In February 2022, Foundrax MD Alex Austin visited James Walker Moorflex Ltd, in Bingley, West Yorkshire, to demonstrate our latest automatic Brinell microscope, The BRINtronic® NEO.
Moorflex is the metallic division of the much larger James Walker Group. JWM’s Quality Assurance Manager, Mike Sparkes, explains further: “Our customers are predominantly oil and gas though we have worked with other industries, for example nuclear. We’ve got a niche and it’s something we’re very good at: mainly we produce annulus seals, and we’re experts at the sort of thin wall parts this requires (and that other machine shops struggle with). Because it’s oil and gas and because it’s mainly seals that our parts are for, one of the main properties, if not the main mechanical property, is hardness, because the seal has to be softer than the mating parts it works with and our part will be replaceable. Our parts will work for many years – could be 25 years – but then, after 25 years, that assembly will be taken apart and new parts put in there. So, we’ve got to make sure that our parts are not going to damage the mating parts, which can be £millions, or they could be at the bottom of the sea which makes it very difficult!”
Alex asked Mike what had driven the decision to invest in the NEO. He replied “If there’s an error reading the hardness at the goods-in stage we could find at final machining that we have put a lot of time and effort and money into a part that, in the end, is too hard for the application. Fortunately it’s very rare because we are robust with the hardness checks. We do know that the Brinell check is good; the weak link is taking the reading – making sure that that’s right. Whenever there’s any doubt on the hardness, we do secondary checks, third checks, just to make sure. The hardness check at ‘goods in’ is a blind test. The technician doesn’t know what hardness he should be aiming for; we don’t want him to second guess [so we’re going to use the BRINtronic particularly at check-in because] we can’t do a final hardness check on some of the parts because the profile may be quite complicated, like a sealing face, so we’ve got to be absolutely sure of the initial checks in those cases.
“We tend to work at the softer end of the scale for a particular material grade so it’s important that our suppliers doing the heat treatment get the hardness to the right level and, obviously, it’s even more important that we can verify that. The difficulty with doing goods-in tests with a manual microscope is that when it came to final certification checks, not often, but occasionally, we were getting results where we had to query the hardness value. And, If the usual technician wasn’t about, different people were getting different results on the same material. So, there was a lot of to-and-fro from the office doing re-tests and things like that. This new equipment will stop that. Using the manual scope, I don’t think we can get down to the ‘truth’; to the very accurate results that we’ll get with that NEO equipment.
Alex asked whether JWM was pushed into the purchase by suppliers or customers who already use Foundrax equipment. Mike said “No, but we did ask for recommendations from some of our suppliers – the ones that we trust a lot. We tried a competitor’s equipment but it was appalling. They couldn’t repeat the results. On one of the tests, the indentation was a little bit oval, and it just wouldn’t resolve that slight ovality. It was an awful demonstration, it really was. You came along, did the demonstration, no problem, with results straightaway, so it was a ‘no brainer’…. We’ve had issues [with steel suppliers] where we’ve said “this is too hard” and they’ve said “no it’s not” and we’ve had to use an independent lab to get an answer on that. We won’t have to do that. We’ll have accuracy as good as the best and it will save so much time for the office with those checks, with delays, with verification.
Finally, as Mike explained, the BRINtronic NEO’s digital output facility would be a significant aid: “At the moment James Walker Group operates a number of systems but we are all moving to one system. July is the time we go live and start plugging in to the new system and we don’t want people manually entering data so we’ll have the data straight from the new [BRINtronic] equipment into our system and the automatic reports out, which is just what we need.”