In this edition, we meet INSPHERE, a specialist metrology company developing tailored measurement systems and data, used to improve core manufacturing processes before parts are manufactured.
Tell us about INSPHERE…
INSPHERE is a specialist metrology company which develops measurement systems with the aim of improving manufacturing processes. Usually, measurement systems and data are used to check parts after they have been manufactured. Our approach is to use these measurements to understand the performance of the manufacturing process itself. In doing so you can assess performance, improve it, monitor progress, and allow you to predict whether it is going to produce the correct parts prior to them being made.
How did INSPHERE form?
Founded in 2013, INSPHERE started as a business providing a consultancy service to help companies better understand measurements and improve their measurement process. We progressed to offer measurement services, investing in measurement equipment such as laser trackers and portable arms. We generated measurement data to help companies understand what the data was telling them about their parts or process. We then began offering measurement training, providing NPL dimensional measurement training and our own courses in laser tracking and portable metrology, and the business grew from there. In the last two years we have begun to move towards integration activities and services by buying off-the-shelf sensors, systems and software. As an integrated solution, this uses our own interfaces and user interfaces software, enabling us to create measurement systems tailored to customers’ needs. More recently we have been focusing our efforts on research and development (R&D). It is fundamental for our business to be innovative and stay at the cutting edge of technology and solutions. We have a number of Innovate UK projects running at the moment, and we aim to launch new hardware and software products around integrating measurement into manufacturing. This will enable us to develop our own IP around software and hardware solutions, adding value to the service and integrator side of the business.
What are the benefits of using measurement systems in the manufacturing process for organisations?
Measurement technologies are key to reducing scrap, concessions and improving overall product quality. Traditionally, measurements have been perceived as a non-value-added, time-wasting activity as it generally occurs as an inspection activity before the part goes out of the factory door. At this stage all the value has been added to the part and it’s a costly decision if it needs to be scrapped. However, if you apply measurement technologies to the manufacturing process and not the part, you can reduce cost, time, and add value by addressing the issue before it has been manufactured. INSPHERE has systems for verifying the performance of machine tools which means that in half an hour, we can verify the performance of a large volume machine tool. The alternative to this is to take the tool out of production for a week to verify its performance. Our solution has the added benefit of being able to check the system more frequently, enabling you to build up a body of evidence and profile of the machine tool’s performance. You can start to see trends over time and if you spot something drifting out of tolerance, you can correct the issue before discovering the malfunctions on the manufactured part.
What sectors do INSPHERE work with?
We started predominantly in aerospace and high value manufacturing, mainly due to the background of the company’s founders, but also because these sectors are the most advanced in using these technologies. As we have grown, there has been interest from other sectors which has been very exciting. For example, we have been working in the oil and gas industry with companies manufacturing large, subsea valve structures. Since the oil and gas prices crashed, there has suddenly been a lot more emphasis on improving the efficiency of production. This can easily be achieved through the use of measurement technologies. Other sectors are automotive and Formula One (F1), where we are working on specialist projects. We have set up robotics and wind tunnel testing looking at how well the structure of cars come together, overall car measurements, and comparing them to the original design intent. In a similar vein, we have worked with Ben Ainslie Racing, the America’s Cup team. Taking the same principles, we have applied this to F1 and the marine technology sector, looking at performance, marginal gain, and possible performance enhancements.
We also work with automation and robotics companies, obtaining metrology data to improve accuracy, obtain live feedback, calibrating robots and verifying performances. This data plays a fundamental role in building the foundations for algorithms and machine learning. If we can generate the data on the performance of a robot, there is a body of evidence you can apply AI to, and algorithms to analyse.
What is INSPHERE’s focus going forward?
High value manufacturing is our core focus. However, it is a constantly evolving picture with new technologies. We see the composite industry as being key, looking at the application of measurement technologies to composite manufacturing. We have also been doing quite a lot of work around additive manufacturing and applying types of measurement and process control techniques which have been developed in conventional manufacturing. We have successfully developed solutions here and view this as an area for growth.
What accomplishment is INSPHERE most proud of?
Our R&D work has been very successful. Taking ideas which were generated over a cup of coffee, developing them and seeing them through to the point of commercialisation is extremely satisfying and rewarding. It is a very exciting time for INSPHERE and we are looking forward to the future.