API Services is laser focused on precision business

Whether it flies, floats, needs to spin smoothly and steadily or needs to be in perfect alignment, API Services is laser-focused on the business of precision measurements.


Stephen Harrah Calibration Technician calibrating a API Radian Laser Tracker

How precisely can API Services measure? Most of the company’s dimensional measurement work is accurate within a few thousandths of an inch, while some machine tool calibration equipment measurements are accurate to a tenth of a micron.

For context, explained API Services applications engineer Stephen Strand, a human hair is 3,000th of an inch thick, although not every project requires that level of precision.

Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the multitude of useful tasks and practical careers in the metrology industry, which is the science of precision measurement. “There’s not good publicity in this industry, so I really didn’t know about it until I got the opportunity to do it,” Strand said.

Strand said he first learned of the career opportunity when he applied for the apprentice program at Newport News Shipbuilding. Strand said he learned about the dimensional control program when the call came to discuss apprenticeship opportunities, and “I decided to give it a shot.”

Despite using lasers, computers and getting up close and personal with powerful machines and historic objects, Strand said explaining it all in a nutshell is still a challenge.

“When someone asks you, ‘What do you do?’ it’s really hard to explain it, because a lot of people are unfamiliar with this industry, they don’t understand lasers or that you can measure with a laser or that the technology even exists,” Strand said.

Moving from the air to the water, API Services recently completed a 3D laser scan of the Mohican, a 107-year-old steamboat owned by the Lake George Steamboat Co. The three-dimensional digital model of the hull shell plate will be provided to naval architects at Dejong and Lebet, and that company, in turn, will use the model to create drawings to facilitate the removal and replacement of the Mohican’s original hull plating in order to keep the ship running, API Services said in a recent announcement.

Stephen Strand Application Engineer showing a model created from a 3d scanning project

Katherine McIntosh, API Services marketing manager, described the company’s core work as “the beginning of 3D printing,” since multidimensional scans, imaging and modeling of objects is a necessary prelude to analyzing and creating tangible objects.

In addition to the Smithsonian, API Services also does work for other companies and organizations such as Newport News Shipbuilding, NASA Langley, Newport News Industrial – a subsidiary of Newport News Shipbuilding – and Wartsila.

API Services has customers and offices in China, Germany, India and Brazil, “and we’re providing sales and service in most all of those locations now,” said Ron Hicks, who is vice president of global services for API Services, which is a subsidiary of Maryland-based Automated Precision Inc.

The company’s suite of tools and technology includes laser trackers and laser scanners, which can measure millions of data points “without touching anything,” Strand said. Some of the machines include a spinning mirror that projects a laser similar to a bar code scanner, which maps out data points. The data points are tied together using software, which essentially creates a large 3D map.

Although 3D measurement has been around for 25 years, “in industries like shipbuilding aerospace and automotive, the technology itself has really revolutionized how they build things,” said Hicks, because, compared to older techniques, using 3D measurements saves time and money.

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