INSPHERE logo and strapline


   INSPHERE is an SME based in Bristol with a long history of using
   measurement data to improve both product quality and manufacturing
   productivity in aerospace and other advanced manufacturing sectors.


 The company places a strong focus on innovation and making full use of emerging opportunities to help drive a revolution in high-value manufacturing, and to make the promise for Industry 4.0 a reality.  INSPHERE’s original concept for rapid verification of machine tools is an excellent example of their company philosophy. Indeed, Jurgen Maier, one of the key architects of i4.0, recently stated:

“One of the clearest business cases for i4.0 data and connectivity is reduced maintenance of machine tools.”

 - Jurgen Maier, CEO Siemens UK

Machining in the aerospace sector
Current machining operations in the UK aerospace sector often makes use of large, complex machine tools with wide-ranging configurations. Typical parts are manufactured to very tight tolerances (they must be practically perfect) and economic pressures dictate that metal-removal operations should be rapid, generating enormous forces and heating effects. In a relentless drive for productivity, machine uptime is maximised with many machines running 24/7. Machine structures are therefore highly vulnerable to wear, deformation and drift.

Verification operations on large machine tools typically require ‘days’ of downtime. Checks are scheduled infrequently, and manufacturing schedules often result in them being cancelled altogether. When used, verification checks usually only measure single axes independently of one another and dynamic machine tests cover highly restricted small volumes, limiting their utility. INSPHERE’s BASELINE system places a high-accuracy laser tracker within a machine tool and tracks a target held in the machine’s tool-holder. A G-code program is then run to gather precise three-dimensional static and dynamic datasets throughout the working volume of the machine. It can be used in simple 3-axis machines, or equally easily in those with more complex configurations of linear and rotary axes. The system runs a rapid machine check, reducing machine verification downtime from five days to as little as one hour! This allows checks to be conducted far more frequently, INSPHERE NATEP 1generating deeper insights into machine performance. Clear, actionable data is generated for maintenance, and manufacturing process confidence can be increased. All of these benefits facilitate a move towards true digital manufacturing using machine learning, a key philosophy at the heart of i4.0.

INSPHERE received NATEP funding to develop this promising technology to readiness-level where it can be offered commercially in UK aerospace manufacturing. To deliver this, the company enlisted the support of the Nuclear AMRC and Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence to provide specialist hardware, they have also engaged with Rolls-Royce to support the specification of their industrial requirements. Progress with the project has been excellent. INSPHERE have agreed the
process workflow and developed fully functional software. They have also run a highly-successful system trial on a large Soraluce machine at the Nuclear AMRC and remain on-track to deliver the R&D project objectives by the middle of 2019.

Future Exploitation
Exploitation routes for INSPHERE might range from sales of the complete turnkey system direct to end-users, to licensing the technology to third-party vendors and service providers. Hexagon stand to benefit from a significant increase in laser tracker hardware sales, while the Nuclear AMRC should benefit through demonstrating support to innovation and dissemination to members. Rolls-Royce can benefit through steering the technology to their requirements, as well as gaining a commercial advantage through early adoption.  The benefits are of course not limited to the aerospace sector but can be extended to the automotive, oil & gas, and nuclear sectors. This broad appeal has been recognised by John Brownell at Rolls-Royce:

“Civil & Defence Aerospace manufacturing and assembly areas where they use large CNC machines would see the benefits. Also, our Nuclear business would see this as an attractive proposition.”

 - John Brownell, Global Chief of Metrology, Rolls-Royce

Clearly there are wider potential benefits to the UK as this project is so well aligned to the UK Industrial Strategy and the ATI Strategy. By reducing machine downtime for verification, output can directly increase, raising productivity, increasing capacity and promoting competitiveness, all in a key wealth generating sector. There are environmental benefits through a reduction in scrap, lowering use of both materials ‘and’ energy. Finally, and crucially in this world of increasing automation, no jobs are put at risk by this innovation, rather, jobs are being directly created, initially in the fields of metrology and software engineering, and in the medium term through application engineers and sales roles.