What is Metrology?

Metrology is the science of weights and measurements. The word is made up of the Greek word metron, which means “measure, length, size,” and the suffix -ology, signifying an area of expertise.


You can talk about etymology all day, but to really understand metrology and what it is, we need to go deeper. Like, for example, why do we need metrology, and when did this science first come into play? How has metrology altered and developed, if at all?


Metrology is at the heart of everything we do at Alliance Calibration. We love to study it, read about it, and share it with others. For this blog, we’re digging deep into all things metrology.


The history of measurements


Have you ever thought about what it means to measure something? A measurement is nothing if it doesn’t hold itself to a standard. It’s the standard itself that makes a measurement possible in the first place.

The first standards for measurements on record are as old as the pyramids. They must be, really, in order for the construction of the pyramids to have been successful. In 2900 BC, the Egyptians created a standard called the royal Egyptian cubit. They based the measurement off of the Pharaoh's forearm and hand and carved the standard into black granite. With replications of this standardization tool in the hands of builders, they were able to make the bases of the pyramids nearly identical in length.


Designers and architects in other civilizations were coming up with similar solutions. Greece, for instance, had its own unique system of measurement. Whatever measurement system an area used, they had to ensure that each of the tools were calibrated to the standard. Only then would the tools be reliably accurate.

 what is metrology_history_alliance calibration

For thousands of years, none of the standards for measurement across the globe were related. Then, in 1791 during the French Revolution, France decided to make all the country’s units of measurement consistent. It seemed that the best way to do this was to create a measurement standard based on something tangible in nature, so they created the meter. At the time, it was defined as being one ten-millionth of the length from the equator to the North Pole.


The metric system was born from the meter in 1795. Soon after, multiple other countries started using the metric system as well. In 1875 the International Bureau of Weights and Measures formed to help regulate consistent measurements standards across the globe.


The fields of metrology


If you’re new to the subject, you might think of metrology as being limited to a small niche of measurement. Metrology is significant in a lot of different topics. It’s relative in every field of science and technology, and the standards it creates are essential to each of them. The numerous subjects of metrology can be divided into three different categories: scientific, industrial, and legal.


Scientific metrology

Of all three subfields, scientific metrology is the one that goes for the highest degree of precision. This field focuses on measurement units and how new measurement methods are developed. It is the field that is concerned with developing the measurement standards and the rules of traceability. The traceability established by scientific metrology ensures that the standards are being followed out in real world contexts.

 what is metrology_scientific_alliance calibration

Traceability ensures that each measurement instrument is being calibrated to the highest possible standard. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures maintains a list of labs and institutes that are licensed to calibrate instruments to the agreed upon standard. Alliance Calibration is one of those.


Industrial metrology

The field of industrial metrology — also known as applied or technical metrology — is concerned with metrology as it applies to the manufacturing process. The precise accuracy of measurements isn’t as central to this subfield of metrology. In this case, the concern is more about the accuracy of the individual parts for an end product. It goes without saying that a product loses value when its parts don’t fit the way they should.


Industrial metrology focuses on the measurements more than the traceability, although traceability and calibration are still essential for trusting the measurements. As such, some industries might rely on recognition agreements and peer reviews to validate their competence, in addition to accreditation.


Legal metrology

In legal metrology, the focus is on the accuracy of the measurements. This area of expertise verifies that all measurements used in daily trade use are transparent and accurate. Legal metrology is essential because in verifying measurements, it helps ensure and protect an accurate, honest, and fair trade.


Why is metrology important?


By now, you might have some idea of how influential metrology actually is on our day to day lives. It has been used in some way or another for almost every item we use — from electric fans to tea kettle to automobiles. It is the quality assurance that ensures the things we buy work the way we should. As metrology continues to improve, so do the machines we use.


One great example are our cars. Not long ago, people wouldn’t expect a car to run well beyond 100,000 miles. But these days, vehicles can last well beyond 200,000. That, in part, is due to metrology, which allowed for manufacturers to make more precise measurements. With better measurements, they could design their vehicles to work with higher precision, causing them to last longer as a result.


The influence of metrology extends beyond convenience. It’s what supports the designs and utility of medical instruments. It provides accurate measurements that have a huge influence on the well-being and safety of our entire society.




Now that you know the impact of metrology on our society, you can understand why we’re so devoted to calibration. When we perform calibration on an instrument, we are comparing it against the known standard of measurement. Our process ensures the measurement traceability of an instrument back to the SI unit. In serving the field of scientific metrology, we know all there is to know about updated standards and rules of traceability.

what is metrology_si units_alliance calibrationYou may also want to read:

SI Units and Physical Standards

What is traceable to NIST standards?

What is the difference between Calibration and Verification?


Phil Wiseman

Phil Wiseman

Phil Wiseman is Chief Marketing Officer at Alliance Calibration. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Physics from Centre College. Phil is an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor and ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence.

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