Measuring devices such as fruit and vegetable weighing scales, measuring cups, or tape measures have a variety of uses in daily life or for commercial purposes. These devices are common and easy to find. Industrial measuring devices, on the other hand, are carefully designed by engineers to meet the specific needs of diverse industries.
Measuring devices used in manufacturing include various types of testing and measuring instruments that can be used to implement generalised measurements or for special purposes. These measuring devices are specially engineered to meet standards and ensure product conformity with market demands.
It is important that the government imposes requirements on measuring equipment calibration and measurement traceability in various commercial and production processes to ensure international standards are met.
Metrology is beneficial to both the society and economy. It positively affects the economy by increasing economic efficiency. With metrology, the market becomes more efficient from the resulting reduction in inexact information. Both the buyers and sellers have more information about the products. Metrology also augments production efficiency by improving productivity and inducing economies of scale.
Moreover, metrology is vital for innovation as accurate measurements are needed in the technological research and development process. Furthermore, quality of life can be improved by metrology. Testing and calibration are crucial for maintaining standards to ensure public health and safety, a sound environment, consumer protection, and so on.
The National Institute of Metrology (Thailand) or NIMT plays a crucial role in developing metrology systems as a means to develop national measurement standards to be recognised internationally. Established by the National Metrology System Development Act, BE 2540 (1997) since 1998, NIMT is mandated to develop metrology technology and conduct research on measurement instruments and techniques, to issue a calibration certificate for measuring instruments and reference materials, to develop metrology technology, and to support related research initiatives. In addition, the Institute is responsible for developing human resources for metrology and promoting effectiveness of the calibration laboratories.
In general, NIMT's metrology system development focuses on ensuring conformity between the national metrology system and the international standards for commodity production such as the ISO 9000 — quality management, the ISO 14000 — environmental management, and the HACCP — food safety. The metrology system is an important part of the infrastructure for quality control and production standardisation in trade agreements. Given the heterogeneity in the involvement in production network related trade, which typically refers to the trade in parts and components, it is important to establish a quality standard for each product to ensure the efficiency of production.
NIMT is operationally successful in developing its calibration service provisions to support production in the country's major manufacturing sectors including electronics and automotive industries. A study by the Thailand Development Research Institute (2014) reports the Thai calibration services market generated 120 million baht in 2012. By 2018, total revenue for the Thai calibration services market is estimated to reach 2,759 million baht or an equivalent of 14.51% of total revenue from scientific laboratory instruments markets.
Despite opportunities ahead, there are still some challenges facing NIMT in terms of industrial and organisational issues.
The industrial challenge concerns NIMT's calibration and measurement services that mainly respond to what end-user industries need, which considerably constrains NIMT's investment and capability enhancement, hence limiting its potential for providing greater benefits.
However, NIMT still lacks adequate calibration and measurement capacity to tackle the needs of new industries. As a result, NIMT's calibration services have proven to be time-consuming which delays its metrology R&D efforts as well as national metrology development. Metrology research and development can help reduce the need to have instruments calibrated abroad.
The organisational challenge involves some industries that take quality calibration and certification acquisition from accredited in-house or certified commercial laboratories for granted. Without systematic accreditation assessment conducted by NIMT, accuracy and reliability of in-house and commercial calibration services would be doubtful.
Guidelines for enhancing NIMT's capability are as follows:
Firstly, NIMT should conduct a review on industrial structure and assess the cost effectiveness of investment in metrology and calibration services.
Secondly, the institution should evaluate the measurement capabilities of the existing accredited calibration laboratories and services. It should also transfer technical knowledge on calibration and standards to laboratories with lower quality calibration to boost capacity and bring about greater benefits for the economy.
Finally, metrological research should be promoted and supported to contribute to innovation in measurement science. Since metrology is connected with the national economy and people's livelihoods, products which have their quality and safety ensured by metrology should be accessible to everyone.
Sumet Ongkittikul is Director for Transport and Logistics Policy at the Thailand Development Research Institute. Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.