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Celebrating a long-term spring supply partnership

04 July 2007

Custom-made, precision springs from William Hughes have been playing their part in helping Solartron to maintain its status as a world leader in linear measurement devices for almost 20 years

At a time when manufacturing companies are constantly looking for ways to control costs and maintain quality standards, it is refreshing to find two companies that have been working successfully together for almost 20 years. These companies are William Hughes, the Dorset based specialist manufacturer of precision springs, and its customer Solartron Metrology, a leading manufacturer of digital and analogue gauging probes, displacement transducers and associated LVDT electronics.

Solartron Metrology has a huge range of products, and springs supplied by William Hughes are used in over 120 of them. These include ‘pencil’ style electronic gauging probes, block gauges for measuring bores and cavities, flexure gauges and lever probes for making precision measurements, and displacement transducers for applications that require high accuracy over long periods of time - for example, in semiconductor manufacture or monitoring the deformation of a submerged structure.

The springs used in these products vary in size and shape and include unusual designs such as a conical spring with a taper and a parallel spring with a cone. Every spring has been individually engineered to suit the application, based on the dimensional requirements, forces required and duty cycle. Quantity requirements vary depending on the type of product but can be up to 1,000 springs/week for ranges that offer a choice of different probes.

“Many of our customers demand bespoke products on a fast turnaround and this translates into fast track manufacturing throughout our supply chain,” says Dr Abdel Ezbiri, product marketing manager at Solartron Metrology. “William Hughes is an excellent company to deal with and over the years a special relationship has developed between the personnel of both companies. When we need springs on very short lead times, the company responds by interrupting production runs to meet our schedules. It’s so much better to use a UK based supplier and I only wish that all our vendors were as reliable and flexible.”

Solartron probes are used for measuring movement, position and speed and customers often require variants on tip shape, tip material and measuring area within stroke. Sometimes the probes are so specialised that only limited quantities of 200 or 300 will be manufactured. As these new applications evolve, many of the new products require totally new designs of springs. Whenever there is such a requirement, engineers from both companies quickly make contact to discuss the physical specification and mechanical characteristics of the new spring.

A quick turnaround is essential on all new requirements, so William Hughes uses the latest computerised design tools and its extensive knowledge of spring materials to create a spring that precisely meets the needs of the application. Some flexibility in design is allowed and development teams work together to obtain the best result. When the basic spring specification has been agreed, the next stage is to produce samples for evaluation using the rapid prototyping service. Once the design has undergone testing and has been agreed, the spring is put into production, with consistency and accuracy being guaranteed by the latest CNC machining methods.

Quality is very important to Solartron, and William Hughes’ quality systems are certified to meet the demanding requirements of ISO 9002 for calibration and traceability. This is especially important as many of Solartron’s measurement products are found in everyday use in quality control departments.

“We have been working with Solartron for many years and always aim to provide a fast response to their requirements for quality and consistency of supply,” claims William Hughes’ Brian Chapple. “Our engineers have worked closely with their development teams to provide springs a number of challenging applications.

Most of the products we supply are compression springs made from finer wires, but we also manufacture some conical variations and a number of torsion springs. We also supply pins and cut lengths in titanium. We understand Solartron’s needs for fast deliveries and we ship weekly using our own transport to ensure that their scheduled requirements are always met.”

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