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Michael Metzger and Jim O'Brien

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Case Study: Laser Measuring Enables Crisis Manufacturing

Nearly a century old, Hobson & Motzer is still quick and nimble.

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2005 - 23:00

Many customers come to Hobson & Motzer seeking a solution for what others have claimed is impossible. Established in 1912 and based in Durham, Connecticut, Hobson & Motzer engineers manufacturing processes and designs tooling to produce seemingly impossible parts for companies worldwide.Hobson & Motzer is often selected for projects other companies aren’t able to accomplish. That’s why Hobson & Motzer people are called “quality critical” craftsmen. They see every part as critical and bring a can-do attitude to every job.

Today, manufacturers are turning out parts with smaller and more precise features than ever before. To improve productivity, traditional methods of inspection must evolve to improve accuracy, optical capability and statistical analysis, while communicating huge amounts of high-resolution information to quality inspectors. Hobson & Motzer took this giant leap from manual to automated inspection.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the fear of bioterrorism was rampant. Becton, Dickenson & Co., of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, the world’s largest manufacturer of hypodermic needles, asked Hobson & Motzer to produce millions of delicate needles for the smallpox vaccine on short notice. The challenge for Hobson & Motzer was to quickly transform its metrology inspection process to meet the huge demand. Hobson had always used optical comparators or toolmaker’s microscopes for manual noncontact inspections. Suddenly they were faced with an urgent, large demand for delicate, high-quality parts and needed to update their metrology inspection systems.

Smallpox was eradicated from the globe by 1979, and the smallpox needle—3-inches long with a tip that flattens into two tiny pitchfork-like prongs—ceased production. But with the birth of new worries about global terrorism, these needles were once again urgently needed.

Becton, Dickinson dispatched a team armed with photos of smallpox victims, drawings of needles in detail and design specifications to Durham, Connecticut, to brief a dozen Hobson & Motzer professionals. The briefing included the history of smallpox, how the virus attacks the body; and, most importantly, the role of the needle in making sure the vaccine is administered correctly.

Figuring out how to produce millions of these delicate needles on short notice was the challenge of a lifetime for Hobson & Motzer. The needles produced at the Hobson & Motzer shop would be shipped around the world for vaccinations that, according to health officials, could thwart the spread of smallpox by terrorists.

The two-prong (bifurcated) needle was developed in 1965 by a Wyeth Laboratories microbiologist. What was needed was a cheap, efficient way for the vaccine to be administered by workers with minimal training. The bifurcated needle was the answer. Workers dip the needle into a vial to get the correct amount of vaccine and then lightly jab the patient’s upper arm to insert the fluid under the skin. The vaccine creates a lesion that scabs over and heals in a couple of weeks.

The Hobson & Motzer team began working 12-hour shifts around the clock. They designed a system that could quickly turn out perfect needles by the millions. They used computers to test their ideas and plan the layout for the manufacturing process.

Their secret for consistently producing the high-quality smallpox needles lies in the use of a computerized laser system to inspect samples from each production line on each shift. For this, Hobson & Motzer selected the Nikon Instruments Nexiv VMR Laser Inspection system. Hobson’s sophisticated manufacturing techniques require micron precision and the ability to measure increasingly complex characteristics of objects. The inspection metrology had to be noncontact, because of the product’s delicacy, and the inspection was required over high volumes. Hobson was running three manufacturing machines 24 hours a day. It became increasingly difficult to keep up with production volumes using normal toolmaker’s microscopes because of the huge amount of parts requiring inspection. Even though the manual microscopes had the necessary accuracy needed, they didn’t have the throughput required.

The automated inspection system was able to reduce a 15-minute manual inspection down to four minutes, which freed the inspector to perform visual inspections in parallel with the automated inspection. The Nexiv system also made it possible for these highly technical inspections to be done by people with a wide variety of skills.

“The system was a first for us,” says Frank Dworak, president of Hobson & Motzer. “Previously, we had used either optical comparators or toolmaker’s measuring microscopes to inspect products. Both of these instruments are very labor intensive, and subject to inconsistent operator technique and knowledge.”

The Nexiv laser inspection system represents the ultimate in high-precision vision-based measuring. Nikon’s new telecentric optics features a 15x zoom ratio yielding a wider field of view and higher resolution.

For Hobson & Motzer, the inspection system offers easier observation with a 15:1 zoom, programmable LED illuminator and patented probes for easier edge detection. The system’s advanced progressive scan camera provides rapid image acquisition and increased system speed. The enhanced XY measurement capabilities and U2 compliancy delivers precise and reliable readings. Finally, automeasure software offers offline programming, profiling and easy-to-use programming wizards.

To guarantee the quality demanded by Hobson’s client, the Nexiv laser inspection system ensures faster first piece inspections and faster in-process inspections.

"Nothing here is ordinary," says Jim O’Brien, vice president of operations for Hobson and Motzer. "Our customers are here because they demand extremely high quality. To meet their needs, we rely on the accuracy and reliability of our measurements. We can only work as close as we can measure."

The system also improves gage repeatability and reproducibility (GRR) testing. Conducting GRR testing with the noncontact laser inspection system delivers more consistent measurements on the machine versus measurements recorded by numerous operators using toolmaker’s microscopes. The result was a huge improvement in GRR quality values for Hobson & Motzer.

“As Hobson & Motzer grew their medical products business, the quality requirements demanded by their customers also grew,” said Mike Metzger, general manager, Nikon Instruments. “The system provided Hobson & Motzer faster, more consistent quality data, and enabled them to meet the incredible manufacturing challenges posed by Becton, Dickinson.”

Indeed, the inspection system has the ability to collect the measurement data into a spreadsheet format for instant analysis, and can print the data in a format suitable for customer review.

As the smallpox needles leave the Hobson & Motzer facility, they go to other Becton, Dickenson manufacturing locations to be polished, packaged, labeled and sterilized.

Hobson & Motzer will use the same automated inspection metrology technology for a variety of stamped components, conducting edge and flatness checks and developing statistical capability studies so the company can inspect much larger volumes of products than was possible with manual methods.

The 93-year-old company continues to succeed where others have failed. By implementing state-of-the-art laser inspection technology, Hobson & Motzer has achieved consistent quality, streamlined the shop floor and attained new levels of innovation, making it possible to pursue new mission-critical manufacturing opportunities.


About The Author

Michael Metzger and Jim O'Brien’s default image

Michael Metzger and Jim O'Brien

Jim O’Brien is vice president of operations and quality at Hobson & Motzer in Durham, Connecticut. For information about Hobson & Motzer, visit www.hobsonmotzer.com.

Michael Metzger is the general manager of industrial microcopy and metrology instruments at Nikon Instruments Inc. in Melville, New York. For more information regarding Nikon for the Nexiv product series, visit

www.nexiv.net or www.nikonusa.com.