BLOG: Claire Waterson, HMI, Silverstone Park Metrology Facility

BLOG: Claire Waterson, HMI, Silverstone Park Metrology Facility

14 May 2019

Claire Waterson, Facilities Co-ordinator for Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, reflects on how its world-class Metrology Facility at Silverstone Park has benefited the region’s high-tech community in the three years since it opened – and on some of the obstacles it has faced along the way…

“It’s almost three years since we (Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence) opened our Metrology Facility with MEPC at Silverstone Park, and it’s still not the finished article. However that’s a good thing for the region’s tech businesses. Please, bear with me and I will explain…

“The facility itself was in reaction to MEPC talking with engineering and manufacturing businesses on site and within the local region, to find out about their needs and requirements – what they may need and to support development of their business. The need to access technology in metrology came up a lot – not necessarily purchasing metrology equipment, but easy access to it…

“Cue Hexagon creating this unique facility. As part of the largest metrology company in the world, we have brought a whole range of dimensional measurement equipment to Silverstone. In terms of precision, here we are able to measure components down to microns – equivalent to 1000th of a millimetre.

“We can go from small detailed components that easily fit in the palm of your hand, to using a tracker and cover up to a distance of 50 metres. The technology we use to collect the data can be contact probing, laser scanned or use photogrammetry.

“It’s interesting to think back to what our space inside Silverstone Park’s Innovation Centre was before we were given the keys…

“It was an exciting project to get off the ground (no pun intended). When we first started there was a raised floor in the area that is now our Inspection Room. This needed stripping out which ultimately exposed all the heating pipes which then needed re-routing so we could lay a new concrete floor.

“Metrology equipment can be very heavy; the ones here would be around 5.5 tonnes each. They can also be quite tall which caused another moment of head scratching – one machine when it arrived was of a newer specification and of different dimensions to the one we originally ordered so suddenly we needed our fit-out expert DSP Interiors to come in and make some readjustments.

“And this brings us back to the facility not being the finished article. We never want to say ‘that’s it; the facility is done’. It is and always will be an on-going project because of the advancements in metrology hardware and software; we always want it to be the leading technology here for the business community. For example, we are now on our third Hexagon Global Co-ordinate Measuring Machine.

“The components that come in for us to inspect from all these businesses is fascinating and proves the region is diversifying at an impressive rate.

“Not just the obvious motorsport but medical devices, defence, marine, robotics and aerospace to name but a few. This diversity is something that is being championed by the Silverstone Technology Cluster, many of whose events we’ve been delighted to host.

“With a lot of the projects we work on we are bound by confidentiality agreements meaning we can’t discuss them. But we recently did a case study with a company on the Park to scan a vintage Rolls Royce which was a very cool project to be involved in. For another client, we inspected lenses for augmented reality glasses. The variety and literal size of projects is often vastly different.

“Hopefully jobs like those above reflect well on both our reputation in terms of skill and accuracy but also trust.

“Often the requirements we get are the parts that other people generally cannot measure. Lots of companies use us even though they have their own equipment. Some things are fiddly and require more time and effort and that is where we step in – when things can get complex.

“We also created a metrology network, which is specifically to provide the business community including start-up businesses with access to the skills and equipment. Benefits include a discounted rate as well as supporting them in generating, building and nurturing valuable relationships with other local businesses through our popular networking evenings.

“It has to be said… We love a challenge and, joking aside, Hexagon are a solution provider and this is what we pride ourselves in. We have an amazing portfolio of products and here we get to tap in to that expertise not just within the UK but globally. Even when the equipment we have in this facility isn’t quite right for the job we are not limited. It is a very privileged position for us to be in… and also so important for the business community.

“That gives credibility for any SME or start-up wanting to showcase their invention or prototype to an OEM: they can do so knowing it has been put through the mill in terms of precision measurement.

“Our work is traceable to national standards with everything calibrated to UKAS or ISO standards. This is hugely valuable for a smaller company in terms of confidence and trust when approaching a larger organisation.

“Consider that this facility didn’t exist three years ago; hopefully since we came along more businesses who perhaps required metrology but didn’t know where to go are now aware we are here and realise how important it can be to their ability to increase their business potential.”