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Calibration is the process of comparing the measuring capabilities of a piece of equipment to a known standard. In the common vernacular, calibration is thought to include adjustment as well. In reality, calibration and adjustment are two separate processes.

Calibration can be a simple comparison, or a formal, documented process complete with statistical analysis. High end calibration services even trace back to extremely precise physical standards when generating their known value.

Some of these standards are arbitrary, such as how long a foot is or how heavy a pound is. Others, such as voltage, can be generated through a knowledge of physics and the right equipment. In either case, there is a hierarchy of standards that are used for calibration. The highest level standards are called primary standards and are developed using extremely sophisticated methods. Secondary standards trace back to the primary standards. The secondary standards are then used to create working standards that are used for actual calibration of test equipment.

Traceable calibration also includes some high-level statistics and multiple comparisons to be sure of the relationship between the test measurement and the known standard. For that reason, calibration of sophisticated equipment can be quite expensive.

Obviously, if the measuring device is determined to be too far from standard, it must also be adjusted and recalibrated.

The benefit of calibration is that your production processes will be done accurately and precisely. Imagine you are producing multimeters and want to test your equipment. For the accuracy you would need you can’t simply test the voltage coming out of a wall socket. You would need a piece of equipment that generates a known voltage extremely accurately and test that output with the multimeter.

Those extremely sophisticated calibrations, however, are generally managed by a quality department. For the typical Lean practitioner or frontline employee, calibration is much simpler. Imagine you have a marking on a bench and a cutting device bolted 18 inches away to cut cable. You may produce a single piece cut to a precise length to use as a standard for comparison. Over time, the bolts may loosen up or the markings may be re-applied as they wear. Whenever there is a potential for a shift in a measuring device, it is good to calibrate against that known cable length.

You may also go beyond simple calibration and use gauge R&R to ensure precise measurements.


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