Machine Design

Start metricating your company now!

There are those who will forever prefer their inches, feet, and miles to meters.

Jim Elwell
QSI Corp.
Salt Lake City, Utah

But it is undeniable that the U.S. is already metricating and will be a metric country in a few years. Consider how much we already use metric: Automobiles are entirely metric, the U.S. military is largely metric, electronics has always used metric measurements (volts, amps, watts, etc.), and most new electronic components are in metric sizes. Most of the hard sciences, the health industry, and pharmaceuticals are metric. Metric is starting to creep into the consumer world as well: beverages, nutrition labels, cleaning and hair products, and many sporting events are now metric.

The reason for the change is clear: SI metric is a simpler, more rational system than American colloquial measures. No wonder it has become the dominant system in the entire world, leaving the U.S. as the only nonmetric country.

Some claim that metric is somehow "unAmerican," but that is difficult to take seriously. Metric units came from many countries, and, fundamentally, the science of physical measurement has no political affiliation. Then there are the naysayers who claim metric is actually harder to use than our colloquial measurements. Any engineer who has done structural dynamics calculations using pounds and slugs knows that is a foolish claim.

We believe you should start metricating your company now. The sooner you start, the less costly the change will be. Failing to metricate will cost you market share, first from metric countries that are resisting nonmetric products (the EU now, other countries sure to follow), and later from U.S. companies that have metricated and need metric suppliers.

Depending on product lifetimes in your industry, starting now lets you reduce the number of legacy products that will need a redesign to remain viable. For example, if your industry has five-year average product lifetimes and you start metricating now, you'll have few nonmetric products left in your line by the time most countries forbid them. Start now rather than when market pressures force you to. You'll have more time to educate your employees and vendors on the subject and learn how metrication will impact your industry in general.

I began metricating QSI Corp. several years ago, and we are now almost entirely a metric company. Even our word processing is done with millimeter margins. While we still must use some nonmetric products (e.g., 9-pin "D" connectors), having had ample time to learn and implement metrication has made it a relatively painless process.

Where do you start? (1) Go to the NIST link and download the free in-depth technical reference SP811, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units.

(2) Or, buy a copy of IEEE/ASTM SI10-2002. This has similar content to SP811 but is much more accessible.

(3) Visit the U.S. Metric Association ( and SI Navigator (

Web sites. Both provide a wide range of reference information, as well as links to a variety of training materials, consultants, vendor lists, etc.

The choice is yours: Start metricating now when you have time to do it right. Or wait until you start losing business and are forced to metricate in a hurry and have to suffer numerous and costly legacy product redesigns that could have been avoided.

QSI Corp. is a maker of operator-interface terminals and a corporate member of the U.S. Metric Association.

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