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After spending this summer attending several trade shows, marveling at equipment that can capture a 3-D point cloud of an entire Airbus A380 to within a few thousandths of an inch accuracy, or measure surface defects of a cylinder wall to within fractions of a micron, it’s easy to fall into the trap of regarding measurement equipment as the semi-autonomous guardians of precision. Push a button, and voilà--red light, yellow light, green light--scrap it, rework it, use it. Why, a monkey could do this job!
Unfortunately, precision measurement, even with the most advanced equipment, isn’t monkey business. It’s a highly skilled profession, and a good metrologist is worth his or her weight in gold. That word hasn’t gotten out, however, and the number of people who have the knowledge and skill to perform equipment calibration and precision measurements are dwindling. Just ask around at a measurement conference such as the Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference (CMSC) or the Measurement Science Conference (MSC), and you’ll get an earful. In recent conversations I had with Boeing metrologists, it was apparent that the shortage of skilled measurement specialists is definitely being felt by the aerospace industry.
In some ways the problem is that metrology skills have often been passed on through mentoring. A seasoned metrologist would take some kid interested in precision measurement, maybe a line inspector, and teach that kid how to wring gauge blocks, read a vernier caliper, or measure thread pitch using gauge wires (don’t try this at home).
At one time, basic measurement skills were taught at vocational schools or maybe as part of the industrial technology curriculum at a university or community college. Today, the very idea of becoming a measurement specialist isn’t even on the radar for many students. The industries that need measurement specialists the most, such as aerospace and automotive, have not been pressuring community colleges and universities to bring measurement science back to the forefront of their curricula. Yet the measurement equipment that you see in these pages, made by companies such as Faro, LPT, API, and Olympus NDT, among others, are almost useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use them properly.
Fortunately, through various outlets, industry is reaching out. The MSC launched an educational outreach several years ago, and CMSC is discussing doing the same. Community colleges, such as Cerritos College in Southern California, are working closely with industry partners to teach measurement science to students. These are important first steps, but they just scratch the surface of what could be a huge problem for industries that depend upon skilled metrologists for critical measurement tasks.
For more perspectives on this topic, visit the video section of our web site (www.qualitydigest.com/content/video ). Two current videos there deal with this issue, with more to come. One is an interview with Rina Molari, past chair of the CMSC (“Profiles in Quality: Rina Molari, CMSC”); another is an opinion piece by Bill Fetter, marketing director for Hexagon Metrology (“Viewpoint: Bill Fetter, Hexagon Metrology”).
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