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Advanced Dimensional Measurement Systems for Manufacturing


The US manufacturing industry is experiencing an increase in the variety of dimensional measuring systems available to more rapidly inspect high value parts for manufacturing process control and improvement. These systems have the potential to significantly increase manufacturing efficiency which essential to maintain U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, a key US industrial priority. Promoting rapid adoption of new measurement technologies is the central focus of the ADMSM project team's research efforts. We work directly with industry to test new measurement technologies to determine and enhance their measurement performance and to establish traceability to the SI. The results of our research efforts are transferred to industry through a number of mechanisms, which include participating in Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), producing high quality publications in manufacturing trade journals and leading national and international documentary standards development activities. The mechanisms for dissemination target manufacturers at critical stages along the innovation adoption curve. Innovators, that develop new measuring systems and technology, use NIST's high accuracy measurement capability and unique testing facilities to evaluate prototype instruments to shrink development time and shorten time-to-market. Early Adopters work directly with NIST under CRADAs to target specific measurement technologies to speed adoption and gain competitive advantage. The results of our research are codified into NIST led documentary standards that provide common test methods for Early and Late Majority Adopters to inter-compare mature measurement technologies to determine suitability for specific applications. If justified, our research sometimes leads to the development of new measurement services and high accuracy dimensional artifacts.


The adoption of new measurement technologies for manufacturing production and inspection remains a critical component for US industry competitiveness. Historically, development and adoption of new and more efficient measurement technologies has been dependent on industry access to high accuracy measurements that support innovation and documentary standards that specify instrument performance and facilitate commerce. In order to meet this industrial need, members of the ADMSM staff have been involved in developing the metrological infrastructure and documentary standards that support the US manufacturing industry for over twenty years. Over this time NIST has had proven, measurable, high impact and lasting results.In the 1990s a class of advanced measuring systems, Cartesian Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) was gaining acceptance in the manufacturing market. With the request from users and manufacturers, NIST led efforts to produce uniform test procedures and develop test artifacts to evaluate the performance of this class of machines. The standards produced with NIST's leadership and the artifacts developed by NIST form the basis for purchasing and warranting these measuring systems today. The CMM error models developed at NIST as part of this effort have been adopted by industry to increase the accuracy of these systems by a full order of magnitude (reducing the need for traditional and more expensive hard gauging).More recently in 2000s manufactures and users of another class of advanced measuring system (laser tracker) asked NIST to lead the development of a documentary standard to specify the performance of this class of machine. Today, laser tracker measurement performance is specified and warranties issued according to the U.S. national standard (facilitating millions of dollars in commerce). The result of this work is now being adopted and codified into international and other national standards for testing and warranting laser tracker instruments world wide—helping to provide US manufacturers of these measuring systems access to foreign markets.

Figure 1. National and international standard produced under PML leadership.
Figure 1. National and international standard produced under PML leadership.

The project team leverages its unique assets and capabilities to meet US industry need. These assets include high accuracy testing facilities that provide manufacturers with practical access to the SI unit of length. PML has world class experience developing high accuracy dimensionally stable measurement artifacts for realization of the unit of length in industrial facilities and advanced analysis capabilities to develop sophisticated models of the measuring systems. The project also has technical expertise in developing advanced mathematical algorithms to perform computationally complex analysis of the dense data sets provided by this new generation of measuring systems. Our project team members also hold several key chairmanships on national and international standards that specify the performance of the measurement instruments—helping to facilitate their adoption. To support innovation, the project team provides US developers of prototype instruments access to our unique facilities early in the development process—helping U.S. manufactures of these systems shorten the time to market.

The next generation of measuring systems is now entering the market. The US aerospace and other manufacturing industries are requesting leadership from NIST to develop the measurement infrastructure to deploy these new time saving measurement technologies in the manufacturing production environment. In response to this industry request, this project continues work developing the metrological technologies that provide the intellectual foundations for the development of new high accuracy measurements, dimensional artifacts and documentary performance standards to facilitate US adoption of these new more efficient time saving technologies.

LSCM Group Activities: Calibrations and Special Tests Calibrations and Special Tests—Our objective is to provide US industry with very high accuracy length calibrations with rapid turnaround time.
LSCM Group Activities: National and International Standards National and International Standards—The project team leverages its expertise in dimensional metrology through participating in national and international standards development.
LSCM Group Activities: Research Activities Research Activities—Our goal is to continuously improve the accuracy of our measurements, develop new characterization techniques, and provide industry with technical information to spur innovation.
Large-Scale Coordinate Metrology

Major Accomplishments:


  • Research efforts led to the development of new high accuracy portable length standards for field testing of laser trackers in the shop environment. This development was completed under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Brunson Inc. This technology is expected to be available in FY2015.
  • Developed new measurement technique to calibrate long (20 kilometer) high accuracy length standards for the fiber-optic cable industry. High accuracy length standards are needed to decrease scrap rates lowering cost of production.


  • PML led efforts to publish new ISO standard. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) published document ISO 14253-6 Generalized decision rules for the acceptance and rejection of instruments and work-pieces, which provides the dimensional measurement industry with more flexible rules regarding the acceptance or rejection of manufactured products.


  • Project team member appointed the Chair of the ISO Technical Committee 213 Working Group 10, which produces international standards for advanced high-impact coordinate based measuring system.


  • Bronze Medal-for delivering crucial measurements to ensure the reliability of body armor used by U.S. troops.
  • Published a book chapter on the evaluation of coordinate measuring machine uncertainty. This is a critically important area and many of the concepts are applicable to other advanced dimensional measuring systems.
  • Published a book chapter describing important aspects of coordinate measuring machine software (algorithms and fitting).


  • Gold Medal-For outstanding leadership in national and international standards resulting in harmonization and advancement of coordinate metrology.
  • Bronze Medal Awarded - For outstanding technical achievement in applying dimensional metrology in the invention of a computer assisted orthopedic surgery artifact.

Lead Organizational Unit:



  • The Boeing Company; Seattle, WA
  • Automated Precision Inc, Gaithersburg, MD
  • FARO Technologies, Kennett Square, PA
  • QuantaPoint Inc, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Metris Inc., Manassas, VA
  • BFRL, Materials and Construction Research Division
  • Brunson Instrument Company
  • Caterpillar Incorporated

Facilities/Tools Used:

Figure 2. Ranging test for laser trackers.
Figure 2. Ranging test for laser trackers.

Figure 3. Ranging tests for laser scanners.
Figure 3. Ranging tests for laser scanners.

Figure 4. Test data points on a cylinder with simulated form error.
Figure 4. Test data points on a cylinder with simulated form error.


Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML)
Semiconductor & Dimensional Metrology Division (683)

General Information:
301-975-3468 Telephone
301-869-0822 Facsimile

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8211
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899-8211