Researchers are developing technologies for a ‘factory on a machine’ to integrate measurement and production processes.
The project is a key activity of a multi-million pound Centre for Innovative Manufacture in Advanced Metrology at the University, which is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and a number of industrial partners.
It involves researchers from the University’s science of measurement department allied with colleagues from the machine tool accuracy and diagnostic engineering fields.
“The manufacturing control, and all the other elements in a big factory will be squeezed down so that everything is done in the one machine,” explained Professor Liam Blunt of Huddersfield’s Centre for Precision Technologies.
“Basically, you put a piece of metal in at the beginning, and out of it comes the part – finished, measured, and complete with quality documentation.”
Blunt said the new technology should lead to big savings in time and costs.
“The quality checks of the part are done within the machine tool so you don’t have to remove it at all.
“When you make something in a conventional factory, you normally have to take it off the machine during the process and measure it and make sure it’s the right size and quality.”
The ‘factory on a machine' device will fit onto a standard machine tool and will interface with the standard machine control software.
Professor Blunt explained: “We will measure parts on the machine, process the measurement data using our self developed software, and then we will instruct the machine control software to move, stop, change speed, reject part, insert new tool, and so on.”
Blunt was part of the team led by Centre director Professor Jane Jiang that secured funding for the centre, made up of £4.7 million from EPSRC and £3 million from a consortium of UK firms and organisations, including Rolls Royce, Renishaw, Cummins Turbo Technologies, Taylor Hobson, and David Brown.
The project will last for five years from September 2011, and prototypes of sub-elements of the system will be available from March 2012.
An operational system is expected in two to three years.
As its development progresses the project will have to interface with the factory level control IT and at that stage it may be looking for technology partners, says Blunt: “Initially we will work with the project partners and the machine control suppliers to implement the work.”