An instrumental partnership

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NPL provides industry with access to measurement expertise

Jonathan Newell looks at how the National Physical Laboratory is getting closer to small businesses with the creation of its new Instruments Division.

Greatly revered the world over in the field of science and engineering, the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL)  has a history of more than a century delving into the depths of mathematics, physics and materials science. Being the former workplace of such luminaries as Alan Turing and Sir Barnes Wallis, it’s easy to imagine its grand Bushy House residence in Teddington as being a cloistered sanctuary for academia and a long way from the throb of Britain’s industry.

The reality though is that NPL has always forged strong connections with industry and its very existence is based on providing the primary resource for national standards in measurement – a kind of final court of appeal for weights and measures. The organisation itself asserts that it has been supporting both public and private organisations in reaching their full potential for over a century: from scientific organisations looking to measure the fundamental forces of the universe to manufacturers looking to streamline processes and improve productivity.

Now, the laboratory has opened its doors even wider with the creation of its Instruments Division as a means of becoming even closer to industry. It does this by providing confidence that products and processes perform as they should and to the highest quality, and by maximising the reliability and efficiency of their systems.

High technology heavyweights such as NASA, the MOD, Defra and the European Space Agency (ESA) are already benefitting from this expertise. For example, NPL was in the position to be able to create the laser systems that control and operate the most accurate machines in the world for craft the mirrors used by NASA in its space telescopes.

Access for SMEs

I asked NPL if smaller companies with modest budgets could also access the services of the new Instruments Division or whether this was something only accessible by large organizations like NASA and ESA. The company’s spokesperson explained that NPL Instruments works with a large number of SMEs as well and are very happy to do this. Often, smaller companies don’t have the capital for full specialist instruments, so often advice is the best way for us to help, which is a high impact and low cost option.

An example is mobile telephone case manufacturer, Impact Test Labs. NPL helped the company to develop a demanding testing process for its cases based on NPL’s knowledge of testing and instruments. This knowledge helped ITL to build some of the most durable phone cases you can buy.

Not just instrument services

The new division at NPL offers a range of services and products based on its expertise including design studies, prototype development, advice on best methods and equipment to use for testing their products during and after production, access to measurement scientists in any field on an ad hoc basis, manufacturing, testing and validation of products and the training of external  on design principles for well designed instruments, especially from a measurement perspective for great performance and reliability.

Based in Teddington, the Instruments Division is easily contactable and is open to site visits for potential clients. The division can also act as a single point of contact for all other operational areas of the National Physical Laboratory.

Speaking about the role of the new division, Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of the National Physical Laboratory commented, “NPL is steeped in a rich history of measurement innovation that has laid the foundation for our modern lives. And today, we supply instruments to industry to give organisations confidence through traceability. The launch of our Instruments Division gives industry access to our unrivalled measurement capabilities, underpinning prosperity and productivity.”

Jonathan Newell
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