It’s safe to say, as humans we have always been fascinated by the intricacies of flight.

In 1678, a French locksmith named Besnier tried to fly with wings modelled after the webbed feet of a duck. Luckily, he survived the attempt. And 300 years before that, kites were seen carrying humans in China. Luckily, we have come a long way since then…

During the last century the aerospace industry celebrated a number of milestones. From the Wright brothers achieving the first successful airplane flight in 1903, to the Vostok capsule carrying the first person into space.

But not one to rest on its laurels the industry is constantly developing new technologies, and today the prospect of potentially moving to Mars isn’t too alien a concept(!), while the emergence of new advanced materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes are helping to make airplane wings more efficient by reducing weight and fuel consumption.

Weight is hugely important when it comes to designing air and spacecraft. Lighter machines can travel faster on less fuel, and even the slightest changes can make a huge difference. Weight and balance also have a significant impact on the ability to operate aircrafts safely.

So, fasten your seatbelts as we journey into why this makes the calibration of measuring equipment highly critical…

First stop: Quality and safety

The aerospace industry is subject to strictly tight quality controls for safety, meaning high quality production is needed at every stage.

Equipment or component failures on an aircraft can cost from tens of thousands to millions of pounds, while failures in flight present another enormous risk in the loss of lives.

To guarantee the structural safety of an aircraft, every element needs to be manufactured to the highest quality. This is particularly important as the industry relies on hundreds of tiny parts to build their products using high precision processes.

Dimensional measurement plays a crucial role in ensuring that these parts, including aircraft frames and stringers, meet exacting quality standards.

Without proper, regular and well-documented instrument calibration, there is simply no way to ensure safety, quality and performance – all of which are critical to the aerospace industry.

Accuracy and precision

High value satellites are launched with the requirement that they can operate for a number of decades without maintenance or repair. This makes it incredibly important to get it right the first time. But this can only be delivered through rigorous testing and validation carried out on every single component, ensuring it can survive the extremely harsh space environment.

Measurement lies at the heart of this.

In September of 1999, after almost 10 months of travel to Mars, NASA’s $125million Mars Climate Orbiter burned and broke into pieces – purely because the wrong type of measurement unit was used during the manufacturing process. Thankfully today we have the globally recognised SI units system of measurement to avoid such incidences…

Besides checking the accuracy of metrology equipment, calibration also helps to determine the traceability of the measurement.

During calibration, equipment such as micrometers, gauges and calipers are tested against an even higher-level standard, which ensures the results the tools provide are correct, and parts can be produced to the right specs.

Calibration is not a one-time mission

Calibrations have to be carried out at regular intervals. The accuracy of all measuring devices degrades over time, and calibration processes ensure that any deviations in measurement can be corrected so the device performs consistently.  

The aerospace industry in particular has specialised accuracy and reliability specifications for its equipment, and all measurement data and results need to incite an extreme level of confidence.

This means manufacturers need to employ a metrology system that can measure equipment efficiently while consistently attaining high levels of accuracy, which can be as tight as 0.01 mm.

Regular calibration ensures that equipment maintains its stated accuracy, minimising safety risks and bringing you one giant step towards better quality.

Talk to us

Our Calibration Select laboratory in Birmingham follows strict standards and processes which enable us to carry out metrology equipment calibrations for the aerospace industry.

We offer our customers the choice of either traceable or UKAS calibrations. If you want to find out which option is right for you, or if you’d like to know more about the calibration of your metrology equipment our experts are on hand to offer some friendly advice. We’d love to hear from you!

Humans have a long, successful history of adding value to raw materials to turn them into something more useful. Prior to the advent of manufacturing, it’s daunting to think that most products were made by hand. But luckily, the technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed our ways of producing goods.

Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line in 1913, for instance, made moves towards efficiently mass-producing an entire automobile. His first assembly line cut the time it took to construct a car from over 12 hours to an impressive one hour and thirty-three minutes!

Today this important innovation has enabled manufacturers to create products in high volume at a remarkable rate, enabling them to take advantage of economies of scale. But manufacturing also requires balancing efficient production and effective quality control measures to create safe, high-quality products.

This is where calibration takes the load off…

Calibration and its role in manufacturing

With the ever-increasing influx of automation, it’s important to ensure that production is repeatedly accurate.

Parts need to be produced within a customer’s required specifications, within a pre-set tolerance for error, which means the highly complex machines that are involved in producing and assembling those parts – at every single step of the manufacturing process – need to be reliable.

Metrology equipment is used by manufacturers to ensure that their products and their parts are accurately and precisely manufactured, measured and assembled. The process that checks the equipment used is delivering accurate results time and time again is calibration.

Why calibrate?

To ensure that metrology equipment – from torque wrenches to micrometers – are producing the correct measurements, they need to be regularly checked.

This is important as, over a period of time and from constant use, their measurements can shift slightly, which can create differences and product deviations, beyond the famed margin of error.

Instruments used within manufacturing environments are particularly vulnerable to this. Micrometers, for instance, are widely used to assure the quality of parts, but simple changes such as heat from the hands can warm the frame of a micrometer, causing significant measurement errors. Similarly, if it’s been dropped or damaged in any way, it’s important to ensure, through calibration, that the tool is still delivering the correct measurement results.

But it’s not just quality assurance calibration offers manufacturers, it also brings a number of other important benefits:

The benefits of calibrating to manufacturers

  1. Create confidence in products – During calibration, the results from a measurement device are compared against a traceable reference device with a higher level of accuracy. Any discrepancies found can then be adjusted accordingly. By ensuring accuracy at every level of the manufacturing chain, manufacturers have confidence that their equipment is producing high quality products, which feeds down to trust from their customers.
  2. Ensure safety and quality – Having accurate measurement results is particularly important when looking at the levels of tension required within critical joints and fastenings on cars, aircraft, and heavy-duty machinery. The measurement of torque is one of the most important aspects during the manufacturing of high-quality products and is required to ensure that the fasteners used in automobiles, for example, are installed securely. The joints need to be bound with absolute tightness, which is critical to safety.  Without properly calibrated equipment, it’s impossible to meet quality requirements, such as ISO.
  3. Reduce costs and manufacturing errors – Small measurement errors can equal big costs, so having accurately calibrated equipment can reduce the risk for product defects and therefore expensive repairs.

How often should equipment be calibrated?

Dimensional equipment such as calipers, are one of the most common hand tools used within manufacturing. Due to their precision accuracy it’s important to calibrate these devices at least once a year. Similarly, torque wrenches should also be calibrated at least once a year due to their high level of use.

Other questions to consider when thinking about the frequency of calibrations are: Is the device dropped or banged constantly? Or are you using the tool in unusually hot, cold, humid or wet conditions? If yes, you might want to consider a more frequent calibration schedule.

Luckily, calibrations don’t need to be laborious …

We’re here to help

If you’re a manufacturer and you’d like some advice on calibrations within your business, reach out to our experts. We offer both ISO standard calibrations and UKAS accredited calibrations across a full range of metrology disciplines in our labs, including torque, temperature, dimensional and electrical equipment. We’d love to hear from you!

How to calibrate a food thermometer
How to calibrate food thermometers

Temperature readings play a key part in food preparation and manufacturing standards. You can’t accurately tell if food is safely cooked by looking at it, smelling or tasting it. Nor can you safely assess if food that’s being kept hot for serving, or buffet food, hasn’t fallen in to the danger zone without checking its temperature. It’s critical the thermometers used in your process are accurately calibrated as fluctuations in temperature during any stage of processing can cause issues with food safety, hygiene and overall quality.

Two things to do before using a food thermometer:

1) Check it / test it. You can use boiling or ice water to verify how accurate your thermometer is.

2) Adjust or calibrate it. If the readings do not match 100 or zero, your thermometer will require an adjustment (or calibration).

How to verify a food thermometer in-house

Two of the most common methods used in-house to check the accuracy of food thermometers are the boiling water and ice water methods. Both of these methods are very quick and easy to perform and provide instant results.

Verifying in boiling water: Place the probe of your food thermometer in boiling water and check the reading. The reading should be 100 degrees Celsius.

Verifying in ice water: Place the probe of your food thermometer in iced water and check the reading. The reading should be zero degrees Celsius.

Once you’ve performed the verification, make sure you record it. These records will be reviewed as part of any third-party HACCP certification or quality audit. Record the thermometer ID or tag number, the test results and the person or company who completed the test.

Some businesses have the capability to do this in-house, while others send their equipment to an external calibration provider. You’ll need to adjust the thermometer based on your test, in order to get an accurate temperature reading.

How to calibrate a food thermometer in-house

Your food thermometer’s instructions should tell you how to do this, as it varies between types and models. Usually, there’s a small nut under the temperature dial that allows the thermometer to be adjusted. If you use digital thermometers, most models have a reset button that should make it accurate again.

Digital food thermometer in use

Why is it important to calibrate a food thermometer?

Performing frequent calibrations on your thermometers ensures the equipment performs at optimum levels. This in turn reduces the risk of error and provides accurate, traceable and repeatable measurements throughout the production or preparation process.

Having accurate results at every stage of production can help avoid potential recalls due to ‘bad’ batches. And, as a worst-case scenario can prevent the production of a product that may kill a consumer – a devastating outcome for any food business.

How often should I calibrate my food thermometer?

It is down to individual businesses to decide how frequently they calibrate their thermometers.

Usually the decision is made based on factors such as how often the thermometer is used within the production process and how big the risk is if the thermometer was to display an inaccurate reading.

Other factors such as the legal or regulatory requirements governing the industry, or customer stipulations may also be considered.

The best practice approach we recommend to our customers is to run a quick calibration in-house on a daily basis to ensure your thermometers are performing correctly. Additionally, we recommend sending your thermometers to an external calibration supplier for a more thorough calibration once a year.

How to perform an annual food thermometer calibration

No matter which method you choose for your daily in-house verifications, it is best practice to send your thermometers to an external calibration provider annually for a more thorough calibration.

External calibration providers will use methods such as calibration through immersion, where probes are placed into a metrology well alongside a reference probe and subjected to various temperatures over the range of use. Another, less common, calibration method is calibration in air, where the probe under test is placed into an environmental chamber alongside a reference probe and subjected to various temperatures over the range of use. These methods allow multiple temperature points to be checked within a range from -45ᵒC to 660ᵒC, giving you a higher degree of accuracy than the self-verification method.

Thermocouple being calibrated

Questions about thermocouple calibrations? You’ve come to the right place! Our thermocouple calibration expert, Tom Bates, answers the industry’s commonly asked questions;

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Industrial thermometers

Temperature measurement in industrial environments covers a wide variety of needs and applications. It can be carried out using a range of temperature testing equipment, from thermometers to temperature probes (including surface probes). These instruments can come with many styles of wiring configurations including from thermistors, thermocouples and RTD/PRT.

No matter what type of temperature measuring equipment you have, it’s critical to have it calibrated. Why? Because temperature plays an important role in the production of many products, and in some situations even a slight variance in the required temperature can not only affect the quality of the product but can also compromise its safety.

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