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Advanced Dimensional Measurement Systems for Manufacturing


The discrete manufacturing industry is experiencing an increase in the variety of dimensional measuring systems available to inspect manufactured parts. These systems have the potential to significantly increase manufacturing efficiency and are essential to maintain U.S. competitiveness. Unfortunately, adoption of these new technologies has been hampered by (1) the lack of uniform test methods and artifacts that provide traceability to the SI unit of length and (2) the absence of documentary standards that fully evaluate the performance of these measuring systems. This project continues our work in bridging the gap between the fundamental definition and realization of the unit of length and its utilization. This is accomplished by developing the metrological technology that leads to new measurement services and documentary standards that lower the barrier for adoption of high value-added dimensional measurement systems.


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.

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

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.

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 LSCM Group 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.
Large-Scale Coordinate Metrology

Major Accomplishments:


  • 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