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Measure Twice… and Then Measure Again – Meet The Metrologists

Metrology plays a key role in all industries, and car manufacturing is no different. It’s a field where literally every millimetre counts, and metrologists are the ones who ensure that every part fits and functions perfectly. Precision is more than just an ambition here: it’s a necessity. Metrologists are rarely in the spotlight and nobody really knows much about them. Even so, they’re an integral part of the vehicle production process. The following article was first published on the car manufacturers Škoda web-site.

One of these experts is Ondřej Košťák, coordinator of the measurement centre in the component production quality department, who has been at Škoda since 2012. It was while at university that he got involved in metrology. “When I was looking for a topic for my bachelor’s thesis at university, Škoda suggested one to me. The company wanted me to write about modern methods used in non-contact measurement. So I started working with the metrology management department. Škoda liked my work so much that they offered me a job. I joined as a metrology methodologist and spent six years developing my expertise. In the meantime, I completed my engineering studies by distance learning,” he says, looking back at his first steps in the field.

From The First Designs To Production Control

In the automotive industry, metrology is an integral part of the development and production process, ensuring that cars not only look good but also function safely and reliably. The main task of metrologists is to ensure that every component, from the smallest screw to the largest bodywork part, meets the stringent requirements for bonding and assembling an entire car.

Every component, every detail, every join – metrology measures cars down to the smallest details.

“There is a huge amount of activities involved in this field. From the classic measurement of environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity to the very tricky measurement of components with complex shapes. It will come as no surprise to anyone that automotive or aircraft components aren’t measured using conventional tape measures, but much more sophisticated methods that deliver incomparably greater accuracy. In the quality measurement centre overseeing production dimensions, for example, we have a length gauge that’s accurate to tens of nanometres. This gauge is one of the most accurate in the country,” explains Škoda’s chief metrologist, Jan Urban.

Metrologists’ involvement starts during the development stages of a new car. They work with the engineers, using sophisticated instruments to measure and evaluate the dimensions and tolerances of every single component. This ensures that theoretical designs translate seamlessly into assembled functional units.

Modern measurement has to pick up on deviations imperceptible to the human eye

But their work doesn’t stop once production is underway. During the production process they carry out regular checks on the dimensional stability of parts being manufactured. Using advanced technologies such as laser scanning and computed tomography, they ensure that every part of the car remains within the defined tolerances. One frequently used technology is coordinate measuring machines, which can measure the geometry of automotive parts with astonishing accuracy and detect deviations that are imperceptible to the human eye.

Ondřej Košťák also put his metrology knowledge and experience into practice during his work trips to India, where he helped his colleagues there to build and subsequently streamline the operation of their measuring centre. “I was summoned to the Pune plant as someone who could help fine-tune the operation of the measurement centre. One of the things I did was analyse their measurement protocols, which ran to fifty pages,” he says.

Škoda’s chief metrologist Jan Urban at work
The Future Is Autonomous – Of Course

Metrology is an important part of automotive manufacturing and always will be. Complex technologies, advanced electronics and autonomous systems will mean an increasing demand for new measurement methods. At Škoda, dimensional quality control is nowadays governed by an inspection plan, which is actually a prescription of the features and characteristics to be measured, over what number of parts and what unit of time.

The future, and indeed a step into the digital 21st century, means managing this process not statically but dynamically, based on up-to-date data from the production machinery. “We’re already collecting large volumes of data on the state of the manufacturing process which we can use for effective measurement planning. That’s why we’re currently working on a new system that will create specific and abbreviated measurement orders automatically and without operator influence. This will allow us to use the capacity of measuring and production machines much more efficiently. This approach will allow us to react flexibly to potential problems in production. At the same time, it will simplify the operators’ work,” concludes Košťák.

Measurement today involves working with large quantities of data
No Two Cubits Are The Same

“Without measurement, our lives would be unrecognisable. For example, mobile phones or GPS navigation systems would not work, and it would be impossible to produce a part that is subsequently assembled on the other side of the planet. It wasn’t until 1875 that the International Metric Convention was established in France, which introduced the metric system and the basic unit of length – the metre. Until then, different units were used in different parts of the world, so, for example, trade between Europe and the Far East was complicated. Today you will find only a few countries in the world that do not follow the metric convention – the United States is one that uses imperial units. “Metrology is one of the foundations of the modern world. Without measurement we wouldn’t be where we are today. Everything around us has to be analysed and quantified in some way. In the past, for example, fabrics at markets were measured and sold in cubits – the distance from the elbow to the fingertips. This might have been quick and easy, but at that time it was common for each country, or even each major city, to have its own cubit length. For that reason, a specimen cubit used to be publicly available in squares where markets were held, for example, in case of disputes. This standard was used to check that measurements were correct,” Ondřej Košťák explains.