Three key players in the world of precision metrology have collaborated to provide a solution that has been missing from the advanced manufacturing industry and is vital to maximising the accuracy of measurement on machine tools.

Metrology giant Renishaw and two of its associate companies – MSP based in the UK and RLS based in Slovenia – have joined forces to resolve the last manual element of the CNC machining process: touch probe setup and calibration. Thanks to this innovative move, it is now possible for manufacturing companies to achieve full 5-axis machining automation.

AutoClock is a device protected under a joint MSP and Renishaw patent that automatically finds the position of a calibration artefact (usually a sphere) in the machine tool, as part of the on-machine probe setup process. AutoClock is the first product on the market capable of fully automating this procedure, allowing for automated machine tool probe setup and calibration to micron-accuracy in a 24/7 lights-out manufacturing environment.

The development of AutoClock started when MSP, whose existing software products were already providing automation for CNC machine tool checking, part setup, and on-machine inspection, recognised all methods for setting up a probe for 5-axis calibration were still manual. They knew that this manual setup could introduce errors into the CNC machining process and, ultimately, onto machined parts.

MSP Commercial Director, Tony Brown, explains: “At MSP, we are driven by providing error-free machining processes and, realistically, this can only be achieved through automation. We had a few customers who still couldn’t produce right-first-time parts even after their CNC machine and part alignment procedures were proved accurate. This was the lightbulb moment where we realised errors were being introduced elsewhere and we found they were present in the manual probe setup and calibration process.”

MSP has been an associate company of Renishaw since 2005 and provides development work for its CMM controller products, UCCserver and Equator™ gauging systems. After an initial research phase, MSP consulted Renishaw for guidance on how to automate machine tool probe setup.

Renishaw proposed using a LinACE™ In-Axis Linear Shaft Encoder developed by another of its associate companies, RLS. For over 15 years, RLS has worked with Renishaw, designing and manufacturing its magnetic rotary and linear encoders for industrial assembly systems, metalworking, and electronic chip production.

The use of the LinACE encoder was the missing piece of the puzzle and proved to be the breakthrough that was needed to get the product to where it is today.

Matjaz Sivec, Senior Product Manager for LinACE encoders, states: “To see the pivotal role our LinACE encoder plays in an innovative device like this is fantastic. The development process also provided useful feedback about our products, enabling us to improve them for specific niches in the advanced manufacturing industry”.

Steve Petersen, Machine Tool Products Marketing Manager at Renishaw, comments: “AutoClock is one of our highly valued probe set-up solutions and sits alongside our recently launched ACS-1 (Advanced Calibration Sphere). While both solutions ensure probing accuracy, only AutoClock allows for fully automated probe calibration. We are delighted that the collaboration of three of our companies has resulted in a transformative solution for the advanced manufacturing industry”.

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