Andy Morris, NPL North of England Operations Manager, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), looks at what’s changed in the Test and Measurement industry over the past 42 years.
By Andy Morris, NPL North of England Operations Manager, National Physical Laboratory. www.npl.co.uk
HRH Queen Elizabeth II has ruled for longer than any other Monarch in British history, becoming a much loved and respected figure across the globe. Becoming Queen in 1952, she celebrated 70 years on the throne in June 2022 with her Platinum Jubilee.
Known for her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service, the Queen has been an important figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth since her accession to the throne. In that time we have lived through enormous social, technological and economic change.
In this article, Andy Morris, NPL North of England Operations Manager, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), looks at what’s changed in the Test and Measurement industry. He may only have started his career in 1979 - a whole 27 years after Her Majesty began her tenure - but there has still been exponential change and growth in our industry since then.
When I first started in test and measurement in 1979 it was as an apprentice with BT (formerly Post Office). All of the paperwork was handwritten onto printed forms and these were later processed by a separate department – the only department that had computers! Equipment ranged from physical standards to valve-driven electronic devices, transistorised devices and some early IC-controlled instrumentation. Everything we did was manual, relying on years of experience and a degree of innovation.
In the early ‘80s, this changed quickly with the introduction of PCs. Very soon we were writing programmes to analyse test results, plot graphs to be included in reports and even run Automatic Test Equipment through calibration routines – I suspect we were early adopters of this technology. Apple 2, HP85 and HP86 computers became common, followed by BBC B computers and ultimately IBM ad IBM-style PCs. At the same time, a lot of the calibration labs were still using manual techniques, especially in the standards areas with a great deal of reliance on physical standards which were monitored manually – for example, the plotting of drift charts for standard resistors. Processes, in general, were still not automated but the signs were there that the future would be very different.
Since then, more and more computing power was introduced with job records, test reports and correspondence internally and externally being electronic. At the same time, there was a significant increase in more complex multifunctional test equipment including such items as multifunction calibrators and the ability to extract useful data from them.
Today, we are heavily digitalised with efforts to increase the level of integration of equipment, calibration records, test reports, uncertainty calculations, environmental modelling, equipment performance monitoring (with associated modelling) and correspondence, including automated reporting.
There is no doubt that calibration providers and their customers now share a lot more data, much of it in an electronic format that is suitable for use by both parties. This allows the use of this data in many ways, including improved management of test equipment, a better understanding of the equipment’s contribution to measurement uncertainty when it is used, and better predictions of future equipment performance.
There is still plenty of scope for innovation though, especially in the way that data is captured, transmitted, and presented to the user, and ultimately how it is used to make decisions. With more and more emphasis on modelling, I expect increased use of tools such as machine learning/AI around measurement which will help in understanding (and perhaps improving) the performance of our equipment and the systems they are being used to monitor, validate and control.