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A Force in Domestic Manufacturing

19 May 2009

Because Omega Engineering offers over 100,000 products, many customers have the misguided impression that the company is simply a catalogue house, distributing products made by others. Actually, Omega is a major manufacturer in its own right, making over 80% of the products it offers, with this percentage continuously increasing. At a time when “outsourcing” seems to be the theme of many UK manufacturers, Omega Engineering, Ltd., with its European headquarters at the River Bend Technology Centre, Manchester, England, remains a notable exception. This facility manufactures an extensive line of temperature-sensing products incorporating both RTD and thermocouple technology. In support of this enterprise, Omega also manufactures the majority of the raw materials and component parts used throughout the product range. Components in addition to those manufactured at River Bend are also supplied from Omega’s principal production facility in the USA at Bridgeport, New Jersey. In fact, all told, Omega Engineering has nearly 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space spread among numerous facilities in both the USA and UK. As new products are introduced, this production space is increased. Here are some specific examples of current manufacturing operations at various Omega facilities.

The UK Facility

Omega Engineering, UK, is ideally placed at the heart of British industry with excellent motorway and international airport links allowing first-class service to domestic and world-wide customers. This facility benefits from a highly trained staff with experience spanning several decades, specialising in the manufacture of primary temperature sensors including RTD, thermocouple and thermistor assemblies. High-accuracy, 1/10 DIN RTD probes are frequently manufactured here for use in discrete custom applications, laboratory and industrial process control functions. The probes are available in a wide variety of sheath styles and mechanical fittings suitable for a range of measurement conditions. Mineral insulated versions for high temperature and demanding situations are also regularly handled at this facility. Speciality products include hermetically-sealed PFA probes, flexible moulded self-adhesive sensors, multipoint profile probes and a unique magnet-mounted RTD used to measure the surface temperature of ferrous materials. All critical components and sub-assemblies not manufactured at River Bend are produced by other Omega facilities, assuring total compatibility and seamless integration. For applications where a standard product will not quite fill the need, in-house expertise can be utilized to make a custom temperature sensor or probe for a perfect application match.

Omega Manufacturing Capability

By making the individual components used in its products, Omega can achieve a measure of control not possible when critical parts are supplied by a variety of vendors with a range of reliabilities. Through extensive use of automation and in-process quality testing, the uncertainties that can be associated with outside vendors have been eliminated. This is the key to the high esteem Omega enjoys among its customers and its reputation for consistent, top quality products. And, in the event of a problem, you are dealing directly with the manufacturer who has the know-how to help resolve it.

Wire Production

Manufacturing at Omega starts near the root of the supply chain. The company actually produces its own wire at a manufacturing operation that turns out millions of metres per year. Starting with bare wire stock in a wide range of compositions and diameters, finished cable is made for a myriad of Omega products. Specialised machines turn out braided, extruded, glass-wrapped, shielded, single-conductor, multi-conductor, twisted shielded pairs, Kapton-coated, and PFA-coated cable in both solid and stranded styles. The smallest size used is 40-gauge, which is much finer than a human hair. Such small gauge sizes are used in many temperature and pressure sensors and Omega production personnel have become experts in handling these super fine wires. If you can think of a wire type, it is probably made in the Omega facility.

Metalworking

Because it requires a large investment to have an extensive in-house machining capability, many manufacturers farm out this work to external machine shops. Not so at Omega. The company has been willing to invest both for better control of product quality and to facilitate the introduction of new products. The result is a sophisticated CNC machining operation that produces many of the parts used in their measurement, process control and automation products. Parts manufactured range from the simple, such as thermocouple connector pins, to the extraordinary, such as ultra-precise and highly intricate military and aerospace components. For extreme precision, the facility boasts wire electrical discharge machining (WEDM) capability. The Omega products that incorporate these machined parts end up in an amazing diversity of applications, examples of which include mammography testing machines, submarines, aircraft, food and beverage processing equipment and factory automation systems.

Thermocouple Connectors

Omega is the world’s largest manufacturer of thermocouple connectors both in volume and selection. These connectors are used directly on Omega products and are available separately to end users. The company has an in-house moulding operation for the plastic shells and also makes the other components, such as plugs and sockets, strain relief parts, cable clamps and mounting accessories. A review of Omega’s Handbooks and Encyclopaedias or website, shows an astonishing range of styles and options to fill any need imaginable and they are all manufactured by Omega. Such an extensive product offering could be an overwhelming logistical challenge if dozens of vendors were used or the parts were manufactured overseas. By manufacturing these parts, Omega can maintain complete control over quality, inventory and delivery.

Mineral Insulated Temperature Probes

Omega boasts an automated probe manufacturing facility that is unequalled throughout the industry both in scale and diversity, promoting a high degree of consistency and reliability. Equipment dedicated to this purpose has been designed and constructed in-house by a team of highly talented automation engineers, using sensors, PLC’s, motor drives, actuators and HMI’s all featured within the Omega Handbooks. This is a prime example where Omega is able to use its products, to make its products. In this regard, temperature sensing probes are perhaps the finest example of Omega’s complete control over every aspect of product
construction. They manufacture the mineral insulated cable, the pot seal, the insulated extension cable, the plugs & sockets – even the internal compensated alloy components and the machines that make them – and that’s all before production of the finished sensor can commence! Their mineral insulated cable mill has the capacity to produce coil lengths greater than anyone in the industry, enabling exceptionally long RTD and thermocouple probes to be manufactured. While most manufacturers tend to focus solely on probes within a narrow range, Omega has the ability to produce any desired length using their unique ability to generate cable to suit any purpose. Sensors with lengths in excess of 150 metres are commonplace in both single and duplex configuration. Sheath sizes that range from an incredibly small 0.25mm diameter to a robust 9.5mm diameter are standard across the calibration range. Every size of sensor can be supplied with an insulated hot junction, where highly skilled staff have mastered the ability to weld the ultra-fine conductors embedded within cables as small as 0.25mm. To complement the range, Omega is also a major fabricator of extremely high temperature exotic probes for demanding
applications, such as vacuum heat treatment installations. An extensive range is manufactured using noble
metals, incorporating Platinum/Rhodium and Tungsten/Rhenium alloy combinations, with specialist sheath
materials offering extreme capabilities in excess of 2300¡ C.

Thin Film Fabrication

RTD elements used in temperature sensors and probes are made in Omega’s own thin film fabrication facility located in a class 10 clean room. Here the RTD elements are created on substrates, 2000 at a time, using the latest vacuum deposition and photolithography equipment and processes. After leaving the clean room, the elements are laser trimmed to the correct resistance, assembled into completed sensors with leads attached, tested and calibrated to establish their accuracy class. While many of these processes are automated, a highly skilled production team carries out those steps that are best done manually. From here the completed RTD sensors are routed to other manufacturing locations for incorporation into a wide variety of end products.

Conclusion

Although far from comprehensive, the capabilities discussed above give a flavour of the extensive manufacturing operations that are part of Omega Engineering. Whilst a customer using standard products
may typically only require sales or application assistance, in the background is a huge pool of talented
production line workers, product designers, software engineers and automation experts to provide
unrivalled support. They are all ready and able to create and implement innovative custom solutions for
difficult and unusual applications. During a period when British and American manufacturing continues to
move offshore, Omega bucks this trend by continuously expanding domestic manufacturing space as new
products are added. Make no mistake about it, Omega Engineering is a major manufacturer, and a good
one. When you deal with them, you can be sure that you are dealing with a reputable company with the
resources to provide complete control over the quality, consistency and reliability of their products.


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