Metrology Research in Physics, Chemistry and Biology: How the National Measurement Institute assists Australian Industries

NMI assists Australian industries by providing metrology (i.e. measurement) services, advice, research and development, and chemical reference materials that meet the present and future needs of industry.

NMI’s services include proficiency testing of accredited laboratories, high level calibrations for all sorts of measurement equipment and analytical testing services in areas such as food safety, illicit drugs, and environmental contamination. These services support the constant and safe production of a variety of products and processes that we use everyday.

Some recent examples of assistance to Australian industries are as follows:

1) Industrial temperature measurement. A company that manufactures metal sheeting, by ‘baking’ paint onto metal sheets in a continuous process, encountered difficulties with accurate temperature measurements that were affecting the quality of the product. NMI assisted by developing instrumentation to determine the correct surface temperature which allowed the company to calibrate their radiation thermometers used for process control. This has improved the repeatability and accuracy of the temperature measurements which, in turn, has resulted in better product quality.

2) Environmental testing. Australian environmental guidelines set for industry require reporting of very low contamination levels for a broad set of organic pollutants and dioxin compounds. NMI has developed a suite of tests that provide coverage of a wide range of pollutants and analytes such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. This work supports the production of metals, contaminated site remediation projects, biota & biosolids testing, and emissions reporting.

3) Biomedical sample monitoring. The biomedical industry regularly stores biological samples in liquid nitrogen (at a temperature of about minus 196 degrees Celsius). These samples are usually immersed in the liquid nitrogen fluid but, due to the risk of cross-contamination, the industry is increasingly storing samples in the vapour space above the liquid nitrogen. The vapour space may be significantly warmer than the liquid nitrogen itself and therefore, its temperature requires monitoring. This has necessitated thermometer systems that have been calibrated at these low temperatures. NMI has established a service for biomedical firms and private testing companies that assists in meeting their ultra-low temperature monitoring needs.

4) Machine components measurement. NMI has performed, for several Australian companies, ultra precise measurements using its high accuracy coordinate measuring machine (CMM). The CMM can measure a wide range of reference artefacts and components within its 800 mm x 600 mm x 600 mm volume. The CMM is suited especially to the measurement of items having complex shapes and measurements requiring low uncertainties. Examples include the measurement of dies, gears, height-setting micrometers and high accuracy proof components. The picture above demonstrates the CMM preparing to make exact measurement on a car engine block.

5) High-voltage calibration. NMI’s High-Voltage Laboratory maintains most measurement standards necessary for reliable electrical transmission. The laboratory is the only test provider in Australia for systems with operating voltages from 300 to 550 kilovolts. On-site high-voltage calibrations are also performed on some types of equipment that cannot be moved, using NMI’s mobile high-voltage calibration unit that operates from a specially equipped truck.

6) PT program for folic acid. In conjunction with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), NMI developed a proficiency testing (PT) program for folic acid in bread-making flour to support the introduction of mandatory folic acid fortification in bread. This PT scheme tests the capabilities of laboratories to accurately measure folic acid concentrations and provides industry with the confidence that their analytical testing is of a quality required by FSANZ’s standards.

7) Ultrasound calibration. The only way to ensure that an ultrasound device is displaying the correct power level corresponding to its actual output is to have it regularly calibrated. NMI has established an ultrasound power calibration service and now regularly calibrates ultrasound devices to the relevant industry standard.

These are just some of the many ways in which the NMI assists Australia and our industries on a daily basis. Much of this work may go unnoticed by us as individuals, but without it we would find ourselves with a great many problems of inconsistency, which, in turn, would have unimaginable knock-on effects within every aspect of our lives.

For more information about the National Measurement Institute and its functions, please visit their website at: