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Belinda Jones

Metrology

Portable Arm Leads to Big Savings for Compressor Manufacturer

PCMM's easy setup and quick and accurate measurement ensures custom parts are made right the first time, every time.

Published: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 - 17:00

Robert James had what it takes to start a manufacturing company focused on oil-free air and gas compressors—history, expertise, and the willingness to take a second chance on a business he knows well. Nearly 40 years ago, his father William James, began producing oil-free air compressors under the trade name Aeroflow Industries. Aeroflow compressors quickly gained a reputation for longevity and dependability, and soon oil-free gas compressors were introduced to their product line. The company was sold by the James family in 1990 and the name changed to Hycomp.

In 1997, Robert James purchased Hycomp back. As a young boy, he worked on the shop floor of the family business and had a “feel” for the business. James began to reassess the marketplace, and moved to expand the business to include the production of air boosters. The company teamed up with key manufacturers of onsite nitrogen generation systems, and began a hard push to develop and add nitrogen boosters to their product line. Today, Hycomp has a global clientele, and serves a wide range of industries such as pharmaceuticals, oil and natural gas production, laser cutting, and food and beverage

So how does a small manufacturer located in Hyde Park, Utah, compete in a $50 billion market with much larger players? The operative phrase is “attention to the customer’s fine details.” Hycomp has transformed itself into an engineered solutions provider. Their compressor solutions are not pick-and-ship products, because each customer has specific requirements, standards, and applications. Hycomp works closely with their clientele and their dealer channel to ensure the end user gets the right product—not just a product.

Finding the right fit

One of the thornier aspects of running a manufacturing business is quality—not just part quality, but consistent quality across all product lines. Hycomp wanted a metrology solution that provided greater flexibility and a high level of precision. The ROMER INFINITE 2.0 portable coordinate measuring machine (PCMM) met their requirements for multiple reasons.

 
The ROMER PCMM is easily set up on the shop floor.

“I first started looking in the CMM market for a standard CMM tabletop setup. Our choices were limited due to the size of a few of our castings,” says James. “When you have a casting that is 24 to 30 inches tall, it is very difficult to measure on a standard CMM. We would require a larger height CMM with a hefty price tag. Then we backed off and reconsidered whether we could live without measuring these seven or eight large parts on the CMM. At this time, I was put in touch with a local ROMER dealer who showed us the articulating arm. It was the flexibility of the PCMM that interested me most. The arm gave us a very good solution for what we were trying to accomplish.”

PCMM takes pain out of quality

The arm’s six joints of fully-articulated movement and patented infinite rotation enable the operator to track and record measurements from a wide range of parts. The PCMM operates like a human arm and has a light touch due to its carbon fiber construction and Zero-G counterbalance. The arm, combined with integrated inspection software, ushered in newfound efficiencies for Hycomp's quality inspection. Delivered with multiple probe selections, Hycomp gets maximum usage from an extended probe that allows the quality inspector to reach inside parts that would have been nearly impossible to measure through conventional means.

James says that the biggest driving factor of implementing the arm is to measure product. Hycomp can now inspect many products without multiple set-up times. “We can set up a vertical bore, and in the same setup, check a cross bore to verify if they are perpendicular to each other and if their centerlines are aligned. We could not do that as quickly on a standard CMM. You can reach around the part to check feature after feature. It is literally that simple,”he explains.

“The PCMM allows us to measure complex parts in a greatly simplified manner. Measurements that were often time-consuming and difficult are now fast and easy,” says Greg Steele, quality inspector. “When we are able to inspect parts faster; it affects our overall productivity. When a machinist brings me a complete part, I can get back to them very quickly to tell them if their setup is good, so they can continue running the part. You do not want a machine or an operator sitting idle for long.”

Steele uses the PCMM every day to inspect just about every part produced on Hycomp’s production floor. He typically has three or four setups a day and spends most of his time checking critical bore locations and features. Parts are carried into the metrology room for inspection, but the mobile arm gives him the versatility to work anywhere in the facility, from checking machine alignment on the production floor, to compressor inspection in the assembly area.

Inspection timelines have been dramatically reduced using the PCMM. For example, a cylinder head casting would usually take about a half hour for a single inspection using traditional equipment such as calipers, a bore gauge, and a height gauge. However, after just 20 minutes of programming, every subsequent cylinder head casting will only take five minutes. For Hycomp, decreasing a 30 minute measurement process down to five minutes has major bottom-line ramifications.

Inspection software

The potential of standardizing part measurement was also an important factor for implementing the new measurement system. The company uses Solidworks for computer-aided design and the CAD models are easily imported into PC-DMIS, the inspection software interface to the arm. Steele can create inspection programs without even having a physical part. The software also enables him to compare measurements taken from a part directly to its corresponding CAD model.

 
Data captured from the PCMM are brought into a computer running PC-DMIS and then compared to the CAD model of the part.

 

With standard training, Steele is already programming inspection programs for parts that will be produced again in the future. These archived inspection routines have the potential to make the dimensional control process more efficient with each use. “Using PC-DMIS software, I can build an inspection routine as I measure a part. I can drill down into the data to get the information needed. This software was designed to be highly customizable.”

Looking down the road

According to Steele, Hycomp’s product development team will also yield benefits from this measurement resource. “The PCMM expands our ability to produce and inspect. As our engineers are designing new parts and product lines, they can take advantage of our on-demand inspection capability to check their progress along the way. The quality system opens the means to incorporate more complex requirements into our drawings and hold tighter tolerances. Our engineers can feel assured that our manufacturing inspection procedures can keep up with what they are doing.”

James concludes: “No matter how well you serve the customer, as a small company competing with larger manufacturers, it is an absolute must that we produce a quality product. From the time my father started this business in 1969, we have had a quality mentality. At Hycomp, every compressor goes through four to eight hours of rigorous testing before it ships to the customer, and we build a lot of compressors as complete systems. Going the extra mile pays off as our warranty rate is incredibly low. Our metrology capabilities put us one step closer to achieving even higher goals,”

Discuss

About The Author

Belinda Jones’s picture

Belinda Jones

Belinda Jones is the founder and owner of HiTech Marketing LLC located in Westbrook, Connecticut. For more than a decade, Jones has written articles and commentaries about manufacturing, engineering, quality assurance, CAD/CAM/CAE applications, and other high-tech topics. She has extensive experience in marketing communications, technical sales, and applications engineering. Before joining the computer industry, she was a broadcast copywriter for four years. Jones holds degrees in fine arts and mechanical engineering, and studied cultural arts in Europe.