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Photo: Juho Kuva​

By measuring you can improve

Leena Koskenlaakso | 4.6.2015

​VTT’s MIKES Metrology knows how to measure. MIKES applies the International System of Units (SI) and performs high-precision measurements meeting the needs of Finnish industry. This enables improvements in products and competitiveness. 

The science of measurement, or metrology, goes largely unnoticed until something goes wrong. However, reliable measurement is needed in every corner of Finnish industry and business life. 

– Over half of Finland’s GDP involves measurement in some form or other. Without reliable measurements, activities such as product development, quality control and the supervision of security, the environment and food safety – as well as the provision of health services and scientific research – would not be possible, says Petri Kalliokoski, Exe­cutive Vice President in charge of Knowledge Intensive Pro­ducts and Services at VTT. 

– It has been estimated that up to ten percent of a company’s production costs are dependent on various measurements. This means that even small improvements in measurement efficiency and automation can have a major effect on a company’s competitiveness, says Research Manager Mikko Merimaa of MIKES Metrology.

Metrology also has an impact on the flow of international trade. 

– Many technological obstacles just disappear when you can be sure that both parties are using the same quantities, explains Merimaa.


 

Same quantities in Finland and the world

The Centre for Metrology and Accreditation MIKES, which became part of VTT in the beginning 2015, is Finland’s national metrology institute.

– We maintain and develop Finland’s national measurement standards system in cooperation with our five contract laboratories. Our contract laboratories operate at Aalto University, the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland STUK, and the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI of the National Land Survey of Finland, says Heikki Isotalo, Director of Metrological Research at MIKES Metrology.

From the GDP perspective, metrology is most important with respect to Finland’s measurement infrastructure. This provides a base on which companies can easily build their own operations. 


 

Finland’s key measurements

– Finland’s key measurements are performed in the MIKES building in Otaniemi in Espoo. The building has been specially designed and built for high-precision measurement, explains Isotalo.

– We have performed a large number of measurements with record precision. We have also built the world’s quietest place and have used a technique developed by CERN to set a world record in time transfer from Espoo to Kajaani. Alongside our European colleagues, we have performed million-volt calibrations with world-record precision on high voltage cables. We have also built the world’s most precise function gene­rator.

– Everything we do is based on our success in international comparison measurements and audited quality management systems. Our measurements and measurement instrumentation calibrations are accepted on a global basis. Once measured, a quantity is accepted throughout the industrialised world, says Isotalo. 

The focus areas of metrological research are energy, quantum metrology, nano and micrometrology, spectroscopy and the environment. MIKES provides its customers with traceability solutions in the measurement of length, temperature, mass, pressure, humidity, elect­ricity, force, torque, water and gas flows, acoustics and time and frequency.

Its research activities are aimed at enabling new traceable measurements, the investigation of new measuring techniques and the development of measurement instrumentation. 

MIKES’ services fulfil the needs of industry, accredited calibration and testing laboratories, science and all bodies that require precision measurement. We provide most of these services in our own laboratories, but there are times when the measurer has to take measurement instrumentation on site. Clients of this kind are increasing, both in Finland and abroad. Improving the competitiveness of Europe and, of course, Finland and creating new business are high on our list of potential impacts, explains Isotalo.


 

Finland’s official timekeeper

Each country keeps its own national time, which is compared to coordinated global time. MIKES is responsible for keeping Finland’s official time on its atomic clocks. One of these clocks is located on MIKES’ Kajaani site. It is linked to the other clocks using the world’s longest unbroken fibre optic time link, which is 1,000 kilometres long. 

An optic strontium clock is also being developed at MIKES. The best clocks are now so precise that they theoretically lose only one second every 16 billion years. It has been calculated that the clock being developed by MIKES will perform to the same standard, but in a more compact size.


 

International System of Units to be overhauled 

The International System of Units (SI) consists of seven base units: the second, metre, kilogramme, ampere, kelvin, mole and candela. MIKES is required by law to engage in the execution and development of the SI system in Finland. This is the basis on which it validates internationally recognised units of measurement for use by the private sector.

– We are currently redefining the SI. An international agreement has been reached on the issue and the system will be revised over the next three years. Under the new SI system, all quantities will be defined based on fundamental physical constants rather than the other way around. This will constitute the greatest change in the system during its 140-year history.

– The International System of Units still includes elements which should no longer form part of it. One of these is the kilogramme, which is based on an object whose weight is very difficult to control, as it were. Fundamental physical constants will provide the new system with a firm basis. Having served well since 1890, copy number 23 of the ‘mother’ kilogramme kept in France will be placed in a museum, says Isotalo.


 

Metrological added value and support for export companies

– The EMRP (European Metrology Research Programme) programme, which wound up at the end of 2014, provided 400 million euros for research in this area. Its work will be continued by the new EMPIR (European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research), which aims to maintain the competitiveness of European products on the world markets. Forming part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme, EMPIR has a budget of 600 million euros. As part of the EMPIR programme, we are developing the International System of Units, as well as measurement capabilities in environmental monitoring, energy production and healthcare. 

MIKES conducts metrology research on a global basis alongside its international partners. At European level, MIKES acts in cooperation with EURAMET, the umbrella organisation of the metrology sector. EURAMET covers a total of 114 laboratories in 37 countries. 


 

Synergy benefits and new research opportunities

– MIKES has a good reputation in Europe – we generate added value for VTT based on our special expertise. We add up to more than the sum of our parts, Heikki Isotalo adds.

– The fusion between MIKES and VTT is a win-win situation, in which our metrology expertise benefits from VTT’s broad expertise, infrastructures and customer interface. MIKES, on the other hand, brings metrology expertise and better traceability to measurements and products provided for customers. This will benefit many VTT customers, on the basis of a wider product selection or improved quality, says Research Manager Mikko Merimaa. 

MIKES’ research projects are a good fit with VTT’s other research activities and its spearhead and innovation programmes. Merimaa points out that they form an ideal complement for activities such as the smart energy networks innovation programme. With its Critical Technologies Towards 5G programme, MIKES also adds to VTT’s time synchronisation offering. In addition, MIKES can apply its radiocarbon measurement expertise to VTT’s Safe and Sustainable Nuclear Energy innovation programme. 

Far reaching cooperation has already been achieved within spectroscopy in an attempt – alongside other VTT researchers – to commercialise innovations such as a stable carbon isotope measurement device for medical applications. Technology commercialisation projects of this kind are set to increase in number.

– Use will also be made of MIKES’ specialist expertise in the manufacture of printed electronics. Further development of the traceability of printed intelligence forms a new research project, adds Arto Maaninen, Vice President of Knowledge intensive products and services at VTT. 


 

MIKES’ offering

MIKES offers traceability and calibration services and the development of high-precision measuring methods for industrial applications, says Vice President Arto Maaninen.


 

  • MIKES’ traceability services are based on its primary standards, using which measurements can be traced back to the International System of Units. Using MIKES’ calibration services, companies can have their measurement instruments calibrated and demonstrate traceability back to the International System of Units. This enables them to show that their measurement results are correct.
  • When calibrating measurement instrumentation, the reading on the instrumentation is compared to the value given by the standard in question. 
  • If a company has a measurement need for which there is no measurement method, MIKES begins by creating such a method. After this, measurement instrumentation can be created at VTT if needed. Currently available measurement methods can also be made more accurate.


 

 

 

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