When you think about it, what better background could there be for a manufacturer of testing systems than to have once made parts meeting the exacting standards of the automotive industry? Such was the case for Proto Manufacturing, according to Robert Drake, sales manager.
“Erhard Brauss launched the company in 1967 as a parts manufacturer,” he says, “and when you make parts you’ve got to test them, right? So he started looking into the various methods that were available at that time, such as eddy current testers, and in the early eighties he stumbled across a non-destructive testing method called x-ray diffraction, which was still at an early stage of development for use in residual stress measurements. The equipment available at the time was limited to the laboratory, slow, and not capable of measuring complex or large components. By the late eighties technologies were available to create a system that was faster, portable, and capable of measuring complex parts and large components. That was really how the transition from making parts to testing them began, and by 1998 it was complete.”
These days Proto Manufacturing is involved in two basic spheres of activity. On one side it designs, manufactures, and markets x-ray diffraction (XRD) systems for residual stress and retained austenite measurement for laboratory, field, and in-line applications. On the other side it offers laboratory and field-testing services including XRD testing, automated stress mapping and profiling of stress gradients, stress vs. depth characterization, percent retained austenite measurement, stress concentration factor determination, and non-contact hardness measurement. With an experienced staff of engineers, it is able to provide contract R&D services as well.
Now led by the founder’s son, Michael Brauss, Proto Manufacturing is headquartered in Windsor, Ontario, with a U.S. office and laboratory right across the Detroit River in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It has a global presence, however, with partner companies in locations such as the United Kingdom, China, Egypt, Europe, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. It has recently established a branch office in Tokyo, with plans for further expansion on the drawing board. Drake says that approximately 90 percent of its business is divided evenly between North America, Europe, and Asia, with the remainder spread among the many other countries in which it is active.
As to how its customers can best utilize the company’s capabilities, large manufacturers needing to constantly test hundreds or thousands of parts may choose to purchase testing equipment and train their own employees, while those requiring only occasional testing may do better to send parts to one of Proto Manufacturing’s laboratories. Whatever their decision, the benefits abound.
“One of the things about residual stress, which is what we test for, is that it has a huge impact on fatigue life,” Drake explains. “So modifying the stress in your parts in the right way can result in added efficiencies such as extended service life, taking a part from 1,000 to 100,000 cycles. Another important virtue of harnessing internal stresses in a positive way is that it can allow you to reduce materials and make your part much lighter. With the automotive industry seeking to increase fuel efficiency, one way is to make your parts lighter, and the same thing definitely goes for gears and other components used in the wind industry. As turbines grow larger, increasing their energy output, it’s easy to see how important it is for the parts to be as strong and lightweight as they can be.”
Drake goes on to say that manufacturers struggling with fatigue or cracking may want to consider beginning their fault investigation with XRD testing. “Customers will come to us who are experiencing these problems and are frustrated because they’ve tried everything else, and nine times out of 10 we determine that the problem has to do with stress,” he says. “We have a comprehensive, holistic approach to helping them solve their problems. We know how the equipment works, what its capabilities are, and how to implement them. We conduct thousands of measurements in our labs each year, so our customers have this huge database of knowledge to rely on in meeting and overcoming the challenges they face.”