Piston rings have to be manufactured to very close tolerances. The two critical dimensions are the thickness (known as the width) and the size of the gap when the ring is closed to its working diameter.
These machine uses pneumatically operated probes to measure the thickness at up to four locations around the ring, a fifth probe measures the size of the gap in the ring. Variable-reluctance contact probes are used as these are the only type found to give the required measurement resolution of 0.1 micron and able to ignore the thin film of oil on the rings.
The existing machines all had obsolete measurement electronics which were difficult to set-up. Complicated cam timers were used to control the pneumatic walking beam, which transferred the rings through the machine, raised and lowered the probes, and triggered the measurement electronics.
The electronics and cams were replaced with a digital control computer, programed in a multitasking high level control language. The system allows all aspects of the machine timing to be easily tuned for the optimum balance between accuracy of measurement and production rate. The system also calculates the mean and standard deviations for a batch, which, together with other production statistics, are output to a small panel printer.
The systems have been very popular with the machine operators; ease of set-up being a key feature, with which the operators were closely involved at the design stage.
Nine of these systems have been converted over a period of six years, They have proved to be very reliable, with maintenance overheads reduced to a fraction of the original.
These systems are a good example of how a computer system can be added onto an old machine and give it a new lease of life.