, with 35% wanting total automation of measurement systems.
  • Cost was the most reoccurring barrier (58%), followed by lack of awareness of integrated metrology techniques, making education critical.
  • A desire to reduce inspection time was cited as a top research priority among respondents; as most types of metrology require a pause in manufacture to obtain measurements, slowing productivity and increasing costs.
  • Process optimisation, component verification and process control were all flagged as priorities too. This requires improved accuracy and density of data.

*Header image courtesy of Anja Heidsiek from Pixabay