MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — Fleet Readiness Center East’s (FRCE) Precision Measurement Center boosted its capabilities with the recent addition of two new coordinate measuring machines. A coordinate measuring machine, or CMM, is a device that measures the geometry of physical objects by sensing points on the surface of the object.
The Precision Measurement Center (PMC), a component of the Advanced Measurement Services and Reverse Engineering Labs (AMSREL) Division of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Engineering Department at FRCE, recently acquired the CMMs. The machines are capable of precisely measuring oversized items such as the CH-53 sponson fixture, measuring more than 7 feet tall and nearly 4 feet wide, in increments as small as a ten-thousandth of an inch. To get a sense of this level of accuracy, consider that the average human hair would need to be split into more than 30 slices to divide it into slivers ten-thousandth of an inch thick.
The new acquisitions will help increase the speed with which the depot can conduct the precise measurement of oversized items, said Michael Wagoner, FRCE’s Metrology Engineering and Precision Measurement Center branch manager.
“The installation of two new CMMs increases the depot’s large-volume CMM capabilities by fifty percent; this translates into a significant reduction in turnaround time for the Naval Aviation Enterprise large support equipment and components,” Wagoner said. “The new technology on these machines allows for both non-contact and contact measurements. We are very excited to grow our technology with these machines and deliver faster and more accurate measurements for our customers.”
According to Ben Pate, the PMC operations manager, the new CMMs not only possess the ability to measure large support equipment and components, but also are capable of a high degree of precision and accuracy as aircraft parts and components must meet stringent safety controls and standards.
CMMs like those utilized by FRCE see widespread use in the aerospace, automotive, medical and technology industries because their astonishing accuracy allows for meeting the exacting tolerances required in these trades.
“CMMs measure the geometry of a physical object,” said Pate. “The CMM allows probe movement along three axes and it will probe points or different areas of a part. From those points we can use software to build digital features of the part and compare them to drawing dimensions. They do all this with an extremely high degree of precision.”
With addition of the two new CMMs, FRCE now has 11 of the machines. Pate said having two additional CMMs capable of large-volume measurement will yield benefits in regards to productivity and efficiency.
“Up to now, we had several machines but we were limited to only one large-volume CMM of this type,” said Pate. “Having access to multiple CMMs of this size gives us the capability to move more products at a faster pace, reduce downtime, better support equipment tooling, and eliminate that single point of failure when the machine is down for maintenance or yearly certification.”
The benefits of receiving two large-volume CMMs came with one challenge for the depot. The ability to measure and plot large objects means the CMM itself needs to be of sufficient size, and each machine came with a massive granite table. Pate said the sheer weight and size of the machines required special considerations in order to be transported to FRCE.
“The granite tables alone weighed 14 tons each,” said Pate. “Each CMM was delivered on a tractor trailer. Once they got here, a rigging company out of Charlotte used a 40-ton Versa-Lift forklift to unload the pieces and maneuver them into the building and put them into place.”
Coordinating the logistics and delivery of nearly 30 tons of equipment is a complex endeavor. According to Wagoner, collaboration amongst FRCE’s departments made delivery of these massive machines not only possible but ensured it was a smooth, orderly process.
“A project of this scale is impossible without teamwork,” said Wagoner. “Without the amazing support of the Facility and Infrastructure Management Department’s Facility and Plant Planning Division, and the MRO Logistics Acquisition, Procurement and Supply Division, this project wouldn’t have been successful. From planning to execution, this project took a little over seven months. The team ensured all the logistics and contractual processes were followed, which ensured the depot received a quality product. I don’t believe this endeavor would have been so successful without their hard work and dedication.”
As soon as the CMMs were housed within the PMC, work immediately began on the setup process. Pate said the proper personnel were in place and went right to work prepping the machines for use.
“Once the machines were in place, we had a technician from the manufacturer there who completed the install and setup of the CMM,” said Pate. “They installed the air bearings that hold the massive weight of the machine and installed the bridge and other parts. The last step was performing the certification of the CMM to ensure its function and accuracy are within the manufacturer specifications.”
“Nearly all of these parts that we deal with here — aircraft parts in general — have tight tolerances,” said Pate. “Precision and accuracy are vital; there are no shortcuts. After a proper setup, we have standards that we use to ensure accuracy before and after we do a job. The manufacturer also comes in annually and conducts a factory calibration on the CMM to ensure it meets that ISO 10360 standard.”
Pate said the ability of CMMs to rapidly and efficiently gather precise data allows them to support a wide range of activities and operations at FRCE.
“With a CMM we can easily check the geometric dimension and tolerance of a part or component in a manner you could never do by hand,” said Pate. “At the depot, CMMs play an important role in the process of getting aircraft and components out the door and into the fleet. We use them for everything from measuring the characteristics of parts and components to supporting equipment tooling and first article inspection.”
First article inspection is a process that involves measuring prototype parts created by defense contractors before the companies commence full production of the items. Tate explained that CMMs play an essential role in the process.
“When the Defense Logistics Agency puts out a bid to purchase parts from different vendors, we use the CMM to do first article inspections on the parts to ensure they meet drawing requirements,” said Pate. “The CMMs also support engineering investigations. We assist the engineers when they have a part and suspect something may be wrong with it. They’ll bring it down here for us to check against the drawings.”
In addition to the large-volume measurement capabilities bolstered by the new CMMs, Pate explained that FRCE also possesses an existing array of machines used for smaller parts and components. He cites the versatility offered by the range of equipment as a key factor in meeting mission goals.
“We now have 11 CMMs,” said Pate. “Other depots have CMMs but they do not have as many. Having all these machines is important because we support such a wide range of activities. For example, with the new machines, as well as some other CMMs dedicated to specific functions, work has to be brought to us. The machines are large and can’t be moved. So we also have teams that can go out with portable CMM-type machines. That kind of flexibility is important. We average anywhere from 300 to 400 first article inspections a year. With tooling, we measure more than 150 fixtures annually. The amount of engineering investigations and production part measurements can vary. We keep very busy. These new CMMs will certainly be put to good use and allow us to provide even greater service to our customers.”
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.