How digital transformation creates new careers in metrology

I never imagined when I started out as an apprentice toolmaker in Coventry in 1988 that I would go on to use 3D laser scanning to help people develop winning Formula One race cars, build helicopters, equip athletes, or unveil the secrets of Norwegian archaeological sites.

There are many reasons I recommend metrology as a career to young people, and one of them is that you can never be quite sure where it will lead to next. In my experience if you give manufacturers, academics, engineers, art restorers, sport scientists or medical specialists a portable laser scanner they’ll come up with some quite unexpected ways to use high-resolution 3D images to improve what they do. During my career I have seen 3D laser scanning go from niche to mainstream, working with Formula One teams, athletes and historians along the way. And there is no sign of innovation slowing down. Instead new technology is making it ever easier to use the metrology data captured by a portable scanner to solve problems in design and engineering and production and I look forward to the next chapter of 3D laser scanning as it helps to transform manufacturing.

Back when I first started in the late 1980s, 3D laser scanning was in its very early infancy and was far from featuring in the average inspection tool kit. It was still niche in 2006 when a 3D scanning company contacted me about a job. I had to research what a point cloud was on the internet to understand what they did, but I quickly realised it was an opportunity to be part of a growing field and accepted the role. In 2008 I brought my scanning knowledge to the post of technical sales support engineer at Hexagon. Since then I have been able to witness first-hand how advances in the speed and accuracy of portable 3D laser scanning have transformed industry. In that time 3D laser scanning has gone from being seen as a form of witchcraft to being a trusted technology that is widely deployed to identify a range of errors and deviations during and after production.

You know a metrology technology has broken through when the companies that set some of the highest quality standards in the world are ready to trust it. One of the big shifts in how manufacturers perceive portable 3D laser scanning adoption took place when Formula One (F1) car manufacturers started using it to inspect the quality of their cars. I’ve had the good fortune to measure several F1 racing cars through Hexagon’s partnership with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, which is taking laser trackers right to the trackside to ensure the construction of its vehicles is fully optimised for races that can be won or lost in a few thousandths of a second.

Are you sitting comfortably?

F1 cars aren’t the only high speed vehicles that our scanning technology helps to perfect. When it comes to developing a vehicle capable of breaking speed records, the smallest detail matters. Our 3D laser scanning equipment helped ensure Andy Green, who is a driver for the Bloodhound project to break the land-speed record, fit perfectly into the seat of his vehicle.

Andy Green sat on a bag of polystyrene beads into which resin was injected and left to harden around him (the process used for fitting F1 drivers into their seats). We took this opportunity to scan Andy in his preferred seated position directly into the vehicle co-ordinate system using our portable measuring arm laser scanner. This allowed the team to position the finished seat, and ultimately the driver, back into his preferred position in the cockpit.

Another project led me to use a portable arm to scan Micky Yule, a Scottish Paralympic power lifter who lost both his legs in Afghanistan. He was taking part in a Discovery channel programme that took athletes out of their comfort zone and set them new challenges, with his being to ride a skeleton bobsled race against the world champion. Designers used the digitised scan of his body to build a sled precisely adapted to his shape, size and needs.

Not every project I’m involved in is high-profile or glamorous, but all of them help people use cutting edge technology to solve problems and work better. Check out our careers section if you want to find out more about joining Hexagon.


  • Les Randle

    Les Randle embarked on an 18-year career as a toolmaker after leaving school, until 2006 when he was offered an opportunity to work for a company specialising in Polyworks. After 2 years of software sales, support and training, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division asked Les to join our Technical Sales Support Team in 2008. Les is now part of our Applications team, looking after everything portable.

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