A day in the life of a Hexagon service engineer

Here’s a riddle: what’s portable when it’s stationary and stationary when it’s portable? Answer at the end of the blog post.

Put simply, the job of a service engineer is to give customers confidence in their equipment. A service engineer often works independently and they need to be prepared for every eventuality, a fact that is reflected in the size of the toolboxes they carry with them. If that sounds interesting to you, read on.

Service engineers look after the quality control and inspection equipment that tells the customer if they can sell their product or not. Reputations can be made and lost. It’s a lot of responsibility. A typical day might include anything from installations, services, calibration and maintenance. With the size and nature of the equipment, a single job can mean days or even weeks away from home.

Have you ever been in a factory, or an inspection room, seen some huge machinery and wondered how they got it through the door? Ever considered how you calibrate and maintain a machine that can measure down to the micron level? And if the calibration device itself needs calibrating, and so on?

Welcome to the diverse and challenging, sometimes frustrating, always fascinating world of a Hexagon service engineer

Installing a CMM (coordinate measuring machine) is a typical job for a Hexagon service engineer, but it’s no simple task. Even a smaller device can be several metres high and there’s a monolithic piece of granite to consider. Just unwrapping such a large piece of stone must be a logistical challenge, let alone unloading and manoeuvring it into place.

The GLOBAL S series CMM

First you need a site survey. The engineers check the suitability of the room for things like temperature, humidity, vibrations, and of course, access. If the customer needs a really big machine, the roof might have to come off or a wall taken down. Some machines are so big and heavy the floor itself needs reinforcing. It might even need foundations lined with rubber and filled with concrete to isolate the machine from the rest of the building.

The tiniest external factor can have a big effect. It falls to the service engineers to understand that and make the right decisions. Once a CMM is in position, the last thing you want to do is move it again.

Keith Wilkins is a service engineer with more than 30 years’ experience. That’s a lot of “days in the life”. He tells a story of going to the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England, to install a CMM.

On this occasion it left everyone astonished…

When you’re measuring the smallest factors, beyond the capabilities of the human eye, a lot can go wrong if you’re not prepared. A Hexagon service engineer needs to be ready for all sorts of eventualities. That’s the purpose of the preinstallation site survey and on this occasion it highlighted something that left everyone astonished.

Due to the action of the tides, the island is constantly moving. Twice a day, every day, the whole landmass moves by an imperceptible degree, but that’s enough to impact the functioning of sensitive metrology equipment. The situation is compounded by the geology of the island. It’s composed of various sedimentary rocks, clay and chalk, all of which are porous making the island like a huge sponge, expanding and contracting with each tide.

This is where the skill and knowledge of a service engineer is so important. As long as the factory floor is completely solid it would all move at the same rate, and the CMM wouldn’t be unduly affected. It must be carefully sited to move in unison with the rest of the building. If there were a split or a bridge in the floor, for instance, that could cause minute variations from one part of the building to another. A great service engineer needs that level of attention to detail, knowledge and experience.

The geology of the Isle of Wight is chalk and porous rock which acts like a giant sponge

One of the ways CMMs achieve such high dimensional accuracy and precision is down to the air bearings. All the moving components are floating on a cushion of air just a few microns thick. That’s how they get that characteristic smooth, gliding motion. It’s almost entirely frictionless, no wear, and all without lubricant. It’s like an air hockey table, if air hockey tables were made of solid granite. Ingress of dust or fine particles can quickly prevent the traditional CMMs from working properly. It’s worth noting that Hexagon does offer shopfloor adapted CMMs which are designed to cope with harsh environments of a busy production facility.

Sometimes a service engineer will encounter something totally unexpected

When a service engineer gets a call out, the customer explains the problem and the engineer should have a good idea what to expect, but not always. Sometimes the issue can be hard to identify on the telephone and it’s not until you get onsite that you get a clear idea what’s going on.

Given the need for a clean environment, and the considerable cost of a CMM, you might be surprised to arrive at a job and find the equipment in a bad state of repair. That’s exactly what one service engineer found when he responded to a customer call out.

A dusty environment can damage a CMM

On this occasion there were pigeons in the roof of the factory. That on its own won’t surprise anyone who’s worked in manufacturing for any length of time, but this factory contained a CMM on the shop floor, and worse, they’d chosen the bridge for a nesting site.

Cleaning out the mess from animal habitation doesn’t fall within the remit of a service engineer, but you still need to be prepared for everything. If an important machine has broken down, the customer could be losing money for every minute you work which can lead to some stressful situations. Hexagon service engineers are committed to providing great customer service, and there’s nothing like the feeling of getting a machine back online, in record time.

The life of a Hexagon service engineer is far from monotonous, and far from a typical desk job too. You need to be independent, able to analyse and solve problems on your own.

It’s an unusual job, where things aren’t always what they seem at the start. Which brings us neatly back to our opening riddle. You may have guessed it, the answer is a Hexagon service engineer. If the equipment you’re working on is portable, it normally gets sent to the engineer (who remains stationary) whereas if the equipment is too big to move (i.e. it’s stationary), the engineer has to be portable travelling to the equipment in location.

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