Behind the Scenes: Newport News
In 2008, API decided to expand their in-house services team to create more comprehensive, customized dimensional metrology solutions for the ever-evolving manufacturing industries.
They tapped Ron Hicks and his thirty years of metrology experience at Newport News Shipbuilding to lead the venture. More than a decade and thousands of satisfied customers later, API Services has become a global presence in contract metrology service, earning a reputation for unmatched expertise in the field and outstanding customer service.
Ron Hicks, however, has not forgotten how it all started, and how far they’ve come. “At first it was just a small office with about two or three of us,” Ron recalls. “We were there for about six months, and then we moved into another facility which was only about 5800 square feet. The [Newport News] facility we’re in now, we’ve only been in for two years.”
What they lacked in space, API Services made up for in experience, right from the beginning. “The core group of people had all previously worked together in the shipbuilding industry,” Ron says. “They gained a lot of experience there because you see every application in that industry.” A lot of experience is actually underselling it. The team at API Services boasts a combined 300+ years of experience in all manner of manufacturing industries and applications from automotive to shipbuilding to aerospace.
That experience is what allows API Services to offer an unparalleled variety of options to their customers.
API Services can oversee every step in the manufacturing process. They can scan prototypes to create models for mass production, inspect the first pieces off the production line to ensure accuracy, perform spot checks throughout the manufacturing process to maintain repeatability, reverse engineer old parts to return them to production, and calibrate machine tools, Laser Trackers, CMMs, and Industrial Robots to check for inaccuracies and help compensate for their errors. These latter two processes were developed by the API Services team with support from Globus and the software engineers at API’s HQ in Rockville, MD. They were developed because API Services recognized a hole in the market for what manufacturers needed to keep their processes running accurately, and it mirrors the spirit of customer focus and continuous improvement that first drove Dr. Lau to invent the Laser Tracker.
At the calibration lab in Newport News, API Services calibrates API’s Radian Laser Tracker series and can certify every other tracker brand. For each one of those operations, the team at API Services is using API’s state-of-the-art equipment. “Our service engineers use our products, all of them. They use the Radian trackers, all of our MTC products, our SMRs, and the vProbe. Being firsthand users, they would give you a tremendous recommendation for our products,” Ron adds. “Based on my experience, if a manufacturer isn’t using API products, then they are missing the boat. They are missing the boat on us.”
But for Ron, it always comes back to the people, “They’re bona fide experts.
Art [Kietlinski] and his guys are the best in the world at measuring a machine tool, say a 5-axis machine, and being able to ensure it’s running accurately and then compensating it to improve its accuracy. In addition to being experts with our own equipment, all our technicians understand many types of unique and complicated machine tool control structures, as well as how to run each machine and improve its capabilities.”
Beyond their expertise, the team at API Services also shows a dedication to their customers that goes above simple customer service. Many of their service engineers drive around with a packed bag, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. They travel on holidays to maximize time on site with customers and minimize costly machine downtime.
“They’re doing what it takes to help our customers, on site sometimes for lengthy periods, even months at a time,” Ron says. “Take Service Engineer Nick Wade, for example. He’s onsite with a customer right now, and he’s doing such a good job, they’ve extended him for a longer stay. It takes a lot. And our team has got it.”
That dedication combined with unmatched experience and products, is what sets API Services apart. Ron finishes by saying, “I’m really proud of our entire staff and what they’ve been able to accomplish. I really believe that we are the best because our people are the best.”