Advanced training enhances precise machining

THE RIGHT TOOLS: North Kingstown-based Hexagon Metrology Inc. has implemented a new employee-education program designed to achieve greater workforce flexibility through cross-training. Pictured above are Hexagon Metrology employees Steve Webster and Mariano Martins. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
THE RIGHT TOOLS: North Kingstown-based Hexagon Metrology Inc. has implemented a new employee-education program designed to achieve greater workforce flexibility through cross-training. Pictured above are Hexagon Metrology employees Steve Webster and Mariano Martins. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS

Most employers would agree that a flexible and educated workforce is essential for world-class performance. Hexagon Metrology Inc., based at Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, adds that this goal is not easy to achieve.
Nonetheless, Hexagon Metrology implemented a comprehensive training program last year that has led to better performance, morale and customer service.
The company manufactures automated machinery and software for dimensional quality control of manufacturing processes. Its products are used by other manufacturers to improve the quality of the things that they make, from aircraft to automobiles. The company, a division of Sweden’s Hexagon AB, has 600 employees in the United States.
One goal of the new training program was to achieve greater workforce flexibility through cross-training. The training system was incorporated into job grades to help create a career path and promotions for employees, and individual trainings were coordinated for the factory as a whole.
The company considers its employees a crucial resource, said Steve Ilmrud, vice president of manufacturing. “We spend a lot of time training employees on different jobs,” he said. “It allows the worker to be more adaptable. It gives the employee additional skills. It makes them more marketable, helps them advance their careers. It’s a very, very important aspect of having a more flexible, responsible workforce, all while increasing morale.”
Ilmrud added, “The whole idea is to build a whole career for them within the company,” he said.
He described a process that focuses on ensuring that every employee is in harmony as far as the company’s objectives and goals are concerned. Departmental goals and objectives and individual workers’ responsibilities are communicated through regular departmental and companywide meetings.
“From the highest levels of management on down,” Ilmrud said, “the development of clear goals and objectives and the communication of those goals throughout the organization are critical. High-level goals and objectives are flowed down into department goals, then to individual responsibilities for each and every employee. It’s only through this ongoing communication that we make sure we reach our objectives.”
This communication from management to plant workers conveys six strategic imperatives that CEO Angus Taylor calls the company’s core values. The company values Taylor listed: professional, engaged, customer-focused, entrepreneurial, innovative and profit-driven. “When we look at our management objectives, those values are key,” he added.
Taylor said a major goal is developing all employees and hiring high-potential newcomers in order to reach the ultimate goal of providing the best products and solutions in its class. The advantages of this approach are self-evident, since a well-trained, efficient manufacturing staff improves the quality and quantity of what it produces. The company boasts that its commitment to training and customer support includes an extensive network of training centers across the country, servicing thousands of students at hundreds of scheduled classes each year. In addition to that, in 2013, Hexagon launched an interactive, online e-learning portal to complement its in-person training classes. This portal included supplemental materials and online-only classes for all levels of knowledge.
The focus on making sure it has a well-trained workforce has certainly made it easier for the company to expand its product lines.
Hexagon’s products are used by manufacturers worldwide to improve the quality of the products they build. The company originated as Brown & Sharpe in 1833 and was incorporated as Hexagon in 2001. It is the North American business unit of Hexagon Metrology, a worldwide division of Hexagon AB.
The company says it has released six new major products in the last three years alone. These include two new machines, the 4.5.4 SF and 7.10.7 SF, that are completely designed and assembled in Rhode Island. Hexagon manufactures high-precision aluminum rails and air bearings. Its North Kingstown facility produces a high volume of quality-control systems per week, and more than two-thirds of its component manufacturing is exported outside North America to Asia and the Pacific, China and Europe.
To ensure its own quality standards, the machines it builds are stored for several days in a tightly temperature-controlled calibration laboratory, and the systems are measured and aligned with precision laser equipment.
In 2013, the Quonset Business Park facility started a project to improve its factory processes. The result was to hit a goal of greater than 95 percent on-time deliveries for 2013.
Also in 2013 the Quonset Point plant added a new communication system that includes large display monitors spread around the facility. These monitors provide information on schedules, metrics and various other kinds of general information and factorywide announcements. The monitors communicate specific information relative to the company’s Key Business Indicators to the workforce. This system improved the level of communication throughout the factory; plans are in the works to expand the system throughout the entire organization.
Its newest products include the PC-DMIS Touch for portable measuring arms. It is an easy-to-use, entry-level measurement software that can be loaded onto an iPad for probing applications with its ROMER Absolute Arm. It combines the simplicity of a touch-screen interface with the power of advanced measurement software.
Another new product developed by the Rhode Island staff is a shop-floor measuring machine that can accurately verify the design specifications of any product on a shop floor in three dimensions down to tiny fractions of an inch.
“It can measure down to a couple of microns,” Ilmrud said. “It ensures extremely accurate measurements. It can measure from speakers to space shuttles and anything else in between.”
Quonset Point is Hexagon’s North American manufacturing headquarters. Its other locations are Burlingame, Lake Forest and Oceanside, Calif.; Elgin, Ill.; Wixom, Mich.; Huntersville, N.C.; Miamisburg, Ohio; Nashville, Tenn.; Irving, Texas; Kent, Wash.; and Monterrey and Queretero, Mexico. •

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