Metricate your company

The U.S. is becoming a metric country. Yes, there are those who will forever prefer their inches, feet, and miles to meters, but it is undeniable that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a metric country in a few years. Consider how much we already use metric: automobiles are entirely metric, the U.S.


The U.S. is becoming a metric country. Yes, there are those who will forever prefer their inches, feet, and miles to meters, but it is undeniable that the U.S. is on its way to becoming 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 have 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: beverages, nutrition labels, many cleaning and hair products (have you noticed?), and many sporting events are now metric.

There are those who claim that metric is somehow "un-American," but that is difficult to take seriously. Metric units came from many countries and, fundamentally, the science of physical measurement has no political affiliation. There are also naysayers who claim that 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.

You should start moving your company toward metric now . The sooner you start, the better and less costly the change will be. If you do not metricate, you will soon begin to lose market share—first from the metric countries resisting non-metric products (the EU now; other countries sure to follow), and later from U.S. companies that have gone metric and need metric suppliers.

The sooner you start, the fewer problems you will have with legacy products. Depending on the product lifetimes in your industry, by starting now you reduce the number of legacy products that will have to be redesigned to remain viable. For example, if your industry has five-year average product lifetimes, and you move to metric now, by the time most countries forbid non-metric products, you won't have many.

By starting to metricate now, rather than when market pressures force you to, you will also have more time to learn how metric will work in your company and industry, and more time to educate your employees and vendors.

I started moving QSI Corporation to metric 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 non-metric products (for example, 9-pin "D" connectors), having had a few years to learn and implement our metrication has made it a relatively painless effort.

Where do you start? First, go to the NIST link and download the free document SP811, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units —an in-depth technical reference. As an option, you could buy a copy of IEEE/ASTM SI10-2002, which has similar content to SP811, but is much more accessible. Also, be sure to visit the U.S. Metric Association ( ) and SI Navigator ( ) Web sites. Both will give you a range of reference information, as well as links to a wide variety of training materials, consultants, vendor lists, etc.

The choice is yours: begin moving to metric now when you can take the time to do it right and minimize legacy product redesigns, or wait until you start losing business and be forced to metricate in a hurry and suffer numerous expensive legacy product redesigns that could have been avoided.

Author Information

Jim Elwell is President of QSI Corp., a corporate member of the U.S. Metric Association.

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