World Metrology Day: Measurements in your everyday life

By Yasin Lemeriga

Every year on 20th of May, the world celebrates the World Metrology Day in commemoration of the anniversary of the signing of the Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre) in 1875. This provided the basis for a worldwide coherent measurement system that underpins scientific discovery and innovation, industrial manufacturing and international trade, as well as the improvement of the quality of life and the protection of the global environment.

Metrology, the science of measurement and its applications in all aspects of life. Be it in science and technology, trade, regulations, health, safety and environment. This should not be confused with meteorology which deals with weather.

The theme for World Metrology Day 2020 is Measurements for global trade. This theme was chosen to create awareness of the important role measurement plays in facilitating fair global trade; ensuring products meet standards and regulations, and satisfying customer quality expectations.

On this day the world and the measurement community celebrates the impact of measurements on our daily lives based on the theme of the year and recognise the challenges and the immense contributions of thousands of Metrologists throughout the world. It also aims to draw the attention of Governments, international bodies, companies, academia, and men and women in all spheres of life to the importance of accurate measurements in our daily lives which come with their investments.

The economic success of nations depends upon their ability to manufacture and trade precisely measured and tested products and services that can compete in the global market. Metrology is central to the manufacturers, suppliers and customers of goods and services as it ensures product quality and interoperability, eliminates waste, raises productivity, and facilitates trade based on agreed measurements and tests.

Molecular transformations are central to the production of foodstuffs, medicines, fuels, and metals, virtually all manufactured and extracted products, thus we are able to manufacture plastics as hard as steel, bullet proof vest that are comfortable to wear, etc. The quality of the products will ultimately depend on how accurately the production process conditions like temperature, pressure, pH, etc. have been measured and controlled.

The maintenance of human health depends critically on the ability to make accurate diagnosis, and deliver precise treatment in which reliable measurement is essential in dosage and efficacy of the pharmaceutical used. Therefore, instruments used for measurement of aspects like blood pressure, body temperature, weight, height for diagnosis as well as instruments for testing of sample and for dosing medication and meting radiation during treatment must provide accurate results. During this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, many measurements are done, if these are wrong we may allow a person infected into our community because the results are negative, quarantine, or deny access to a healthy person because the results are falsely positive. Well-set and accurate oxygen pressure and flow rates of ventilators during patient treatment are a critical factor. Accurate measurement results in timely and correct treatment and therefore have direct and beneficial effect on the safety and care of patients who are treated in hospitals in all countries of the world.

Prosecution of drunk driving, over speeding  by the police or industrialists who discharge effluents into the environment can only be fair if the instruments used to establish the levels of the parameters are calibrated and traceable through certified reference materials.

Interoperability of parts is critical in inter industry and international trade as parts produced by different manufactures can be used to assemble cars, aircrafts, systems and devices. Accurate and traceable measurements underpin interoperability.

Our safety depends on accurate setting and indication of gauges used in supporting decisions. Imagine the bolts and nuts used to fasten safety critical parts of the car or plane you are travelling in is not done with the right torque or because of a faulty gauge the plane you are flying in the wrong altitude and therefore in the path of another. What if the fuel gauge and the fuel dispensing meters at the airport are not accurate?

Much of the traded items are in the form of Weights and Measures. We can only have value for money if the litre of fuel dispensed into our vehicle is truly a litre; the meat bought from the butchery is three kilos and you are getting your money’s worth.

The country spends funds for the construction and maintenance of roads and therefore all efforts should be made to minimise damage to our roads by controlling overloading of the roads. Therefore accurately measuring axle loads of trucks that traverse our roads least we penalise innocent truck drivers or let lose those that will damage our roads move freely.

As this country prepares to industrialise and develop its oil and gas sector, it is important that measurements during custody transfer and all other processes are accurately done so that the country benefits abundantly.

The international trends in metrology demonstrate that the Metre Convention is still a living instrument, responsive to the current needs of globalization and is a testament to the wisdom of those who met in Paris on 20th May 1875. The adventure of metrology is an enterprise which has been propelling the evolution of the modern world and which continues to excite the imagination and to assist society.

With this in mind, it is therefore imperative that the government continues to invest in national metrology infrastructure to keep abreast with technological changes.

The benefits of metrology touch us all irrespective of wherever we live and whatever we do.

The writer is the Manager of the National Metrology Laboratory at Uganda National Bureau of Standards.