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Metlase ‘Smart’ products to connect and increase speed of manufacturing processes

| Editor: Steffen Donath

One of the UK’s specialists in tooling, intelligent fixturing and components is launching a new range of ‘digital’ solutions that will connect manufacturing processes and enable easier, faster automation.

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Metlase’s digital products are already having an impact on industry.
Metlase’s digital products are already having an impact on industry.
(Source: Metlase)

Metlase, a joint venture between Unipart and Roll-Royce, commissioned a dedicated team to develop ‘smart’ products, including the Digital Gauge (conducting a digital dimensional inspection process), Smart Bench (ensures no-fault forward in the assembly process as well as connecting up-front supply chains) and Smart Cell.

The latter covers multiple manufacturing processes and can enable human interaction with cobots and robots. This means tasks, including stock control and direct-to-bench supply of components, can be more easily automated.

Engineers at the Rotherham-based firm haven’t stopped there, taking a similar approach to Smart Machining by creating a smart fixture that can gather critical data from a component such as clamping forces, vibration, temperature, and dimensional measurement. This provides better process control and ongoing improvements.

Richard Gould, Business Development Manager at Metlase, commented: “Our digital products have to deliver bottom-line benefits to our clients, who operate in the automotive, aerospace, construction and renewables sectors.

“This involves taking traditional manufacturing principles focusing on assembly, bonding, measuring, workholding and assembly workstations, and exploring how we could digitise them in a way that would allow them to provide their core function whilst also gathering data.

“For us, digital manufacturing is not a standalone entity. Instead, it should be a critical aspect of the process and operation, and it should revolve around data and, specifically, digestible, actionable data.”

He continued: “With these new products, we have been able to demonstrate how easily and cost effectively data can be harvested, automatically digested and analysed, and then put to use immediately, in order to get the maximum benefit from it.”

Metlase’s digital products are already having an impact on industry, with one of the most striking examples being a project with Kautex Unipart Ltd and a leading supercar manufacturer to support in-line composite pre-form measurement.

Digital gauges are being used to support the inspection of blow-moulded plastic fuel tanks in just four seconds, replacing an inspection system that would usually take 45 minutes, during which time the line would churn out parts.

If a fault was found at this stage, all the components made in that period would be destined for the scrap pile. In addition, it also allows data to be collected that is ‘actionable’ for process improvement and machine learning.

Richard added: “This is just the start. More and more customers are switching on to the benefits of digital manufacturing in the overall process.

“And we’re not just talking about impact on shopfloor. One project we’re currently exploring is the introduction of a Smart Bench to support a maritime application, where a global business has won a contract that includes an element of regenerating a region’s manufacturing sector.

“The bench potentially helps in that it instructs and inspects so well that operators, who are not highly skilled engineers, can now carry out a complex operation, providing more people with employment opportunities and a vital start in manufacturing.”

He concluded: “This goes back to the point about making the benefits of digital manufacturing easy to understand. If done correctly, it will help companies improve their operations, become more productive, and create employment and commercial opportunities for UK manufacturers.”

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