Developing a Digital NMI
As industry adopts increasingly digital technologies (be it automation, virtualisation, etc.), the UK’s National Measurement Institute must continue to develop to support that evolution. NPL is actively seeking feedback and guidance on how we can best shape our development in the context of industrial digitalisation. We would like to hear your thoughts, views, and observations: how are your businesses adopting digitalisation, and how should NPL’s capability evolve to support that?
There are already many plans at NPL to develop our ability to support industry as digitalisation progresses, but it is critical that we remain closely informed by industry in order to ensure our efforts are relevant, useful, and timely. As such, we would be extremely grateful to hear from any members of the BMTA.
- How would your business benefit from digitally-delivered, machine-readable calibration certificates?
- How would you benefit from digital access to data obtained during the calibration of instruments in the traceability chain of your equipment?
- How do you think a fully digitalised traceability chain would affect operations at your company?
- Are there any particular areas within the digitalisation umbrella that you believe NPL, as the UK’s NMI, should be focussing its efforts to support?
These questions are just a sample of those you may wish to offer your opinion on – but we would greatly appreciate input on any point within the context of digitalisation. We will be sharing a survey with more specific questions through BMTA soon, but we would be glad to get your general thoughts ahead of that.
Existing Digitalisation Projects
As the UK’s NMI, NPL is responsible for the dissemination of the SI within the UK – meaning that calibration and traceability chains all lead back to NPL (or another national NMI). By digitalising measurement and calibration services, the journey to fully digital dissemination of the SI can begin.
As an example of some of the ways in which we are already adapting to the evolving needs of industry, an outline of some of the activities which are part of the Digital Calibration and Verification project at NPL might provide some context.
Machine-readable digital calibration certificates (DCCs) are a focus of active research, and the potential for these certificates is easy to imagine. Fully digital certificates go hand-in-hand with the use of quality management systems that are increasingly digital. By making them machine-readable, the potential for highly automated quality and compliance becomes much more feasible. Of course, it will take some time to establish this technology – and there are several considerations when it comes to Standardisation, both nationally and internationally, for the potential of machine-readable calibration certificates to be fully realised.
A first step towards the development of international implementation of DCCs was taken during the EU-funded project SmartCom (https://www.ptb.de/empir2018/smartcom/project/). Together, project partners, comprising of European and Asian NMIs and industrial and academic organisations, developed a basis for a secure, unambiguous and unified exchange of metrological data. The outputs of the project included specification of the minimum contents required for a DCC to fulfil the same role as a paper certificate, and definition of a framework that unambiguously specifies those contents. An XML schema that implements the DCC framework was developed and made available online, and could form the basis for future standardisation of DCCs. Work is ongoing at NPL and elsewhere to develop tools to make the transition to DCCs simple and smooth for the end user.
Image courtesy of NPL.
Update and Automation of Measurement Services
As part of the Digital Calibration and Verification project, the Temperature and Humidity group have nearly completed the implementation of a full automation of contact thermometry calibration service data handling and certificate generation. In doing so, the group can eliminate some of the labour-intensive administration associated with these activities, dramatically reduce user errors, and instead focus more on performing critical research and services in support of the National Measurement System.
Also within the scope of the project, the Surface Technology group are responding to growth in demand for X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) by exploring the possibility of remote verification through digital means. By translating their existing intensity calibration procedure to be more suitable for online access, the group will be ideally placed to support a rapidly growing area of active research and development. With new standards for XPS on the horizon, this is an opportune time for the group’s efforts.
As a group that works very closely with manufacturers to provide dimensional measurements and calibrations, the Manufacturing Metrology group are developing a system for automating their measurement-to-dissemination pipeline. Once complete, this system should allow the group to continue producing reports according to customer requirements, whilst reducing the need for manual data entry and formatting once the measurements have been performed.
All of these activities are being coordinated by NPL’s Data Science group, who are conducting reviews of the calibration services offered across NPL in order to identify those with the greatest potential for digitalised delivery – whilst also monitoring those with processes that would also benefit from increased automation or virtualisation.
All of these activities will lead to a new understanding of the steps on the route to digitalisation. This knowledge will be shared across NPL and beyond, to enable UK industry to get the most from the opportunities that digitalisation brings, and to make NPL a digital NMI.
Image courtesy of NPL.
With digitalisation coming to the fore of transformation processes, it has never been more important for the world’s National Measurement Institutes to be ready to provide support. Maintaining the chain of traceability to the SI is to the core mission of NPL. Our efforts to transform our processes and services must be intimately linked to the developments occurring in UK industry so that we can not only maintain traceability to the SI, but also streamline that chain and make it more accessible to algorithms and automated decision-making processes.
We hope that you agree with our ambition to develop our capability in tandem with industry and in doing so we would greatly value your input. Please direct your thoughts, observations, and support to the contact details below.
Daniel Povey – Higher Research Scientist
Manufacturing Metrology group