The term ‘solution provider’ has evolved from being an industry buzzword to something of a necessity. In the metrology and inspection space, it’s a fitting description for Market Harborough-based Optimax, a company that draws on decades of experience to help its customers make the right metrology choices. Dave Tudor reports.
It’s a sad fact of manufacturing life that we’re in a skills crisis and as a direct result of that dilemma, manufacturers are relying on their respective suppliers to not only provide equipment that’s both powerful and simple to use, but also to offer advice, expertise and guidance on products and applications. In many cases, equipment suppliers are also consultants and highly valued partners.
We’ve seen it right across the manufacturing landscape. Cutting and machine tool manufacturers are no longer just simple product shifters – many of the leading players also have modern, well-equipped application centres to help their customers run trials to develop processes that are production ready. Those customers may not have that capability in-house.
Optimax, at its core, is a metrology solution provider. Formed in 2002 and headed up today by directors Pete Clements, Helen Talbot-Smith and Paul Barnett, the company’s approach is distinctly holistic. It’ll look at your metrology woes, conundrums and bottlenecks through a wide angled lens (or perhaps a microscope) and offer you a solution tailored to your specific application.
Importantly, Optimax is independent. In terms of metrology equipment, it represents a number of leading manufacturers, but also offers UKAS accredited field-based calibration capabilities, spare parts and upgrades, training, repairs, and a comprehensive contract measurement service.
The future’s optical
Pete Clements has been embroiled in the fine art of measurement for many years. He’s a big advocate of, and has a deep technical interest in, optical inspection technology which has advanced literally in leaps and bounds in recent years. He believes it’s the future.
“Optical metrology received some bad press in the early days,” he recalls. “The precision manufacturing sector was cautious about its deployment as the technology was emerging, and there were very few, globally recognised calibration standards and operating procedures compared to traditional tactile devices.
“For CMMs it’s relatively straightforward: ISO 10360 Part 2 has been available since 1994 and provides accessible, trusted, globally recognised traceability. For optical and vision systems it was different, with no standard to benchmark against. That changed in 2011 when Part 7 for the ISO 10360 standard was released, addressing cartesian coordinate measuring systems, equipped with imaging probes.
“We worked closely with UKAS to become the first in the UK to gain accreditation and retain the lowest levels of measuring uncertainty for this schedule even today. We’re very proud of that achievement.”
Relationships based on trust
Optimax’s product groups fall into four main categories: Non-contact metrology (profile projectors, structured light 3D scanning, toolmakers’ microscopes and optical multi-axis systems capable of dimensional and topographic scanning); Remote Visual Inspection (endoscopes, borescopes and videoscopes); Visual Inspection (eyepiece-less, video, and stereo microscopes); and Force measurement and Materials Testing – springs for example.
The company enjoys exclusive, longstanding working partnerships with a number of leading global metrology equipment manufacturers, effectively acting as the OEM for these suppliers for the UK territory. You want to find out more about Alicona products for example? It’s Optimax you’ll be speaking to.
Optimax is the polar opposite of a metrology volume supplier. It enjoys incredibly strong relationships with its principals, 100% based on trust and integrity. These partnerships are so close that the company plays a significant role in new product development and identifying areas for improvement.
And it’s a select band of partners: Bruker Alicona for optical industrial measurement technology; Starrett vision, force, and optical products; Mahr for optical shaft measurement; Gradient Lens borescopes; Inspekto AI vision systems; eviXscan 3D structured light scanning systems; Photonics optical accessories; and Vision Engineering ergonomic microscopy, digital 3D visualisation and metrology solutions.
For all but Vision Engineering, Optimax has established exclusive UK partnerships. For Vision, the exclusivity is limited geographically to the middle of the UK – still quite a coup for Optimax as Vision tends not to work exclusively with its distribution network globally and also sells directly.
“The common theme is traceability to a globally recognised output, not only for dimensional metrology, but also visual, attribute related inspection. When we sell a digital or optical microscope for example, we can validate its output with a UKAS certificate,” Mr Clements affirms.
Optimax’s facility in Market Harborough is a modern, spacious, purpose-built building, but the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly its temperature-controlled Application Suite which is an absolute Aladdin’s Cave, jam packed with cutting-edge metrology equipment.
Here you’ll find a vast number of products from all of Optimax’s principals – but it’s not just a shop window. This is a fully functional application centre where Optimax works closely with its customers on product trials to ensure proposed solutions are actually fit for purpose. This could be on a consultancy basis where the customer simply pays for Optimax’s time and expertise, or turnkey product supply.
Pete Clements says customers often enter the facility with a fixed legacy knowledge mindset, but leave with a totally different one once they’ve seen the latest technology on offer. Combining multiple technologies in a single instrument for example may actually save money in the bigger picture; it negates the need to purchase multiple instruments and the additional cost of ownership, to do the same tasks. Or automation options may come up in the discussion to introduce operational efficiencies and operator free inspection.
Elsewhere in the building is a dedicated Calibration Lab (home to more than 10 UKAS approved members of staff) and ample real estate for stocking spare parts and products.
With Optimax, everything starts with the customer’s specific application and works progressively from there, encompassing everything from single machines to multi-faceted solutions to hand tools if required.
It would be impossible to cover every piece of equipment in this article, but let’s single out two: the eviXscan 3D Quadro+ scanner and the Bruker Alicona InfiniteFocus G6 3D measurement system.
The former is a highly compact 3D scanning system based on structured light technology. It features two distinct scanning ranges in a single device, enabling fast and accurate measurements of both large and small objects.
A key advantage with the eviXscan is its ability to scan dark or bright objects due to its short scanner-to-object distance. Its adaptability is further enhanced by the capability to combine point clouds from both scanning ranges, broadening its range of applications. This versatility makes the Quadro+ an ideal solution that seamlessly integrates with robots and cobots on production lines.
It can achieve accuracies as fine as 0.007mm and employs a blue LED light source with a minimum scanning time of 1.2 seconds, maximising efficiency without compromising quality. It excels in applications such as reverse engineering, quality control, and rapid prototyping.
Bruker Alicona is a world leader in the field of optical measurement technology and in the InfiniteFocus G6, has developed an automation-ready optical 3D measurement machine that can operate in the micron and sub-micron ranges. Measurement is area-based and high resolution, independent of component size, material, geometry, weight, and surface finish.
Fundamentally, the G6 enables the user to measure traditional dimensional geometry and roughness with a single optical sensor. An important point to make is that with both the G6 and the eviXscan 3D Quadro+ parts don’t need to be sprayed prior to scanning – a process that is necessary with some other systems due to reflectivity issues with certain material/colour combinations.
More for less
“I truly believe optical systems are the future,” Mr Clements enthuses. “It’s been a gradual transition from tactile, but the technology has advanced hugely in recent years. With machines like the G6 you essentially get cartesian CMM functionality coupled with surface inspection capabilities. It’s a win-win solution.
“Don’t get me wrong – CMMs have their place – it’s mature technology and for many companies it’s all they’ll ever need – but they are limited by single point data collection and the speed of a large moving cartesian structure for the collection of each point.
“Conversely, optical systems generally use field/area-based data collection often involving thousands or indeed millions of data points, so you can measure more than just geometry,” he continues. “You can also take in elements such as surface finish, profile, waviness, edge breaks, burrs, texture, and contour – and all from the same sensor. They’re more versatile, faster and require less operator skill to program than a conventional CMM.
“Accuracy-wise, optical systems are nipping at the heels of CMMs. The eviXscan Quadro+ for example is capable of holding 8µm, capturing millions of data points in just a few seconds. It’s an automated process that generates a 3D rendered model and compares to the nominals, based on that. You don’t have to worry about things like probe offsets and potential collisions – just scan and interrogate the data cloud.
“For many of our customers – both OEMs and subcontractors – operating in safety critical, precision industries like medical, automotive and aerospace (blade forms for example), optical is now the standard solution. It offers rapid dimensional and surface finish inspection, in a single instrument – and both outputs are traceable to a recognised standard, so the results can be trusted and relied on.”
Find out more about Optimax’s products and services with a visit to the Application Suite or by visiting stand (H180) at the Advanced Engineering Show taking place at the NEC from 1-2 November 2023.