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Future proofing the SI units for communications and electronics

Rapid advances and faster operating speeds in the electronics used in mobile communications, sophisticated medical instruments and advanced sensing applications, requires commensurate developments in the technologies used to confirm their operating performance. To meet industrial demands, greater accuracy for the entire calibration chain, from the end user to the physical SI unit experimental set-up at an NMI, are being developed.

Examples for research addressed by EMRP and EMPIR projects are given in the following case studies:

A new standard in the field of small current measurements


Many measurement instruments require on-site calibration. To do this highly accurate ‘travelling’ standards are used to verify instrument performance and traceability to the SI. However, for measurements of currents at 1 nA or below, required for aerosol counters, radioactive monitors and nano-electronics, no standard existed that had been ratified for both transportation and long-term measurement stability, until now.

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Improving sub-nanometre accuracy


Semiconductors, bio-materials and other nanoscale innovations rely on the precise production of miniscule features. Verifying that these have been reliably reproduced requires advanced analytical instruments and highly accurate microscopes working at the forefront of measurement capabilities – an area where Europe is world leading. To maintain Europe’s competitive edge, as features get even smaller, new sub-nanoscale reference standards are needed to demonstrate the accuracy of current and next generation instruments.

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Transnational time transfer via fibre-optics


The superior positioning, navigation and timing services provided by Galileo, Europe’s Global Satellite Navigation System, has added vast economic value and enhanced citizens’ lives. Future upgrades could offer certifiably precise timing services, likely to stimulate innovations in applications such as 5G and smart electrical grids. A prerequisite for developing such enhanced services was calibrated reference signals but no calibration method offered the right balance of performance, maturity, operability and cost..

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Fibre-optic based wireless positioning


Satellite navigation has transformed Europe’s transport services. The prospect of enhanced navigation applications has encouraged researchers to approach the technical limits: autonomous vehicle developers, for example, would value more precise and reliable data to deliver lane-level guidance. A solution could be to augment satellite signals with ground-based signals. Demonstrating the concept required sub-nanosecond timing accuracy, but no practical calibration method was available to keep the entire system in sync.

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Improved links to the SI units for specific applications

Industrial production processes and manufacturing quality assessments rely on a rigorous calibration chain from the measurement instrumentation used to the top-level SI unit realisations performed at NMIs. Ensuring that this chain meets user requirements relies on measurement research to develop and expand existing capabilities to meet increasing and specific individual industrial accuracy demands.

Examples for research addressed by EMRP projects are given in the following case studies:

Expanding European capability in small-scale magnetic field measurements


Many modern technologies, such as electric cars or induction charging, depend on the measurement of tiny magnetic fields to allow the proper alignment of batteries or to assess device performance. However, no magnetic sensors with measurement traceability to the SI existed for measuring spatially varying magnetic fields at the micro or nanometre scale, essential to ensure Europe’s position in the global market for magnetic sensors.

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Assessing complex optic performance


To understand the properties of new materials, from medicines to nanoelectronics, high energy photon beams are used to probe their molecular structure and atomic interactions. For meaningful results, photon beams must be accurately focused and controlled. This requires precisely curved

optics and mirrors with perfectly smooth surfaces – pushing manufacturing processes to their limit. To verify these optical surfaces are free from nanoscale errors, measurement capability limits must be extended.

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Precision robotic movements


Manufacturers of cars and planes rely on automated industrial robots to assemble parts with great precision. The EU produces 30 % of these robots - an industry which generates 140 billion euro and employs 2 million people. To stay competitive, as manufacturers develop smaller and more precise parts, the robotics industry needs to measure 3D movements with increasing accuracy in order to develop more precise motion control.

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Accuracy for moisture measurements


Many industries need to measure and manage moisture content in their products, examples include paper, food and pharmaceuticals. In the paper industry, quality is governed by water content and therefore drying processes must be accurately controlled. In Finland, over 20 % of their economic output comes from forestry industry products, so therefore developing greater accuracy for measurements of moisture content during production is important.

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Improving biofuel moisture assessments


Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels, like wood chips, for district heating and electricity generation helps countries to become carbon neutral. But moisture in wood, which changes with tree species and the season, leads to weight differences and affects combustion efficiency. Inconsistencies between moisture content measurements made by suppliers and consumers can lead to trade disputes. Reducing these requires greater measurement accuracy to help increase the use of this sustainable fuel.

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Improving standardisation and the demonstration of regulatory compliance

Measurements are linked to NMI maintained SI units via a calibration chain that frequently uses independent test laboratories as intermediaries that perform calibrations to international normative documentary standards. Normative standards issued by CEN/CENELEC - the European standards organisation – that carry the European Normative (EN) designation automatically replace national standards in all EU member states. To meet the increasing requirements for greater standardisation in measurement, new reference materials and techniques require rigorous validation.

Examples for research addressed by EMRP projects are given in the following case studies:

Better industrial insulation materials


Insulation materials play a vital role in reducing heat loss in high temperature processes, such as steel production and oil refining. Energy use can represent up to 75 % of costs for some petrochemical processes, so keeping heat in the system is vital to cost saving, energy efficiency and competitiveness. To ensure the best materials are selected for the job, there is a need for increased rigour in demonstrating thermal performance.

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Demonstrating building material safety


Materials used in buildings and bridges need to withstand extremely large loads, whilst being subject to design and cost constraints. This relies on demonstrating that materials meet anticipated in-service loading within a required safety margin. Testing conducted at high loads confirms this, but improved accuracy with robust links to SI units and methods for monitoring that loads have been reliably transferred to test samples are needed to underpin public safety.

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Testing for safer suspension systems


Spring-loaded mechanisms used to dampen unwanted movement are used in civil engineering and transportation. For example, devices are often used in rail carriages to provide smooth travel at high speeds. To confirm spring-loaded mechanisms are fit for purpose and meet European safety standards, they must be tested with high loads that simulate in-service conditions. Improved testing methods are needed to provide the reliable measurements that underpin public safety.

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