Consider it a professional hazard, but Bob Rother, manager of the Corporate Measurement Center of Excellence at Cummins’ Columbus Engine Plant (CEP), can tell you precisely how small a micron is.
“A micron is almost indescribably small – it’s a millionth of a meter,” he says, holding his hands about shoulder-width apart. “So if I were to take a meter, which is about this far, and divide it into a million pieces, one piece would be a micron.
“A good way to think about that is to consider the main aisle here at the Columbus Engine Plant, which is almost 300 meters long,” he continues. “If I were to stretch this meter the length of that main aisle, one micron, one millionth of that meter, would still only be the width of two pieces of paper. So, measuring something that small presents a lot of challenges.”
Rother and his staff deal with microns all the time. Using tools capable of making extremely precise measurements, they check engine blocks and parts for small variations that might impact performance.
“The increased demands on our products today, the increased horsepower requirements, the decreased emissions requirements, all of that is driving us to push things closer,” he said.
The metrology lab – metrology is the study of measurement – has a number of high-tech tools that not only measure the dimensions of something but also the roundness of an object, its surface finish, its weight and even its temperature.
One of the newest tools is a laser scanner that allows the laboratory to scan over a part or an engine block without touching it to create a 3-D computer model. Engineers can use the model to check their designs against what actually comes off the production line.
The lab has a number of new tools in part because its former location in the basement of the CEP was flooded in 2008 when nearby Haw Creek left its banks after record rains. The lab is now located in freshly renovated space on the first floor.
“We have a beautiful, large facility now,” Rother said. “I guess the flood, as awful as it was one benefit is that we have all new equipment here. Nothing here is older than four-years old.”
Rother has been involved in metrology for more than 30 years and he loves his work.
“Metrology is involved with everything,” he says. “We’re not just working on one component, one part, all the time. One day we might be working and measuring a piston, the next day we might be measuring a crankshaft, the next day we might be measuring turbo parts.
“The range of parts is phenomenal; the things we’re asked to measure… We’re constantly surprised here by what comes in the door for us to measure.”
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