Phillips Precision - Inspection Arsenal

Fixturing - Simple by Design

Inspection Arsenal
Inspection Arsenal - Phillips Precision

A Few Minutes to Learn to be Better

Today Cathy and I are sitting down with Don Mahon of 1Source Metrology, based out of Ontario Canada, not too far from Toronto. We’re discussing the importance of proper fixturing, machine hardware, software developments and so much more going on in the manufacturing and metrology scene up in Canada. We’re excited to have Don here with us today and we’re even more excited to have you here with us. So without further Ado, let’s get started. 

Allan: How you doing today Don? Thanks for sitting down with us. You want to introduce yourself to everybody and tell us what you do? 

Don: Yeah. Sure Allan,

My name is Don Mahon, and I’m the president at 1Source Metrology Corporation in Canada. We’re about an hour west of Toronto. Our company, One Source Metrology has been around for two years now. Our goal is to be able to supply a perfect solution and a very tailored solution to any one of our customers with their metrology needs. So, with 1Source, as I said it’s only about two years old. But really, we’re about 30 years old in experience because of our experience and history. We all were able to start our own business and then we brought these three businesses together to make 1Source Metrology and making parts better faster is a huge part of it. And that’s what we do very well. 

Cathy: I’m the business manager and co-owner of Philips Precision. We’re kind of a manufacturing laboratory of sorts here in Boylston, MA and we produce the modular fixturing that Don mentioned a minute ago. We’ve been partnering now for a quite some time. I’ve known [Don] for a while now and I can just imagine, the success you’re having has to do with your friendliness, your demeanor and combined with the talent and the experience that you all bring to the table. So, I know that you are solving some huge problems for a lot of companies out there and doing some production inspection, contract inspection, I believe. Who are your other partners and what background do they have? 

Don: I traditionally came from a ZEISS world, my other partner Bill Riley, he came from generally a Mitutoyo world and my other partner Ray Shang he came from a PC-DMIS world. So, we have experience with all the software. We have experience with all the hardware, and you mentioned contract inspection is a big part of our business. And like anything it’s all about time. And when you have parts that the customer needs, (it’s usually yesterday) they bring them in and it’s a matter of getting them set up on the CMM very very fast and getting the programs and inspection completed. Fixturing is so under-valuated by everybody and the importance of this is crucial. The ability to also multiply the parts on the CMM go to a lights-out inspection. Again, that’s crucial just being sustainable in that business. Most people think of a CMM or a holding fixture as something that has to be very precise, hand ground or machine ground and very expensive and traditionally in the automotive industry that’s how that was. Now there are still times where that’s necessary. But that is an inspection fixture. It’s not a holding fixture. It allows you to datum off the part and it just has to make sure your part doesn’t move, and the part isn’t manipulated in any way. 

Allan: Talk to us a little more about the lights out stuff that you’re working on. What do you have going on there? Is there anything you can give us details on? 

Don: Yeah, so it all comes down to time and manpower. So traditionally you put one part on the CMM, you hit the button, 10 minutes or an hour later, you come back, change the part, put on the next one. Much like the machining industry where they’re really moving towards lights out manufacturing, right? So, a lot of robots loading up magazines with many pallets and tools, so that they can just run parts and basically turn the lights off and go home. So, we’ve kind of adapted that same perspective with inspection with the solutions that we’ve supplied to several customers and that we’ve helped them with. So, as I mentioned, running like a pallet type environment where we can put multiple parts on the CMM, using the module fixtures, and then we allow this program to Loop multiple times. We’ve worked with several customers where we can obtain six and eight hours of inspection, unmanned. So, you don’t need a specialized programmer. You don’t need a technician. For the operator, everything can be very easily laid out where they just switch plates to different jobs and it’s seamless. So, what they’ve done is, there’s a lot more productivity for sure. It frees their programmers up from running the machine to writing more programs. It allows their programs to handle more machines and more parts, and it gives an opportunity for them to just bring in operators to run the parts. So, for them, it’s a win-win-win. It all comes down to the customers willing to take the time to be better. The customers that we’ve been involved with, that have taken the time to listen to us will never ever go back the other way.

Cathy: Right. But it’s just getting them to take that two minutes to learn how to be better, to pay attention.

Don: Absolutely.

Allan: It’s a mindset shift.

Don: It’s a mindset shift and most people are over utilized at their work every day and they’re just comfortable doing the way they know how to do things because it gets done. So, in part of our thing is, beyond supplying the technical capability to have this done, is also encourage them to take that time to be better. And that’s one of the bonuses or the silver linings of what’s happening right now in the world with the [COVID] pandemic. We as well, as always, are in that same world where we’re too busy to get better at times. And so, we have purposely used this time to get better on some of the things where we’ve always known “I wish I had the time. I wish I had more time.” So, this is a perfect opportunity.

Allan: It’s forcing the growth in the use of technology. 

Cathy: Right, I mean even for the machine shop here, because we do both the product sales and we make our own product here and it wasn’t a plan, but we have this 7-pallet pool, Haas EC 400 Horizontal that arrived. It was ordered before COVID, arrived during COVID and it allowed us, thankfully, to bring that up and learn it and cross train and do a much better job at getting that online. I mean that’s equipment wise, and then we got a new 3D printer, same thing. We put it to work making the ear relief bands for the medical industry right away. That’s how we learned how to use it, by adding that into our mix right away. So that was fun! It made us feel like we were contributing a little bit, in this small way. We’re trying to implement some changes just in our own processes and looking into new versions of software that we could use here, for managing the shop. So, I guess that is one of the silver linings, right? 

Allan: Yes, absolutely. Based on your services, do you have a couple of customers you can highlight and maybe talk about without naming names? If not names, just described the total solution that you may have recently supplied. I think one of them was Laker…? 

Don: Yes, Laker Energy, which is a local customer. We recently sold them a large CMM so that they could actually start getting a better productivity and utilize it for multiple parts. So, this started with them making the investment of the CMM to take advantage of the palletization using the Lock-N-Load technology and do the lights out inspection. So, not only did they invest in the fixturing, invest in us, but they invested in a large CMM. What we initially did was, we used the CAD file of their parts, we used the CAD of CMM and we use the CAD file of your inspection plates and we designed the amount of parts that can get on. We looked at all the probe paths and we presented them with a plan and based off run times we could say and show them virtually, “You can fit this many parts on your CMM, this is how long it’s going to take to run and this is going to be your time savings.”  And based off that, they made the whole decision to go with the whole project. And so again, it’s very expensive investment. But we were able to virtually show them that the payback was there. Our knowledge, your fixtures, perfect combination to make it work. 

Cathy: Nice! So, do you have an idea, approximately timesaving? So, if it took an hour before her part, does it take half hour or.

Don: The time savings is from not having a body there at the right time. So, the parts are running say 30 minutes apart and if the inspector wasn’t there right when the program ended, of course, there’s that time. So, if he was there and only doing that, the time savings would be the load/unload. So maybe there is probably about a 20% time saving just for that, but that’s not the majority of the parts. Now he could be assigned to be doing other duties. So basically, what they did, was they gained a body. Right? Loading the parts up in the morning. So now they completely gained a new employee, more or less, for that entire day. So that’s the huge savings. And then of course, on the second and third shifts, when he wasn’t typically there to do that, they trained an operator just to load the parts and hit go. So, the time savings is that they gained two more shifts of production and had measurement where they normally wouldn’t have had that done. 

Cathy: And they were confidently running good parts, versus running at risk and potentially making bad parts…

Don: Right! Absolutely! Everything was known right away and with all the other software that go with the SPC. We use Prolink Q-Calc and it has real-time data that can send information right to your mobile phone. So, at any point, if they noticed some sort of a trend, even though they weren’t there, they were notified. Then they could take appropriate action at that point. So, there’s lots of little pieces to the puzzle and they’re all just as important. You know, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So yeah, it was an amazing success story and we now use that for other customers. 

We have another customer in the Detroit area that we’ve also applied the same sort techniques. And again, there’s the learning curve with some pretty complex parts and still getting the operators to run and load and do the reaction and you know again, that’s what we do. 

Cathy: Yeah. So, by simplifying a process like that, we see constantly that inspection now can improve in processing throughput in some of the same ways as we do on the shop floor, right? So, we’ve been fixturing for years, swapping fixtures in modular ways on the shop floor and making that process, so we have our senior level engineers and programmers set up and give an operator what they need on the shop floor. When all those horizontals out there are programmed and ready to rock, they have their written instructions, and we don’t have to pay a bunch of senior people to run those machines now because it’s all set up for them. Now, we see so much more of that ability in inspection. 

Don: And that’s the goal – is to have your very experienced, educated guys moving on to the next project and getting it set up and having a larger workforce able to keep the production, keep the measurement going. Right? So, you don’t have to rely on the one or two guys that you have and just opens up that possibility where you’ve got more people to do the work now.? 

Cathy: We talk a lot about skilled labor and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturing programs advance, through funding by state and local government and through these labs but still in that one pocket of inspection is still a huge gap. And so, we’ve been checking around to see you know, how do we make new inspectors? And there’s really not many great programs out there or haven’t been widely known. So, the solution that you guys can provide is amazing. 

Don: It’s an interim step for sure and it is a solution for measuring their parts and getting their productivity up for sure. I 100% agree with you Cathy. I’ve figured out two other ways to become rich. The first way is for every single person that asked me if I know of a good CMM programmer looking for a job… if I get a nickel from them, I’m going to get rich. Because I’ll have a lot of nickels. Then the second, is if I develop a program or a certified course to pump out capable CMM programmers. I’ll be ten times richer because the industry is so lacking them. 

Allan: And it’s hard because there’s such a vast amount of knowledge that a good inspector has to have. Because where your job is to do inspection or quality control at one company, those skills and those things you had to do, may not necessarily be the same as somebody working at another company doing the exact same position. You know, so coming out of some sort of a training to be able to fill the same position in two different locations is hard because it’s a very broad spectrum that we have to deal with. 

Don: Yeah, you definitely can’t put out a cookie cutter programmer that’s going to handle all environments. Every industry is different, every manufacturing process is different. So, the programming is just one aspect of the software. I mean, there’s of course reading the drawing and again fixturing is one of those key elements that is generally miscalculated and misunderstood. So, finding a way to simplify that and make that easier is key.

Allan: So tell us what life is like when there is no fixturing. When you walk into a company and you see that there’s a CMM there with a bare slab of granite, you know… 

Don: and there’s a glue gun hanging off the side of the table. There’s double-sided tape, there’s a bunch of magnets. There’s a bunch of parts sitting over in the scrap bin. Right? Because they’re scrapping the parts and maybe those parts aren’t really bad. Maybe they just don’t have a good fixturing system that allows them to be consistent. Metrology is all about being consistent and keeping control of all your variables. So, one of the easiest things is first, make your fixturing and part setups consistent, right? And then from there you can rule out any variations in your parts and say, “Okay, Well, I know my fixturing is done correctly and I proved that out so that’s not part of it. So maybe my parts really are bad or maybe the process is good” Depending either way, but until you understand the fixturing and have good handle on that. That’s basically the first step to measuring your part. 

Allan: When you say having a handle on good fixturing, I mean provided that that fixture is getting the part there and it’s not moving, right?

Don: The requirements of an inspection fixture is first of all, it has to be able to allow you to measure all the feature and datums of the parts that you need to measure. So, you have to have lots of access and it needs to hold the part so that part’s not going to be moving during inspection process. You also have to make sure that your fixture is not manipulating your part. So, it’s got to hold the part securely but not modify or manipulate your part and it’s got allow the maximum amount of access to measure everything that you need to do. And it’s got to be repeatable. Right? So those are the three or four things that are really critical and again as we spoke earlier, the interpretation or the other necessity of the fixture is to resemble the part’s datums. So, in a high precision measurement fixture, where you have specifically ground nuts and pads that hold onto the parts datum’s, that’s typical of an inspection fixture out on the floor, where you’re using plug gauges and hand gauge, where you’re not actually picking up on the parts datums. The holding fixtures that you guys supply, that allows a CMM that pick up on the datums. Which means your fixturing doesn’t have to be these expensive ground or heavy duty like that. That’s not their function. That’s not what we’re looking for. So as long as the part is secure not being manipulated and you can reach everything you need to reach then they’re doing their job. 

Allan: Totally! So aside from what’s happening now in with the COVID situation and everything, what are you seeing as some of the trends or things going on in manufacturing as far as inspection goes? Different machines, different technologies that companies are picking up and the new things that are coming down the pipeline or what the future might entail. 

Don: Well, obviously one of the things is the industry 4.0. Right? So again, this all has to do with having full access to all the information of everything that’s going on in your manufacturing process. And being able to predict from your final results and your incoming data, what you’re going to get when you process your parts. Streamlining and like I said before having everything as consistent as possible, meaning whatever you’re measuring parts simply, if I measure two holes, well, “I should measure both those holes with the same amount of points, same height, same speed.” Right? Things need to be consistent. Same with your parts. You need to set your parts up completely consistent and that’s just comes down to simple basic metrology for the whole industry 4.0.

Your incoming inspection and based off the variables, you can know what you get at the end of your process. So, if you have good control of your final part and your final inspection, then you can work your way back downstream. So, you know, you’re taking the variability out of it there and you’re applying the variables that are at the beginning of your processor in coming to know what your projected parts are going to be, or your results are going to be. You got to work at the end and get your consistency and work backwards.

Cathy: When you say backwards, is that all the way back to the spindle or back to the cart full of parts that enter the inspection or back to the catcher?

Don: Well, it goes from the parts back to the spindle back to the secondary and initial processes and then it goes all the way back to your incoming parts that your supplier has given you. It comes down to all your speed your feed your mold settings, right? As they vary, the difference in your final outcome is going to vary so, it’s controlling all that variability and predicting what you’re going to get. So, if your process and if your inspection has all kinds of variables associated with your setup and your parts and your programming, then you can never begin going backwards. So, you got to control that first.

Cathy: Right, right and the elimination of running at risk is almost not even able to be calculated.

Don: It’s a tough calculation, right? And because you can work all the way back, as soon as you can understand your machine tool better and have better understanding of what to predict, then that makes that job so much easier, right? Then you’re not always chasing? So yeah, it is very difficult to calculate it. Time is easy, right? Well, I did this faster you can associate that, but how about all the issues associated with part A? Bin full of scrap parts, with furloughed parts that have to be 100% inspected. So again, you have to start at your final inspection process, nail that down, avoid all the variability and then work yourself backwards. And that’s what we help our customers do all the time. Allan asked earlier, ‘What’s kind of newer, what’s the trends?’ So again, this is a big part of it and we’re seeing a lot more customers kind of understanding that and we get calls. “Okay, Don I really need to invest in some fixturing. What should I buy?” I’m like, well, ‘that’s not as simple as it sounds as a question’, right because you have to really understand your parts. And the customers, they almost want to just push that responsibility off. They don’t want to take responsibility; they just want a magic answer. So, what we have to do is get them involved in that process because they know their parts better than anybody. They know how they would traditionally do it or manually set up. So, we have to kind of lead them down that path. Help them understand what’s out there. I always include the customer to first try and spend some time and invest their time in seeing what’s available and putting a little bit of thinking into it. So that way, when I say, “Okay once you have a look, come back and let’s talk.” Then I would get a good understanding of their parts and then we could find the exact right things. But the way your product is laid out, it does make my job easier, that’s for sure.

Cathy: Right. We do have customers or distributors who asked us to handle those calls. We field those calls for a lot of folks. And the first thing I ask is “How big are the parts? “How critical are they?” You know, “How complex? How many part families? How many in a part family? How many do you need to check per shift?” Those kinds of things. Do you need all 6×6 plates or do you need 12×12 plates and we have customers who order all 12×18 plates because that’s the size work that they do.

Allan: Yeah. Exactly. We will see people that place orders, we’ll see for like 14 6×6 plates, and you know that they’re all working on multiple, probably families of small parts and each one is going to have a dedicated fixture on it.

Don: Yeah, there’s not a single easy button that just takes all the responsibility for everybody, because fixturing is very important, so you have to make the right choices. And yeah, the customer has to also invest in it as well his time.

Allan: Yeah, every job is different, every part is different. The perfect solution is always going to be different.

Don: Yeah, like you said, every part’s different. So, us as a contract inspection house, every part comes in the door is different, right? So right away, we need some quick fixturing. So, having a multiple variety, you know, and you have the big kits, that makes that easy. Then a worst case scenario is when you have customer that comes in and they want you to do a CMM demo on their parts and they always want to test you there. They want to think they’re testing the machine but it really all comes down to testing the programmer, because all of a sudden from their black bag out comes a part. So, if I can’t come up with a fixture, then I’ve already lost. So, it’s very important for us to be able to fix it apart quite quickly. So modular fixturing again, there’s our answer right?

Cathy: I’m so amazed at the number of large companies who don’t fixture. You know, they just forgo fixturing, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just the mindset of the inspector who may have grown up as a machinist and moved into that position, and it’s just not been in the forefront of their mind. I’m not sure what that is, but you know, in recent years we’ve had huge companies come to us to say that ‘We haven’t used fixturing ever but we have eight CMMs’. That’s a lot of lost production to me.

Don: Yeah, they’re being forced into that because time is money, right? And once they realized how much time they’ll save with the fixturing, then that’s a lot of money saved. That’s the easy one, right? Time is money and they can save so much time with the fixtures taking it to the next level in palletizing and changing up your staffing. So, the junior guys are now doing it, rather than the senior guys. So, once they see the time saved with the fixturing, then they’re down that path. But you’re absolutely right. Again, it’s underestimated underutilized. And I think it’s changing, but I don’t think it’s quite changing fast enough. There’s not enough of us. There’s not enough of people like 1Source where we can hand hold the customer and really show them black and white on paper.

Allan: Yeah, are there any other tools or any other cool new technologies that are aside from fixturing that you’re using to help these customers Deliver Perfect Parts Faster?

Don: One of the key functions of the fixture I mentioned, was allowed accessibility, right? So, to some degree your accessibility is always limited, right? May not be perfect. So, the great thing with the five axis technology for CMM programming, is that it has the optimal possibilities of getting around your parts and your fixturing. So, when you have probe heads that have infinite angles on command, that accessibility becomes a far less restriction and secondly, one of the most major errors with results on a CMM, is what we call shanking out. So, on your predefined probe angles, if your part isn’t presented at that exact nominal angle, then you’re going to run into the position of possibility of shanking out. So, if your parts aren’t manufactured perfectly and that obviously helps and now if you’re some variability in your fixturing then also that could be an issue. But when you have the five access all that goes away. So, I would say the combination for us five access technology modular fixturing. This is what is helping a lot of us get to that 4.0 situation and the lights out inspection.

Allan: Yep. Yep, and then it makes the use of the technology, the machines and the software has become that much easier to dive into and get, you know, get rolling with.

Cathy: Right.

Don: Sure. And it’s all pieces of the puzzle that go together. So again, so you’ve got the predictable fixturing, the predictable position of the part, you have the 5-axis technology which gives you the ultimate accessibility, and then you also have software enhancements that allows you to bring in the cad fixtures if you want and it handles all the navigation around the part. It’s just become so much easier because software is way more intuitive now. Where some software’s used as big blue box to get around the part, but that’s very inefficient.

Cathy: That’s great. And as we mentioned before the program looping for lights out in palletization and those kinds of things too, that’s a new feature. As far as I’m concerned, it’s probably a few years old now, but…

Allan: Well, they’ll need you to show people how to get it. So, the way that I look at my job is to bring exposure to all this. I personally feel that the industry is positioning itself for the next generation of employees to come in. We have kids, like my kids, we have these younger kids that know how to use computers, and the next generation that just systematically uses the computers. So, they can go into the workforce where they sit down, and this robot is being controlled by a computer just like they’ve used since they were four years old. It makes the industry that much easier to fill the workforce, and it’s our job to expose the workforce to the next generation.

Don: Yeah, I agree and a thought along that same line is, right now big stamping welding factory and you got all these people welding there. It’s getting lean, changed over to robots. So, you’re going to need a fraction of those people to manage and program the robots, right? So, the skill set will change, but it will be fewer of them and you can look at Japan. Japan’s a perfect example, and the whole cobot where we’re all working alongside the robot. It’s just you know; it’s your next best friend is D 37.

Allan: Yes, there’s less people that they need to be able to control those robots and they can have a fleet of robots controlled by fewer people. But, as the technology grows and the cost goes down, more companies can afford that same type of technology, more companies are now able to compete; be competitive and stay competitive. So, then you have higher paid people across more competitive available companies rather than one company that has no technology, but with all the money to pay everybody minimum wage.

Don: Yeah, absolutely. And if we go back to our topic with the lights out inspection, when you go to the trade shows now, that’s all you see is robot loading and unloading of the parts onto the CMM. And again fixturing is a big part of that and trying to do it at a reasonable cost as is important. It’s definitely a trend. We have customers that have already done it in the past. But without the advantage of the modular docking and fixturing location. So as that becomes more visible and more accessible than yeah for sure, it’s all going to go that way.

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