Students get humor, fun and lessons on metrology day

11/13/2014 by Desiree Crossley

ROCHESTER — What’s the difference between accuracy and precision? Turns out, quite a bit — and knowing the difference is critical in high-tech manufacturing of equipment and infrastructure like modern jet engines and city bridges.

Students from Spaulding High School’s R.W. Creteau Technology Center and Great Bay Community College’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center learned the answer to the question above (stay tuned if you’re still guessing) last week during an interactive learning event at ATAC.

Introduction to Metrology and Metrology’s Contribution to Manufacturing and Production, hosted by William Hinton of NCSL International (National Conference of Standards Laboratories International) and partners ECM (East Coast Metrology), Fowler High Precision, Trimos of Switzerland and Turbocam International, breaks down advanced scientific measuring processes into easy-to-understand activities for students. The goal is to raise awareness of measurement in high-tech manufacturing careers and to educate students about their importance – not to mention the “cool factor.”

Students from Spaulding High School’s R.W. Creteau Technology Center experiment with metrology devices at Great Bay Community College’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center. (Courtesy photo)
So, what is metrology? The International Bureau of Weights and Measures describes it as “the science of measurement, embracing both experimental and theoretical determinations at any level of uncertainty in any field of science and technology.”

In practical terms, one could put it this way (and Gary Confalone of ECM did exactly that, using photos from a crash scene): See this truck? See this overpass? This is a good example of bad metrology.

By design, the students were engaged in every lesson, from measuring how much electricity is output from several types of fruits and vegetables configured as cells using simple wires, to the force exerted by one student’s arm and chest muscles, to interactive displays of cutting-edge technology like the Faro arm, a measuring device reminiscent of something George Jetson might have in his closet that scans an object with a laser and measures the distance the light travels at each point, plotting the coordinates on three planes to form a 3-D image/reproduction of the object.

Students also interacted with principals of regional advanced manufacturing companies, who showcased state-of-the-art metrology equipment and talked about career opportunities in the field for candidates with the right skills.

Gary Confalone, president and CEO of East Coast Metrology, said it starts with passion.

“Everywhere I go, I’m looking at how things are made,” he said, showing off a photograph of a steaming cup of coffee. “What you see is a basic coffee cup. What I see is a blueprint,” he continued, presenting a computer- generated image of the same coffee cup denoting angles, lengths, widths and the like of all planes.

Metrology is important at all stages of manufacturing, Confalone said — from planning to manufacturing to troubleshooting to repair, and despite the fact that his wife laughs at him for seeing the world in units of measure, it’s a lot of fun.

Judging by their enthusiasm, the students were convinced. Asking which is more important — accuracy or precision — Hinton chose two volunteers from a sea of raised hands and asked each student to throw darts at a board.

One student surrounded the bull’s eye with his three darts, which landed in a triangle formation above and just to the bottom left and middle of the target. The next student’s darts landed in a cluster just above and to the left of the target. Whose results are accurate, whose are precise — and which is better?

As Hinton explained, the first student displayed better accuracy, as the goal was to hit the bull’s eye. However, the second student’s results were more precise, with each dart landing very near the one before it.

“When it comes to accuracy versus precision,” Hinton said, “If you can get the dart to land in the same place over and over — even if it’s not quite on target – you’ve got precision. Accuracy? Well, if hitting the bull’s eye is the determined measure of accuracy, making adjustments to achieve that goal is much easier when you’ve got a shooter who can be precise.”

Hinton, with more than 40 years in the nuclear industry, is vice president of Laboratory Operations and former board member of NCSL International, as well as the 2014 recipient of the NCSL International Education and Training award.

ATAC is the largest single project under the statewide Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships in Education initiative, under which all NH community colleges have teamed with more than 100 industry partners, state and federal agencies to deliver dozens of advanced manufacturing training and education programs that build skills necessary for success in high-pay advanced manufacturing careers. AMPed NH is sponsored by a $20 million grant from the USDOLETA TAACCCT grant.

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