The Art Of Accurate Measurement Makes Status Technology A Success
TONY Tillett has heard all the questions about weather. And it’s all because people confuse meteorology, which is the stuff about clouds, rain and jet streams, with metrology, which is the science of measurement and the real nature of his business .
Indeed, take a quick tour of Tillett’s company in Sandiacre, Status Metrology Solutions, and you will quickly learn what the commercial business of metrology is all about and how it plays a quiet but key role in the production of objects that we use and rely on day in, day out.
On a wall at Status are displayed several apparently disparate objects including a car steering wheel, an aircraft strut, a wooden speaker box and several cogs and parts from big jet engines.
What all the components have in common is that, prior to being manufactured en masse, they all need to be precisely measured to establish that they fit together with other parts.
Cogs need to turn with other cogs, nuts need to fit bolts, steering wheels have to be securely attached and aircraft wing struts obviously need to stay in place.
Checking that these kinds of components have been accurately manufactured is what Status does – and, despite a recession raging outside his door, Tillett says that business is booming as manufacturers, including successful big car makers like Jaguar Land Rover, send their prototype components away for testing before they can start their assembly lines.
“Everything that is manufactured needs to be measured,” says Tillett, whose company celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
“And components need to be measured to ensure they conform to the manufacturers’ drawings. Take that jacket you’re wearing – it needs to be measured to make sure the different parts fit together and to justify the quantity of the material used.”
But it’s not just the nuts and bolts that have to be measured.
Items that have recently passed through Status’ testing lab include railway engine gearboxes, headlights from a McLaren racing car, new Land Rover Discovery doors, sliding doors from London Underground trains and big jet engine parts.
How do you measure big stuff like this? Answer: with a big measuring machine – or a robotic arm that is able to provide three-dimensional measurements down to accuracy of two microns, or two thousandths of a millimetre.
But as well as having the kit to measure parts sent to it by manufacturers such as Siemens, Rolls Royce and Toyota, Tillett’s company also possesses the expertise to refurbish, repair and calibrate these expensive machines.
This specialist line of work brings in around 50 per cent of Status’ revenue .
Added to demand for the measuring of components, the workload means that Tillett has recently been taking on new employees.
A new apprentice came in last year and a new fitter and service engineer were added this year, making 14 people in all.
If business continues as it is, he hopes to add one or two more people later this year.
“Business is fantastic,” he says. “Recently 2008 has been our best year. Obviously 2009 was a reality check for everyone but since then demand has continued to grow exponentially.”
Tillett’s explanation for this is that while many manufacturers have gone under, those who are left cannot afford to turn work down, which means there is a constant supply of engineered components out there that require measuring.
Since many manufacturers have also outsourced this kind of work, there is high demand for specialist such as Status.
Status was set up in 1982 by Tillett and some business partners. “We started up on the back of an identical company that had gone bust in the recession of the early 1990s,” he says.
“We didn’t know where we were going to take things from there.”
But the founding partners quickly moved into the service and repair of industrial measuring machinery. As the technology changed from analogue to digital, Status specialised in bringing old 1970s equipment up to date.
In 1999, the company became a partner with the world’s leading provider of precision metrology equipment, Hexagon Metrology, and so also began to sell new machines.
But these are sophisticated devices and this, added to the growing technical nature of this kind of work, means that it is not easy for Tillett to find new employees of the right calibre.
There is a skills shortage in the industrial measuring business, in other words.
“The skills just aren’t there,” Tillett explains. “And that is a big problem. In the old days, when everyone was manufacturing, they used a micrometer and a Vernier [a measuring calliper].
“Today, people have got to understand complex technical drawings and CAD iterations.
“The guy doing the job in the old days now has to be an expert. The right person can’t be pulled in off the streets and the skills can’t be taught in just a few weeks.”