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How a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) helped Rotary Power introduce precision manufacturing

Posted on 18/01/2019

Neil Gray, Chief Operating Officer of Rotary Power states that the KTP “has considerably exceeded our expectations.” Find out more.

The Need

After being connected by the Knowledge Transfer Network through the KTP programme, experts at Durham University worked with specialist pump and motor manufacturer Rotary Power in implementing shop floor data collection and analysis. As quality was improved and costs were reduced, other parts of the company are considering use of the system.

Statistical process control (SPC) – in which data on a product or process captured in real time can be used to make timely adjustments to stay within design tolerances – has transformed quality control in manufacturing.

However, the industry standard SPC methodology relies on high volume throughput to be able to pick up variations that indicate where there may be defects in a product, or that a process is drifting outside of control limits.

South Shields based Rotary Power manufactures pumps and motors for sectors including oil and gas, chemicals, aviation, marine and construction.

Neil Gray, Chief Operating Officer, said: “Statistical process control is a really good way of understanding what is happening in manufacturing in real time, but we produce in small batches, which means it was not suitable for us; therefore we wanted to look at how to apply SPC to small batch production.

Our products are used in specialist applications therefore we test every single product, whereas high volume manufacturers may only carry out sample testing.”

 

How did KTP help?

Neil Gray was aware of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) having started his career in industry as a KTP Associate, implementing a KTP project at an industrial filter manufacturer. He is also a graduate of Durham University and was able to discuss Rotary Power’s requirements with contacts there.

“It is as a result of such informal conversations that most KTPs get off the ground”, said Richard Parker-Smith, Senior Business Development Manager, Research and Innovation Services at Durham University, who was involved in the formation of the KTP between the University and Rotary Power.

“Most companies are coming to us with a strategic objective, but the project is not fully formed as an idea,” Richard Parker- Smith said. This is where KTN can help broker the relationship and the plan.

As it happened, Durham University had been undertaking research in applying multivariate statistical analysis to quality control of small batches, and one of its graduates Steven Cox has recently completed a PhD in this area.

The research carried out at Durham was theoretical. “The question was: could we make this work in practice?” said Richard Parker-Smith. “It was a fairly easy fit for Steven to be the Associate on this KTP – this is something Durham does quite a bit, encouraging PhDs to move onto a KTP.

Most companies are coming to us with a strategic objective, but the project is not fully formed as an idea. The overall effect [of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership] is to increase the impact of our research.”

 

How to apply multivariate analysis to small batches

The key to applying multivariate analysis is to gather more data from each product. Instead of looking at one dimension in one component, the idea is to power the analysis by acquiring data on multiple dimensions, in multiple components.

For process operators, the data is displayed as a simple to interpret traffic light system, which alerts them when an adjustment is required. Neil Gray said: “It looks simple, but what lies behind is very complex.”

“By precisely measuring non-conformance, the data collection system complements the high level skills of Rotary Power’s engineers. As a result, there are fewer incorrect finished parts, reducing waste and delivering cost savings.

“The manufacturing process is now geared for continuous improvement. In the past we were doing checks, but not recording them. Now there is traceability on parts. This not only leads to improved product quality, it also helps with subsequent servicing. We are manufacturing to a higher tolerance and seeing less field issues.”

The KTP delivered so many benefits that the data acquisition and analysis system is being considered for use in other divisions of Rotary Power.

In summary, the KTP has been very successful. In fact, said Neil Gray, “It has considerably exceeded our expectations.”

 

Outcomes

  • Manufacturing process is now geared for continuous improvement
  • Rotary Power staff being trained to use 20 data acquisition terminals and apply the outputs, leading to a significant cultural change.
  • Engineers on the shop floor were empowered to make decisions and had the means to solve problems.
  • Manufacturing processes improved and waste was reduced

Find out more about Rotary Power.

About Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

KTPs aim to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  They are funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, and are part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships have been helping UK businesses innovate for growth for over 40 years. These special, funded collaborations are available to organisations in any sector and of any size, and provide unique access to the UK’s world-class academic resources.

If you think a funded KTP could help your organisation innovate for growth, contact one of our specialist KTP Advisers They are based throughout the UK and can assess your idea, help you apply for the KTP and will remain on hand with advice and support for the duration of the project.

KTP applications enjoy a high rate of success (around 90%), and competitions for funding run throughout the year. Find out more here.

There is further information on how a Knowledge Transfer Partnership could help your organisation, and how to apply for one here.

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