The DTI has launched a £2m programme to champion better measurement practice in the UK, in response to fears that the need for accurate measurement is being ignored by large tracts of industry to the detriment of UK competitiveness.
A Benchmark report commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry in 1996 found that only 38% of companies surveyed including some of the UK’s largest players budgeted for measurement, even though it is seen as important to product quality.
Set up in November, The National Measurement Partnership (NMP), which is run by a forum of national measurement laboratories and five industry bodies, has three years in which to improve:
* the level of traceable measurement in the UK using accredited standards and measurement laboratories;
* the UK skills base, through a new National Vocational Qualification in measurement and calibration; and
* industrial access to measurement and expertise.
The NMP claims that the UK has one of the most sophisticated networks of measurement capabilities in the world.
Around 400 UK Accreditied Service (UKAS) test laboratories, licensed by government through the National Accreditation Council for Certification Bodies, can calibrate industrial instruments to national and international standards.
Many hundreds more are licensed to carry out a variety of measurement services.
But a major fear is that ignorance of the services on offer will lead to a rise in the number of non-accredited people offering cut-price measurement services, without the traceability that could be vital in the case of legal action being pursued.
Barbara Allen, an NMP partner and secretary of The Gauge & Toolmakers Association, said GTMA members are concerned about the lack of policing to protect their interests. Many members are small companies which invest heavily to ensure that the instruments and equipment they supply to industry meet the approved measurement standards.
Increasingly, said Allen, consumer industries are asking ‘how can you prove this and what are you measuring against?’
‘We are losing business because we are not as competitive as some of our overseas competitors and measurement has an important part to play,’ she added.
Gareth Francis of the National Physical Laboratory, an NMP partner, is project manager for an NMP awareness campaign to tackle the problem of ‘cowboys’. This continues the work of an earlier initiative by the DTI, Competing Precisely.
A UKAS website with links to accredited laboratories is being set up to provide industry with a central reference to approved measurement services.
The NMP’s first national conference, to be held in Brighton on 2-4 November, will provide measurement laboratories with a technical forum.
There is also a national helpline to give managers access to technical expertise. For details, telephone: 0181-943 6880.