Metrology can simply be defined as the ‘science of measurement’ and plays a very crucial role in any country’s business and manufacturing related activities, along with the development of products & technologies. There are economic benefits associated with measurement activity, standardisation, accreditation or national measurement institutes. The importance of metrology in economic growth via industrial development was well recognised for ‘inclusive and sustainable industrial development’ by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in its 2030 agenda. It is also interesting to note its significance in activities directly associated with economic benefits, such as in the domain of health, environment, defence, manufacturing, trade etc, through four different facets. First one being productivity due to better control over manufacturing activities and hence, leading to less wastes in processes. Second, it supports research and development activities leading to innovative & better products exhibited by their measurements over traditional ones. Third, measurement also ensures symmetry of information in the market about different product characteristics, hence ensuring availability of quality products in the market. Last but not the least, it can also help in carefully examining individual characteristics of any product ensuring its quality and safety.
Improve infrastructural facilities for the metrological sector
There are many international studies that have examined the economic benefits associated with measurement activities. An increase in government investment of €6 million (an additional 10% investment) in the National Measurement System is likely to produce a return of around €300 to €400 million for the UK economy, according to a study published by National Measurement Office, UK in 2009. In the case of UK, standards lead to 28.4% growth in annual GDP and 37.4% growth in annual labour productivity. This can be ascribed to their role as diffusers of technology and promoters of business efficiency. Standards link companies to global supply chains by reducing technical barriers to trade and thereby, strengthen the basis for nonprice competition. Hence, it becomes obvious to emphasise and improve the infrastructural facilities for the metrological sector in order to strengthen the Indian economy. A strong quality infrastructure allows innovation for the products development (e.g. analytical instruments, medical, defence, aerospace, etc) that are in conformity with national/international standards and attracts foreign investment.
The role of technology in metrology
With the recent advent of digital technologies in a plethora of fields in India, it also presents enormous scope to be exploited in the metrology domain. The calibration and measurement capabilities of National Measurement Institutes of India stand at 236 at KCDB-BIPM, which is low as compared to developed nations, such as the USA (1889), Germany (1563), China (1554), Japan (1126), the UK (1136), etc. A low CMC in case of India signifies that there exists a scope to enhance India’s measurement capabilities significantly as it lags behind with respect to international standards in several frontiers of science & technology. However, in order to get its deeper understanding, it becomes imperative to first learn about the metrological activities in order to further identify as in how different technological frameworks can be utilised to boost its performance. Traceability, as defined by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, USA), is ‘property of the result of a measurement or the value of a standard whereby it can be related to stated references, usually national or international standards, through an unbroken chain of comparisons all having stated uncertainties.’
Accordingly, any physical measurement needs to be related to International System of Units (SI) through reliable calibration techniques resulting into confidence in measurements being carried out and is being managed effectively by National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi or National Measurement Institute (NMI). In order to cater to such a large number of requests, it becomes difficult for each NMI to handle them individually and is usually carried out in defined phases through the support of other laboratories in order to disseminate the services in a time bound manner. However, digital technologies can be explored in a number of ways for the benefit of customers and service providers to overcome the existing limitations leading to better coordination between the stakeholders & reduced service costs.
Quality and industrial growth
The global industrial metrology market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2% from $9.8 billion in 2021 to $13.2 billion by 2026.The increase in demand for metrology services across industrial sectors for adhering to latest quality standards is likely to fuel growth that is quite evident with growth in defence and aerospace sectors. Plus, the emergence of robots and automation in semiconductor inspection, energy harvesting, automation and the utilisation of advanced measurement devices spur market growth. Moreover, the industry that uses standards is more productive and would have on average 3.2% additional exports per year relative to the non-users. At the sectoral level, impacts on annual turnover ranged from 1.7% to 5.3%, according to a study published by Centre for Economics and Business Research, UK in 2015. The consumer demand for accurate products and devices with extended durability and quality can stimulate market growth but the lack of real-time monitoring mechanism for disseminating metrology services can hamper the industrial growth as well as consumer satisfaction.
The world & India’s scope in metrology
The existing approach of disseminating metrology services has their own limitations since it involves a lot of time in carrying out laid down procedures including paperwork. Additionally, the lack of real-time monitoring mechanism makes it a bit difficult to track the status of service along with issues related to the verification of documents. In this context, various digital technologies, such as Big Data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing etc, are being considered by different researchers and industry professionals worldwide to provide metrology solutions resulting into automated & paperless systems with better customer service. In addition to the dissemination of metrology services, automated legal metrology solutions also safeguard the interests of the customer by ensuring quality- and quantity-oriented concerns. For example, blockchain applications have been explored by NMI Japan to securely register calibration certificates online along with tackling issues related to falsification and authenticity of certificates. In another study, an integrated IoT and blockchain-based framework has been presented by researchers from Brazil aiding metrological surveillance activity of other measuring instruments by legal metrology using a case of fuel dispensers.
In a similar attempt, researchers from China proposed surface topography prediction method utilising Big Data analytics to detect early deterioration of surface quality and simultaneously exercising control on the manufacturing processes. Hence, various other digital technologies mentioned above have been and are still being explored in different segment of metrology which present huge scope for the Indian context.
However, it also becomes necessary to consider some key challenges in its implementation and address them while building such frameworks to sustain the growing demands of the industry. The foremost concern surrounding digital technologies has been primarily cybersecurity, which becomes more critical in the metrology domain since any error in the calibration of instruments can lead to huge production & socio-economic losses. In addition to this, it becomes extremely critical to identify the right approach for utilising digital technologies to boost metrological services, based on which the right set of resources & manpower with the required skill-set can be arranged to execute the task effectively. Last but not the least, the top management leadership in identifying the long-term vision to utilise such technologies becomes very important to channelise the efforts along with the availability of funds to support the task of infrastructure development.
Post-pandemic growth will depend on metrology
Given the significance of measurement science in the Indian industry to boost trade and in developing new technologies, it becomes critical to realise the value of the metrology domain in order to improve social-economic outcomes. At the same time, ensuring adequate coverage of metrology in the course curriculum & highlighting relevant issues will help raise public awareness & enhance their participation to benefit stakeholders in the long run. Especially when the entire world has been badly affected by COVID–19, the post-pandemic growth will vastly depend on metrology to provide quality infrastructure in order to address global challenges utilising different digital technologies.