In late summer 2007, the National Physical Laboratory launched an initiative to help drive up dimensional measurement skills in manufacturing for component inspection. It was founded on industry feedback highlighting that, with modern, push-button metrology technology and the fall-off in apprenticeships, there was a lack of knowledge about measurement first principles and fundamentals.
Image: Knowledge of measurement fundamentals has been lost – NPL courses aim to correct that
The solution was to be, and remains, the development of training courses, with these delivered through a network of trainers. NPL develops the training material and accredits trainers, but does not actually deliver training. The 'sale' of this training material and accreditation is a commercial business activity for NPL, which is funded to a significant degree by government.
NPL set out on a course to develop training materials to support four levels of training, and, following initial launch of Level 1, has unveiled Level 2, with Level 3 to be piloted later this year. Tom Ashby, business development manager for training at NPL, takes up the story, explaining this and other changes and developments that have taken place since the initiative was first launched.
"A limiting factor for any training business is the capacity to deliver training, so we have expanded that. That means that, in addition to existing companies such as Hexagon Metrology and Mitutoyo, we are also engaging or have engaged large training companies, such as VT Training, plus Gen II, and measurement technology developer and supplier Metris.
"In addition, Rolls-Royce is now also a deliverer, having pioneered the use of the courses in the first place, and is using the course materials in its Derby apprentice school. The first week of the first year covers the importance of measurement, for example, so our Level 1 training is now being delivered, instead of the original material. First courses were rolled out this month [June] at Level 1. Other staff at Rolls-Royce are trained via a third party." BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness is another employer-deliverer at Level 1, as is Lockheed Martin in Bedford.
Image:BAE Systems' Barrow Calibration Centre delivers training on site at times that suit course delegates
"We are also working with Llandrillo College, Denbigh, North Wales, and Coventry University to establish a Foundation Degree that contains Level 1 in the first year and Level 2 in year two. At Coventry, this Foundation Degree is in Metrology, while Llandrillo has put together a Manufacturing Engineering Foundation Degree. Both are being rolled out for September admissions." Coventry University was already a training deliverer, in fact.
The NPL's website lists upcoming courses offered by various deliverers, and companies visiting the site (www.npl.co.uk/training) can then book a course direct with the provider. NPL will also pursue bigger opportunities with large employers directly to stimulate demand for training, while deliverers will stimulate demand on their own account. NPL is, however, working directly with SMEs to try to identify pots of funding that will allow them to take advantage of its measurement training courses.
Mr Ashby highlights pump maker Alfa Laval as a company with which it is working. "They have put a number of their employees through Levels 1 and 2, as has Dawson Precision Components. By no means are we just focusing on the first tier suppliers and blue-chip companies; their supply chain companies also need to have the same level of understanding and the same competencies." NPL is also working with the Aylesbury Training Group, which has been successful in securing training financial support for SMEs, advises Mr Ashby.
Expansion outside of the UK has also been undertaken with Bodycote MeTech, Sweden, now taken on as a training deliverer. "They are about to roll out the first course in June, and they cover Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Finland. That gives us a nice broad reach in Europe. We are also in negotiation with companies in the USA, although we are working with our counterpart, NIST, in this case to get their endorsement. This will take some time." NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal technology agency that develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology.
Having now launched Level 2 in the original dimensional measurement skills area, NPL is to expand the scope of its courses here. Large volume measurement, taking in the application of long distance laser-based measurement, as used in the aerospace industry for assembly purposes, is a target. NPL is working on this project in collaboration with Airbus and Bath University. The large volume metrology training courses should be ready by the end of the year.
Additionally, training modules at Level 1 and 2 for electrical measurement will be rolled out in June, with a whole new set of deliverers brought on board to support this. Furthermore, temperature measurement Level 1 will be rolled out in September. There is common material, in terms of underpinning knowledge, in all Level 1 modules, in fact. Optical laser radiation safety officer training is yet another area, this taking in the entertainment and medical industries, for example.
Returning to dimensional measurement, total numbers of certificates issued at Level 1 are around 550, with 180 at Level 2. "We have quite a long way to go to get people up to Level 2, so the need to roll out Level 3 is not a burning issue yet," Mr Ashby offers. The progression from Level 1 to Level 2 he puts at around 50 per cent, although the intention to progress is actually higher; for Level 3, only 10 to 15 per cent are expected to progress from Level 2, while for Level 4, it is anticipated that only a handful of people would take this annually. The target this year is to train 750 people at Level 1 and to get as many as those as possible on to Level 2 – "I'd be disappointed if I didn't get 200 through this year," Mr Ashby concludes. As to user benefits, there is wide acceptance that scrap, waste and rework time are reduced, he adds, but no users have authorised the release of specific information.
Who and what is NPL?
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), headquartered in Teddington, Middlesex, is the UK's National Measurement Institute and a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology.
NPL sits at the heart of the National Measurement System. It is the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' (DIUS) main provider of measurement and materials research programmes and infrastructure, working with business to ensure measurement accuracy.
NPL has over 100 years of experience in the development and application of measurement techniques, but the pursuit of measurement has often taken it beyond its core measurement discipline.
The four levels
Level 1 (Measurement User) is a 3-day course made up of four modules; Level 2 (Measurement Applier), also complete and about to be further piloted, is a 4-day course comprising six modules; Level 3 (quality control manager/chief metrologist); Level 4, is more of a thesis-based approach, a Masters Degree.www.npl.co.uk/training
First published in Machinery June 2009