Metrology – a mechanical engineer’s guide

  • Metrology is the science of measurement, encompassing all theoretical and experimental aspects.
  • Metrology is divided into three branches; scientific metrology, applied metrology, and legal metrology.
  • Although a large portion of the processes in most metrology applications is carried out by engineers and technicians, there are job opportunities for other professionals.
  • A metrology engineer must have knowledge of a wide range of engineering disciplines including design, design interpretation, production, manufacturing, quality control, and testing.

The act of measuring has become an important part of our everyday lives. The need to measure and standardise has developed into the science of metrology. It has become an indispensable tool in the advancement of technology. In this article we’ll look at its importance and how it relates to mechanical engineering.

industrial metrology: Micrometer Calibration with gauge block in Calibration laboratory

First of all, what is metrology?

Metrology is the science of measurement which encompasses all theoretical and experimental aspects. The word metrology is derived from two words. They are “metro” which means measure, and “logos” which means study. Metrology is divided into three main branches.

What are the types of metrology?

1) Scientific metrology

This is concerned with the establishment of new units and methods of measurement. It deals with the specification of new standards, their realisation, and the conveyance of these standards to users. Being scientific, this branch involves a lot of research. It is viewed as the highest branch of metrology as it forms the basis of all other branches.

2) Applied or industrial metrology

This deals with the use of measurement and its application to industrial and manufacturing processes. It seeks to establish the importance of measurement in general. An important aspect of applied metrology is calibration.

What is metrology calibration? It is the act of assessing and standardising the accuracy and precision of measuring equipment. Applied metrology ensures the functionality of measuring equipment, proper calibration, and quality control.

3) Legal metrology

The legal branch is concerned with the regulatory requirements of measurements. That includes measurement methods, and units of measurement. The regulations aim to ensure fair trade, furthermore to protect consumer rights, ensure public safety, protect the environment and enable taxation. The legal branch is regulated by law through various bodies.

What is the importance of metrology?

There are many important benefits including:

  1. It facilitates fair trade by establishing agreed-upon systems of measurement. This in turn positively impacts the economy by globalising trade. For example, it ensures traders receive the expected quantities agreed upon.
  2. Different institutions are able to calibrate units of universal measurement. This eliminates technical barriers that could be a hindrance to scientific research and technological advancements.
  3. It promotes standardisation in industrial and manufacturing processes.
  4. It provides protection for the environment and for the health of the public by the establishment of measurement methods and units of certain parameters. As a result, measurements are kept within an acceptable range.

Metrology jobs and career opportunities

Various sectors and industries use metrology. These include manufacturing, energy, communication, construction, aerospace, food, pharmaceutical, and automobile. Many of the processes in most applications is carried out by engineers and technicians. However, there are also job opportunities for other professionals including; physicists, medical personnel, chemists, lawyers, and IT specialists.

Although job titles vary, the duties are relatively similar. Here are some of the duties of a metrology engineer:

  • Apply science and mathematics to design, and develop systems and methods for calibrating inspection, measurement and test equipment.
  • Analyse calibration problems and solve them using advanced knowledge of science and engineering.
  • Field test advanced measuring instruments. For example, this might include complex navigation systems installed in the cockpit of a plane.
  • Install and maintain measurement systems, ensuring they continuously provide accurate results.

A metrology engineer must have knowledge of a wide range of engineering disciplines including geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T). There are few formal education programs, and so many in the field have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or similar.

Metrology software products

Software makes applying metrology easier in many situations. There are several software programs on the market that support inspection, calibration, and measurement activities. Popular software includes:

  • Power inspect by Autodesk for free-form surface inspection.
  • M3 by Innovalia for recording and analysing point clouds.
  • Focus point cloud software by Nikon for focus inspection and point cloud processing.
  • PC-DMIS by Hexagon manufacturing intelligence for complex measurements.
  • CMM management software by Nikon for tactile measurements using CMMs.
  • QUINDOS basic by Hexagon manufacturing intelligence for coordinate measuring devices.

You may find out more information about each software package by going to the respective manufacturer’s website.

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