Three is the magic number

Manufacturing is having to contend with unprecedented challenges, but with challenges come opportunities if they can access the magic ingredients of speed, customisation and digital technology.

If you gave engineers the opportunity to create their perfect supplier, at the top of the wishlist would be speed, customisation and, increasingly, the need to maximise data.

These three modern-day industrial ingredients all come together to give manufacturers the ability to reduce costs and be first to market, creating competitive advantage in a truly global world that is looking to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Five years on from its inception, MetLase has built a multi-disciplinary engineering team capable of delivering this holy grail of design, innovation and operational efficiencies.

The company, a joint venture between Unipart Manufacturing and Rolls-Royce, specialises in world class tooling and intelligent fixtures and already works across the automotive, aerospace, defence and scientific equipment fields.

It has used experience gained working on a host of ambitious projects to shape its new offer for customers going forward.

Rapid Tooling

“Like all good manufacturers we are continually evolving and making sure our expertise is channelled into giving our clients what they want – speed, customised solutions and data rich intelligence,” explained Steve Dunn, Managing Director of MetLase.

“Tooling can take weeks to develop and deliver – this is holding industry back. Our response was to develop a rapid tooling and prototyping process that embraces all electro and mechanical elements of design, robust software testing and a range of patented in-house technology applications.

“This, along with the option to integrate electronics and sensors to support self-calibration, metrology and process monitoring, cuts the process to just days and means our customers will have an immediate answer to a production issue or the opportunity to be first to market.”

He continued: “A major aerospace client even challenged us to create a bespoke aerospace pipe fixture, which we did in less than 24 hours.”

Digital Manufacturing Solutions

Data is the new oil. It’s valuable and it has the potential to transform your manufacturing operations, but it also has the potential to confuse and significant investment has been wasted in chasing the latest trends.

The MetLase response is different. It is rooted in fundamental engineering principles and looks at how its fixture and tooling solutions can generate, harvest and display information in real time that is actionable and makes customers more agile and responsive to their own clients.

This involves taking traditional manufacturing techniques focusing on assembly, bonding, measuring, workholding and assembly workstations and exploring how they can be digitised in a way that allows 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,” added Steve.

“A dedicated team has spent the last twelve months developing ‘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 our Sheffield factory 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.”

Customised Solutions

Manufacturers are facing everyday challenges that need specialist support to resolve and often need to look outside their own production teams to find a solution.

MetLase’s technology and processes are flexible, customisable and can be aligned to any industry sector and engineers are now throwing down a challenge for existing and new contacts to test them with their manufacturing problems.

Dedicated, multidisciplinary engineers are ready to deliver projects from start to finish, taking a consultative approach to first understand the business need and then, using experienced joining methodologies and in-house capabilities, offer a bespoke solution to concept, design, iteration and final production.

Steve concluded: “Last year we completed our largest ever fixture project, measuring 4 metres in diameter and capable of holding a 2 metres tall component during machining and bonding operations – now that was a challenge, but it got us thinking.

“We believe we have an engineering team that has firmware and software experience, as well as expertise across mechanical, electronic, electrical and electro-mechanical disciplines – everything you need to deliver a solution for every problem imaginable.

“So, the message to industry is clear…challenge us and let us deliver the answer.”