When an eighth of an inch deviation can be the difference between flight or fail, only the most accurate measuring technologies will do. Fields such as the aerospace industry demand tools that enable them to achieve the highest level of accuracy in the assembly of critical components, such as wingspans and joints. That accuracy is possible thanks to laser trackers developed by Dr. Kam Lau, the founder of Automated Precision Inc.
Lau developed some of the most technically advanced laser trackers in the early 1980s and founded Automated Precision Inc. (API) in 1987 to provide advanced metrology solutions. Among API’s clients are some of the world’s largest companies in the aerospace, automotive, locomotive and machine tool industries. API’s products today include laser trackers, autocollimators, rotary calibration devices, alignment lasers, high-precision 2-D and 3-D digital scanning and probe systems, and coordinate measuring machines.
During the company’s first 10 years, Lau developed machine tool calibration devices such as interferometers, used to measure small displacement refractive index changes and surface irregularities. API also developed a suite of products dedicated to improving the accuracy and performance capabilities of machine tools.
The company is now manufacturing its fourth-generation laser tracker and has continued to make improvements to its technology used for interferometry measurements. API’s latest tool, the Radian, was introduced in 2011 and has an exclusive on-the-shaft mounting of the laser head. This allows it to be mounted sideways, upside down or underneath a surface, and eliminates bending mirrors and thermally induced errors while increasing accuracy and stability.
The AP Group has three companies under its umbrella: AP Photonics, API ZC (Coordinate Measuring) and API. It serves clients in the aerospace, automotive, locomotive and machine tool industries, among others.
Chief Operating Officer Joe Bioty has 40 years of experience as an owner and manager of private and publicly traded high-technology companies. One of the things that drew Bioty to API – twice – is its reputation in the industry.
“API is known in the marketplace as being very innovative in measurements and control,” he says. “We provide metrology solutions; we don’t just supply hardware and software, but we listen to the customer’s problems and try to offer specific solutions. Other large companies that have been in the market longer than us might have larger sales volumes but, in terms of innovation, we are without a question the leaders in our industry.”
The company’s service mentality drove it to launch the API Services Division in 2007. “We go out and we do metrology services, and we use API instrumentation and anyone else’s instrumentation to provide a metrology solution for our customers,” Bioty says. “We make that very vital in our strategy to be a services business. We hear first-hand what are the problems the customer faces and we are able to provide innovative solutions.”
Bioty notes that clients have become better informed about new metrology technologies. “Customers have become brighter in what they do and they have started looking for innovative and productive ways to do things,” he explains. “What we’ve seen is the ability to see first-hand what the requirements for innovations are, and to incorporate those solutions and develop new products.”
An example of this innovation is the company’s volumetric error compensation solution, a machine tool calibration system that improves machine accuracy. This process reduces the calibration time for a machine from days to a few hours.
“We use a tracker and we use a new product called an active target, which continuously aligns the target to the laser,” Bioty explains.
Boeing has been using API’s instruments since Lau developed a large-scale metrology tool for it in the 1980s.
Today, Boeing uses API’s laser interferometer trackers for a variety of purposes, including the assembly of the wing joints of its 747 and 787 aircrafts. API’s instrumentation ensures the most accurate measurements – a matter of life or death in the aerospace industry.
API has subsidiaries in Germany, China, India and Brazil and soon it will open its doors in South Africa. “Our subsidiaries are full-blown API employees,” Bioty explains. “We’ve invested tremendously to make them sales, service, repair and calibration facilities.”
API deploys its quality system at all of its facilities around the world. “We have ISO-accredited calibration laboratories in all of our facilities,” Bioty explains.
To ensure its standards are consistent around the world, API maintains a training center at its Rockville headquarters. “We train our people from around the world extensively in all of our calibration procedures, so they have the same exact procedures and processes in their respective countries as we have here in the United States,” Bioty notes.
Bioty sees API growing rapidly over the next five years thanks to continued customers support and demand. Its customers’ needs propel API to continue developing innovative technical solutions.