LK Metrology’s involvement with aerospace manufacturing dates right back to its origins when it was involved in the development of CMM touch-trigger probing with Rolls-Royce. In this Q&A article sales, marketing and service director, Steve Shickell, outlines the technology it offers the industry today.
Based in the UK, LK Metrology is renowned for innovative coordinate measuring machines (CMM) hardware and software solutions. The company’s metrology products, that also include portable measuring arms and metrology software, are used worldwide to control and improve the quality of manufactured components. Its precision technology underpins the process chain from design, development, production and assembly through to quality assurance in global industries such as aerospace, defence, automotive, motorsport, energy, medical and contract inspection.
Q) Can you outline some general background about LK Metrology?
We’ve been established since 1963 and have an impressive heritage in metrology dating back to the birth of CMM machines. The company was founded by CMM pioneer Norman Key and his father-in-law Jim Lowther (hence LK). LK Metrology is credited with many CMM industry’s firsts including: the first bridge-type design; first OEM to integrate computers; first to use a touch trigger probe; first to develop inspection software; first to use all air bearings and granite guideways; first to use carbon fibre composite spindles; first to use microprocessor-controlled drive systems; first to produce a truly thermally stable CMM and the first to produce a high-accuracy horizontal-spindle CMM.
In 2018, LK Metrology was relaunched as an independent CMM manufacturer after several years as a division of Nikon Metrology. We are headquartered in the UK and our CMM development and production processes are at the company’s facility in Castle Donington. Sales and support offices are located in the UK, North America, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and China, supplemented by a worldwide distributor network.
Q) Which type of LK’s metrology products are mainly used in the aerospace sector?
Aerospace metrology applications cover a wide range of LK Metrology products and services, typically bridge and gantry CMMs with sizes varying from small 8.7.6 (800 x 700 x 600mm) through to very large Gantry Twin Rail CMMs which can measure 150.70.30. 15,000mm x 7,000mm x 3,000 and everything in between. These CMMs have multi-sensor technologies for probing, laser scanning, thickness and surface finish.
Q) What are the particular demands that the sector and your customers require for such a highly certified industry?
The demands are typically down to new projects as investment in metrology usually happens at project concept stage. Our CMMs are very durable and will easily last the full lifecycle of a production run which can last several decades, therefore new projects are very important to us alongside durability and longevity so it’s important that we keep ahead of the competition with innovative solutions which fit our aerospace customers’ ever-increasing needs.
Q) What are the trends in aerospace manufacturing when it comes to inspection?
Recently aerospace customers have been looking for more automated processes with integrated part loading systems which interface with machining operations and closed loop data reporting systems. This can feed correction values back into the machining operations, as typically these are high value parts making rework and scrap highly undesirable.
Q) Parts in aerospace can be large. What are the particular challenges that this creates when developing your technology for these applications?
As the part size increases, the larger the CMM size is needed, which usually has a knock-on effect with reduced accuracy. However, LK Metrology has reduced this uncertainty by using ceramic technology which is two and a half times stiffer than black granite, and four times more stable than aluminium which is used in other machines.
Q) Are there many differences between inspecting different materials used in aerospace, such as superalloys, composites, etc.?
Traditionally CMMs have used contact probing for measuring all types of materials, however in more recent times there has been a demand for faster data acquisition which typically involves laser scanning. Shiny aluminium can be a challenge to the laser scanner as the laser can be reflected and bounced around a part creating noisy data. LK Metrology have recently launched a new range of laser scanners with ‘Blue Light’ technology, which effectively reduces the amount of noise in the data. Composite material can be challenging to measure as holes that are drilled and reamed sometimes have fibrous residue and therefore can contaminate the probe stylus. We have a solution for keeping this clean with our new StyliCleaner which can be used as part of the measurement process.
Q) In terms of your R&D what is more important: hardware or software?
As the fourth industrial evolution is upon us, the way that data is used to support manufacturing processes requires intelligent data handling and sharing. Software development is where we see the most activity especially with the increasing use of Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) data. Therefore, complex parts that have PMI data can be managed more efficiently as this will reduce the need for hard copy drawings which can easily be out of date and issue.
To maximise the use of this tool, metrology software needs to import this information to set out the Geometrical Design and Tolerances (GD&T). This can simplify the CMM part programming as this data can be transferred into the part program and with some intelligence the software automatically generates the part program. This will be the main development area for our CAMIO Software for 2023. In addition to that we are constantly developing our hardware with the latest electronics and user interfaces and sensor technology which will complement and enhance our world-class CMMs.
Q) Is demand high at the moment for your technology given the predicted ramp-up rates required in aerospace after the pandemic?
Our CMM business continues to significantly grow year on year with the aerospace market being one of our key markets, we are seeing this come back to pre-Covid levels.
Q) What would you say is the unique selling point about LK Metrology? Why do you think your customers choose and come back to you?
LK will have been trading for 60 Years in 2023, this means that we have long and well-established customer relationships, our products have evolved to keep up with the demand of our customers and we pride ourselves on being extremely customer focussed. Typically, we don’t sell products, we provide turnkey solutions which invariably requires a level of customisation which other suppliers don’t offer. Our products are backed up by our dedicated application and service support teams resulting in highly satisfied customers.
Our product quality and reliability are paramount to the success of our business and that’s why customers who have experience with LK Metrology continue to invest with us and recommend us to their partners and supply chain.
In essence, LK Metrology has a vast range of high quality CMMs which covers all markets and applications. Our solutions offer an excellent price performance ratio which are designed and manufactured in the UK therefore ensuring high quality and longevity with our ceramic technology.