ATS uses XD Laser in Contract Measurement Services

Spike Carter works alone. After 24 years as a service and applications engineer for a major European manufacturer, he left in 2004 to start his own contract measurement service. Setting out on his own, as Carter Advanced Technical Services Inc., his mission was to provide quality service in a timely manner. The XD Laser and Swivelcheck from API help him do both.


While Carter takes training and service jobs, he sees the greatest need for precision laser measurements in his installation work. In these situations, time is very critical and he must certify the machine for his customer to accept the results. For this, he measures using an XD 6 to calibrate the positioning of linear axes, check straightness and check squareness. The XD, one of API’s original machine tool calibration instruments, is designed to be flexible and convenient enough to be used to simultaneously measure linear angular straightness and roll errors much quicker than conventional methods. Four additional days of downtime and a slower restoration of full operation calculated that it lost 14,300 air dried metric tons (ADMT) of Northern bleached softwood kraft pulp production. The company estimated the additional lost time cost $14.5 million.

The XD – Quicker Jobs with Fewer Errors

As a fully wireless system, the 6 dimensional XD laser is the only system that provides the simultaneous measurement of all axis errors from a single set up. This allows the user to measure linear position, vertical and horizontal straightness, parallelism, squareness, pitch yaw and roll. XD software was developed with simple one-click commands that make it easy to use on the shop floor and requires minimal training. XD runs can be conducted manually or automatically.

This versatility allows the XD to do more in a single set up than optics or other measurement systems, Carter said. By conducting these tests in one setup, Carter is far less likely to have accumulative errors. It also allows him to do more at once, which saves time and the expense of an added engineer, he added.

“The XD has greatly improved my ability to complete jobs as a single source. Now that it’s not necessary to have two engineers on site for the same task, I can greatly lower the cost to the end user,” Carter said.

Before using the XD, he would use high precision indicators and test mandrels to do mechanical alignments. This suited the tolerances that he needed at the time. But in 2007, he got involved in testing the alignments and straightness of Zimmerman machines. At that time, he reached out to API to obtain an XD 6 for his testing needs.

Around this time, Carter also employed an API Swivelcheck when working on jobs calibrating the A and C axis on a Zimmerman two-axis milling head. The Swivelcheck is a one-of-a-kind instrument that measures rotary axes and tables using a servo-driven motor in conjunction with an electric level and a precision rotary encoder. It can be operated manually or in an automatic mode to calibrate swivel axes and tilt tables on machine tool centers; evaluate vertical rotary axes and table performance; and measure horizontal tables and axes with the XD.

A New Culture

With the ease of a single setup and the quickness of the XD’s measurements, Carter hopes that more machine shop owners will adopt preventative maintenance practices and improve their shop environments.

“There are shops that just run the machines until they break down and then only fix what’s broken. And then there are the high tech shops which strive to keep their machines in pristine condition. The trend, although it is coming slowly, is that shops are becoming more progressive and seeing the need for improved conditions and increased maintenance.”

Technology like the XD and Swivelcheck have also given companies better options when it comes to maintenance. This technology is cost-effective and simple enough for shops to take their maintenance programs in-house. Or they could also contact the service work out to one of the growing number of small service companies that are becoming more involved in calibration and alignment jobs.

From Preventative Maintenance to Predictive Maintenance

As manufacturers continue to struggle and face increasing demands for quality assurance, Carter thinks that maintenance and monitoring will have to take a bigger role in any shop’s operations. He sees the routine tests and checks that the XD or Swivel can perform without taking the machine out of service or dismantling it as “predictive maintenance, which leads to procurement of parts in advance.

“This is where API products can really come into play,” he said. He sees some customers perform regular checks and record the history of positioning and backlash. This way, they can tell if an axis is wearing or a ball screw needs to be replaced. Replacing some of these parts might require eight to 12 weeks for delivery. But with the advanced notice, they can be ordered in time for scheduled preventative maintenance downtime. “Yes downtime is expensive but planned downtime is not nearly
as expensive as when the equipment breaks down without warning.