What is a metrology engineer, and what are the duties and responsibilities expected of them?
Unpacking Metrology and Its Importance in Society
Metrology is the science of measurements. It is used in quality assurance to calibrate machinery and ensure they can produce parts and products according to specifications. It is also used for quality control, or the process of reviewing a finished product to ensure it meets the specifications and vital standards (i.e., compliance, safety, functionality, and quality).
What is a metrology engineer’s role in society? Metrologists play an essential role in our daily lives. Metrology is used in designing, calibrating, and manufacturing things we use daily, such as furniture, electronics, appliances, mobile phones, computers, cars, and even our homes’ structures.
Metrology is most prominent in industrial manufacturing, but nearly every industry requires metrology professionals. From scientists conducting scientific research in a laboratory to specialist technicians overseeing the activities on a production floor, these specialists need input from metrology engineers to keep their respective projects on track.
Metrology is critical in all of this, making its engineers and technicians vital to modern society.
What Is a Metrology Engineer?
A metrology engineer is a specialist in science-related or engineering-related measurements. They study and develop quantity systems, design new measurement tools, interpret data, and outline the standards for quality assurance (on procedures, tools, and machinery) and quality control (on manufactured parts and other products).
Because metrology is practiced by varying degrees in many industries, metrology engineers may be given different job titles. They can be called calibration technicians, process control technicians, safety engineers, etc., depending on their roles in the company and their industry. This also explains why the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect data specific to metrologists.
Required Skill Sets
A metrologist is expected to have the following competencies:
- Adept at Math
- Have up-to-date and extensive knowledge of manufacturing and production.
- Have a keen attention to detail
- Can think logically and make sound decisions in high-stress situations
- Can assess and effectively measure quality and performance
- Has excellent communication skills
- Can work well with other people from different fields and specializations
- Is technologically savvy and can quickly master computer software and native programs
The importance of these qualifications will be more evident in the next section.
The Roles of a Metrology Engineer
The specific tasks a metrologist performs depend on the industry and nature of their company. Nevertheless, metrology engineers generally have the following roles and responsibilities:
- Calibrating instruments
No matter how advanced the technology is behind a manufacturing process, the mechanical components that perform the programmed functions are still subject to wear and tear. This means variations and inconsistencies will emerge over time in production lines, even if the procedure is the same.
For example, cuts by CNC machines can become less precise, and the parts produced through injection molding can have tiny yet discernible imperfections. Metrologists save the day by calibrating these machines and ensuring that their output is consistent in quality and meets specifications.
- Designing new measuring tools and instruments
More than taking measurements of parts and machinery, metrologists develop new processes and systems for measuring objects unique to a production line. Mass production may have made many machine components available in the market. However, manufacturers still need parts custom-designed for a machine, tool, or product only they produce. A metrology engineer’s job is to develop measuring instruments to ensure product specifications and implement quality control guidelines.
- Developing new measurement metrics
Developing new tools and measuring instruments often entails creating the corresponding measurement units. Metrology engineers are best qualified to establish the metrics that will then be used to quantify the attribute being measured.
Often, the goal for creating new metrics is to standardize a production process and enable manufacturers of similar products to produce parts with precisely the same dimensions. This benefits industries in the long run because widespread compatibility lowers the risk of a product becoming obsolete.
- Reverse engineering
The opposite of creating new measurement metrics and tools, reverse engineering in metrology thoroughly examines an object and determines its physical characteristics to duplicate them.
Suppose a company decides to reproduce machine components to expand its production. In this case, metrologists can do reverse engineering to determine the components’ physical properties and use them to manufacture brand-new parts with the exact measurements.
- Spearheading quality assurance
Quality assurance is the systematic process of ensuring that the final product meets contractual requirements, ideal specifications, and internal quality standards. However, it focuses on the production process and tools rather than the final product itself.
In manufacturing and scientific applications, metrology-guided quality assurance usually includes calibrating machines, testing production lines, and identifying the assembly or production line segment that requires adjustments. Creating parts that end up unusable is a waste of resources, so manufacturers must ensure accuracy during production. Metrology engineers are vital for achieving this.
- Testing components (quality control)
In contrast to quality assurance, which analyzes the precision of manufacturing tools and procedures, quality control examines the output itself. At the very least, metrology engineers identify the measurements (size, dimensions, distances between distinct points on product surfaces, etc.) and tolerances (the upper and lower limits of acceptable measurements) that determine if a manufactured part meets the required specifications and quality.
Quality control is crucial in manufacturing and scientific applications because if the measurements of a finished product exceed tolerances, it might no longer fit as a component for a machine. It must be discarded from the assembly line to avoid safety and quality problems that put the company in a bad light.
Becoming a Metrology Engineer
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in metrology, you will require at least a Bachelor’s Degree, ideally in engineering or applied mathematics. Taking advanced math courses can also help make your resume stand out. Several universities in the US are known for their engineering programs, and earning a degree from these institutions can put you in companies’ and recruiters’ radars.
Years of experience with mechanical measurement are an advantage when looking for a job. Still, many employers are willing to forego experience if a candidate has a Master’s Degree or Doctorate in metrology.
After getting a degree, the next step is obtaining recognized certifications like ASQ (American Society for Quality) ISO/IEC 17025 Compliance certification and CMS (Coordinate Metrology Society) Level-One and Level-Two certifications.
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