Metrology is the science of measurement. It rose up from the need to have a uniform understanding of the world around us. It was only in the 18th century that there were standards. The earliest systems of measures were based on our own body such as the foot, the yard or the inch. It would of course be dependent on who is measuring resulting in a variety of values from one location to another.
This lack of standards for measurements usually becomes a source of problems especially in commerce. Having standards becomes very important especially in modern manufacturing especially that there are hundreds of parts that need to match to build a finished products.
The need for a uniform measurement and standards are undeniable in a modern industrial economy. Metrology, standards and testing are central to many fields of science and technology. It is not only indispensable in industry and trade but also in domestic commerce as well.
We now have seven basic measurement units under the SI system: the kilogram (kg) for mass, the meter (m) for length, the second (s) for time, the Kelvin (K) for temperature, the Ampere (A) for current, the Candela (cd) for luminous intensity and the mole (mol) for the amount of substance. The SI system is what makes global trade possible. It is simple to use as it is based in units of ten and all other units such as the Liter (L) for volume is a derived value from this primary seven units.
We estimate about 97 % of products (in terms of value) that the Philippines exports would need measurement and testing at some point of their product life cycle. This is based from data of the National Statistics Office (NSO) on our merchandise export performance in 2013.
Based also on the NSO national commodity flow preliminary reports, around 70-90 % of our products traded domestically would need measurement and testing support.
The Department of Science and Technology established the National Metrology Laboratory, which is tasked by law to be “responsible for establishing and maintaining the national measurement standards for physical quantities such as mass, temperature, pressure, voltage, resistance, luminous intensity and time interval and their dissemination to Filipino users.” The DOST also updated its Regional Standards and Testing Laboratories through their STARLABS project which from its name aims to strengthen the testing and analytical capabilities of the DOST Regional.
It is of importance that we have the local capacity in metrology to stay ahead of the requirements of future industrial and commercial needs. As metrology is based on scientific and technical capacity, we need both basic and applied scientists as well as engineers to build this metrology capacity.
Our measurements should be traceable to international standards. This is usually done through the National Metrology Laboratory. Those in the provinces should have access to the tools and measuring capacity so that we can simplify and standardize the measuring and calibration services that the public needs.
The problem is that our current testing and standards regime in the country remains fragmented. While it is the National Metrology Laboratory that is tasked to hold the standards for the whole country, other standards such as our time standard for the second is held by the PAGASA.
Testing for products fall under the purview of the Bureau of Product Standards of the Department of Trade and Industry, testing for food and medical related products and goods are under the Food and Drug Administration of the Department of Health. If you have testing needs for construction and infrastructure, there is the Bureau of Research and Standards of the Department of Public Works and Highways, and for environmental compliance, it is the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources do their own testing laboratories. The Industrial Technology Development Institute, of which the NML is part, not only provide calibration services in its regional laboratories but is also involved in the training of their technical personnel involved in metrology activities.
These are just a few of the government agencies that are involved in some form of testing, standards-making and verification. Each city and provincial local governments would also have at least one inspector for weights and measures, usually under the City Treasurer’s Office or similar agency.
This fragmentation could be prone to abuse not only in the verification process but also limits accountability and transparency throughout the metrology chain. We as a country should make measurements a core capacity as part of our move to build our own domestic industries.