Precision manufacturer ups the ante with new CMM  

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.

Established in 2001, NPI is a subcontract machining company specialising in the manufacture of products for a diverse range of sectors including defence, medical and power generation to the more niche, high-end audio market.

The Irvine, Ayrshire-based company has the capacity to keep its customers happy with a wide range 4- and 5-axis mills and turning centres in addition to fully equipped sheetmetal, anodising and powder coating departments. 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 regularly in the latest production equipment and we’re quite happy to spend £250K on a machine tool if we think it’s right for the business.

“However, we haven’t made any significant investments in quality and inspection for several years, relying on a combination of manually driven CMMs and other standard inspection room equipment. The ventilators gave us the nudge required: we needed to rapidly source a more advanced CMM to accommodate this type of work.”

“When the ventilator work started coming through at pace, we found ourselves making three of the main critical ventilator body components in very large batches. Machined on three or four faces, the components were intricate and manual inspection simply wasn’t possible or fast enough.”

The main issue facing NPI was that due to the knock-on effect of the pandemic, many CMM manufacturers didn’t have the ability to demo, supply or install a machine, and certainly not in the required timescale.

Mr Gillespie continues: “We knew of Aberlink’s excellent reputation and so, assisted by Tony Smith of Northern Metrology, placed an order for an Axiom too CNC CMM (600 x 640 x 500mm). In an ideal world, we needed a CMM installed and operational in two weeks – Aberlink really stepped up to the mark in exceptional circumstances and supplied it in just three.”

Following the successful installation of the Axiom too 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 was able to offer NPI a full and extensive remote online training session, however Mr Gillespie being a skilled engineer by trade, and faced with increasingly tight deadlines, made the decision to test the waters himself.

He explains: “With two or three phone calls to Aberlink’s free technical support, I was up and running with the machine. If you are a decent CNC machinist and you know your way around parts, the Axiom too and included 3D measurement software is 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 running.”

Mr Gillespie 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 just five minutes. The fact that the CMM is so user friendly is credit to Aberlink.”

The Axiom too range of CMMs offer measuring volumes from 640 x 600 x 500mm up to 640 x 1,500 x 500mm and is available either with manual or full CNC control. The company is now able to offer remote online demonstrations for its entire range of CMMs, measurement software and accessories to customers unable to travel to a regional demo facility.


NPI Solutions



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