Perfect vision

It’s easy to form misconceptions about things in life. Take Vision Engineering for example. Who would have thought that a leafy, picturesque Surrey village would be home to a highly successful, British manufacturing company celebrating 60 years in business? Dave Tudor reports.

Readers will know Vision Engineering as a provider of high quality optical inspection systems and non-contact measuring equipment, but that’s only part of the story because the company is something of a rare breed these days – it’s an OEM.

It designs, manufactures and assembles its products in the UK and operates from a new, ultra- modern, purpose-built 7,800m² facility in Send, Surrey. Visually and functionally, the new £12 million headquarters is stunning; departmentally it houses everything from accounts, IT and sales through to design, R&D and manufacturing. It has its own fully-equipped machine shop, assembly, calibration and servicing departments. There’s even a paint shop and clean room.

But that’s not all. Pooling its vast engineering, design and manufacturing knowledge under one roof means it can help companies – and budding entrepreneurs – bring products to market. Vision’s VEMOS (Vision Engineering Manufacturing and Optical Services) division, headed up by Chris Milborrow, can take a product from concept through to the finished article, handling everything in between.

Seeing is believing

Manufacturing companies are often born from humble beginnings and this is precisely how Vision Engineering was conceived. In 1958, Rob Freeman, a toolmaker with the Jaguar racing team perfected a borescope that allowed him to inspect engines without taking them apart. He took the idea to market and the rest is history.

60 years of evolution for Vision Engineering

60 years ago, Mr Freeman operated from a Nissen hut in Surrey. Today, managing director Mark Curtis is at the helm with Vision employing 215 people across the UK, Europe, North America and Asia, in addition to a fully-trained global distribution network. Despite a strong commitment to UK manufacturing, Vision’s focus is unequivocally international – 92% of its products are exported.

In terms of Vision’s equipment range, broadly speaking, there are two main categories: inspection systems and optical and video measuring systems.

The former – Mantis, Lynx EVO and EVO Cam II systems – are for visually inspecting components and objects under a microscope at very high magnification and in extreme detail in 2D or 3D. These systems are ideal for looking at a component holistically because you can rotate the part and easily see imperfections like chips and burrs.

The latter – encompassing SwiftPRO, Hawk, the new TVM 20/35 models and Falcon ranges – are for the high accuracy measurement of dimensions, profiles and features. Collectively, the two areas span a raft of equipment types – stereo microscopes; bench magnifiers, non-contact measuring systems, digital video inspection systems, metallurgical microscopes; and software.

It’s important to note that whilst all Vision Engineering’s products and systems are rugged, powerful, versatile, flexible and functional, they are all designed from the ground up with value for money, ergonomics and ease of use in mind.

Made to measure

Guven Turemen is group commercial metrology manager at Vision Engineering: “Our measuring systems are essentially extensions of our inspection products,” he says. “We’re still looking at something under a microscope or a camera but now we incorporate the use of a fixed or moving table and dedicated measurement software for measuring features that are difficult or impossible to establish using more traditional contact measurement methods. We currently manufacture around 450 units per year and offer measurement capacities from 200mm x 100mm on the SwiftPRO up to 400mm x 300mm with the Hawk.”

With a prolific R&D ethos, Vision is constantly improving existing products and introducing new models. The recent Control exhibition in Stuttgart saw the unveiling of the new TVM 20/35 Field of View (FOV) video measurement systems. The numbers designate the respective FOV sizes of 20mm and 35mm.

“These new compact systems are a big departure for us in terms of design,” Mr Turemen explains. “Functionally they feature flat field telecentric lenses and collimated sub-stage lighting which allows the user to see – and consequently measure – a larger proportion of the component without repositioning. It also means multiple components can be measured quickly. TVM systems are ideal for the measurement of components of any shape or form including turned parts, pressed metal components, injection moulded plastics, tubes and cables.”

As with other measurement and inspection equipment from Vision Engineering, the TVM machines can be configured to suit specific applications. The fixed stage FOV system enables instant, accurate measurements of small components, while the addition of a manually- controlled stage extends measurement for larger components up to 200mm x 100mm. Rumour has it that a motorised table version will be available in the coming months.

Take a closer look

Whilst measurement system technology is an important and growing market for Vision Engineering, the company is best known for its inspection systems. In this arena, visitors to Vision’s stand at MACH 2018 would have seen the latest incarnation of its EVO Cam microscope – the EVO Cam II.

Ideally suited for close inspection and recording of high resolution images, the new addition benefits from the addition of user customisable overlays, on-board measurement and Wi-Fi image transfer – all supported by a 30:1 optical zoom and a maximum magnification in excess of 3,600x.

“EVO Cam II is widely used for the inspection of electronics, automotive and aerospace components, medical devices, precision engineered and plastic moulded parts,” affirms Stephen Sanderson, international product manager at Vision Engineering.

“The thirst for data is ever-increasing and with the EVO Cam II high definition images can be captured and stored directly to a USB memory stick. When connected to a PC, images and video can be easily captured, stored and shared. A Wi-Fi dongle even allows direct sharing with PCs, laptops, tablet computers and smartphones.”

Simple on-screen measurement can be performed with the aid of virtual callipers and scalable grids. Live images can also be compared to user customisable overlays, increasing efficiency of use. EVO Cam II features a powerful LED ring light and sub-stage lighting for viewing translucent samples and for additional clarity, a new range of objective lenses deliver pin sharp images, high in detail and contrast. A 360° rotating viewer is also included.

Built for comfort

Something not found on any other company’s equipment is Vision Engineering’s patented ergonomic optical head used extensively throughout its inspection range. Usually, optical inspection equipment features a dual-eyepiece arrangement – an eyepiece for each eye – but Vision has developed ‘eyepiece-less’ technology which offers optimum operator ergonomics, minimising the risk of postural strain and injury and eye fatigue.

“Our patented optical head alleviates many of these issues by allowing freedom of head movement, more natural light in operation and a common focal distance,” Mr Sanderson continues. “Spectacle wearers often find dual-eyepiece systems difficult and tiring to operate but that’s not the case with our optical head. In addition, hand/eye coordination is enhanced and there’s greater collaboration between shifts and operators because no eyepiece adjustment is necessary for different users. At the end of the day, people who are comfortable at their microscopes are more productive.”

From cigarette packet to reality

Around three years ago, Vision Engineering launched a brand-new division called VEMOS (Vision Engineering Manufacturing and Optical Services) which essentially comprises two elements: optical consultancy; and a broader product design and manufacturing service which aims to help prospective clients bring their dreams and aspirations to life.

“The optical consultancy, design advice and manufacturing aspect of VEMOS was a logical step born from our longstanding pedigree, expertise and experience in manufacturing lenses used for our own metrology and inspection products – and the fact that there are very few optical designers and engineers in the UK,” reveals division manager Chris Milborrow.

“Generally, customers come to us when they have a problem with their optics or current supply chain,” he adds. “We can nearly always improve the design and performance of a lens, prism, beam splitter or filter and if customers are prepared to invest in a bespoke solution we can take things from design through prototyping into full production if required.”

VEMOS takes products from concept to reality – like this men’s grooming kit

The second segment of the VEMOS operation is centred around product design and manufacture. How many ideas have literally started life as a sketch on the back of a cigarette packet or perhaps never got off the ground due to the fledgling entrepreneur having no idea how to design or manufacture his or her product? VEMOS was conceived to bridge the gap from concept to finished article.

“This service is for people that have an idea, want to put it into production but don’t have the design or manufacturing capacity to transform the concept into a tangible product,” Mr Milborrow states. “We basically handle every aspect of the process on the customer’s behalf and remove the headaches associated with using extended supply chains.”

Some of the ‘concept to reality’ projects undertaken by VEMOS are impressively diverse: a diamond viewer used by jewellery outlets; an analyser to measure the cleanliness of surgical instruments; a device to effect the isolation of micro-organisms from food samples via vibration; a device to test an active protein that will help clear plastic waste from oceans; and, last but by no means least, a range of men’s grooming products!

Vision Engineering

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