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Going metric pays off

A common question is, What are the benefits of going metric? Following are reprints of some articles from Metric Today and other sources with experiences of some companies.

Although some of these stories are not new, they describe metric transitions that paid off. In most cases the short-term costs of metrication were offset by the longer-term benefits of using a single measurement system.


Metrication in Practice (British toolmaking company)

From the January 1972 issue of South African Metrication News.

A British toolmaking company recently completed its conversion to the metric system. A detailed account by the managing director appears in BSI News and the following summary may be of interest to South African industrialists.

The firm is a medium sized engineering company that manufactures fairly large tools like moulds and press tools. Of the 250 people employed, about 200 are direct producers. The turnover of the company is just over R1,8 million and the utilized capital is of the order of R1,3 million, which includes about 200 items of plan worth more than R1 800.

How it decided on metrication

In 1965 the firm had to consider replacing their expensive jig-boring machine, which normally had a life of 12 to 14 years. In view of the fact that British Industry was expected to be fully metricated within that period they had to give serious consideration to the purchase of a metric machine.

To formulate a policy regarding new plant buying they conducted a survey amongst their customers, some of whom are very influential companies, and concluded that by 1973 over half of their work would be metric. At that stage a complete conversion to the metric system would be justified, but they realized that the sooner they converted the less it would cost.

Investigating the cost

In 1967 a young graduate engineer with metric training was given the task of considering the implications of metrication and estimating the total cost. After two months of investigation he recommended total conversion to be completed by 1975 at a total cost in the region of R180 000. The year 1975 was chosen simply because that is the year by which most of Britain’s industries should have converted. Furthermore, he suggested that costs would be reduced if the program could be completed more quickly.

The first estimate of R180 000 was made up as follows – stock R45 000; plant R72 000; trials R16 000; service R34 000; reserve R13 000.

The stock figure arose from the fact that, during conversion, both imperial and metric stocks would have to be held, which would tie up capital to the extent of R45 000. The expense of double-stocking could be reduced by shortening the change-over period as much as possible thereby keeping minimum capital tied up for minimum extra time.

Other economies could be made by speeding up the whole metrication process, and in his second report the engineer calculated that the total cost of R180 000 for the 1975 date could be reduced to R110 000 if the change-over were completed by February 1971. Machinery conversion – the largest element of cost – is high at first. Stocks start high because a short program means a lot of redundant stock, but the figure comes down fairly rapidly. The cost of service, or the team of people carrying out the metrication program, can be more rigidly controlled over a short program.

These considerations, and many others like them, all show that there is an optimum period of time, which any company can work out for itself, within which the metrication process can be completed with maximum economy. This particular firm calculated that the ideal period was 2,5 years, but this does not necessarily apply to other firms.

It is interesting to compare the actual cost of conversion with the initial estimate. The final cost worked out to be about R83 000, which represents about 6,5% of the capital or about R320 for every person employed.

The conversion program

A detailed calendar was produced, showing the proposed activities month by month with an estimate of the cost. The program was rewritten every three months to keep it completely up to date. Drawing up this diary unearthed many unexpected problems and helped them in some surprising ways. For example, they took an early decision to buy only metric drills. This very quickly got people used to metric dimensions, because if they asked for a ¼ inch drill at the store, there simply was not one. It is surprising how quickly metric dimensions in engineering can be established by these somewhat brutal methods.

The firm decided to adopt the Continental convention o fusing only the millimetre for all measurements. Thus instead of referring to ‘1 metre and 48 millimetres’, they decided on ‘one thousand and forty eight millimetres’. Obviously this practice is only suitable where few dimensions exceed a metre, but they found that using only one unit made things much easier. [The consistent use of the millimetre in this type of engineering is recommended by the Metrication Department in South Africa.]

Although much consideration was given to training, very little was actually done about it. What generally happened was that new metric equipment was acquired and the staff were given a few days to experiment and familiarize themselves with it, and in next to no time they were thoroughly at home with it. In other words, practically no formal metrication training was required at all.

Progress to date

Twenty months previously the firm had no metric machines; now there are no imperial or dual facilities available on machines in the factory at all. Dual machines were banned because it was considered to be most unfair to expect a shop floor producer to work in imperial units one day and metric units the next.

As customers are calling on the firm for comment and advice on many aspects of metrication, the firm considers that the decision to metricate is already paying a dividend.

Going Metric Makes Sense
You Can’t Ask a Country to be Imperial and Metric

From the April/May 1975 issue of South African Metrication News.

Britain is going metric because it makes economic sense. The metric system has been chosen by virtually every country in the world. Many have specified SI and some have already legislated to forbid the use of any other system. About 65% of our external trade is with established metric countries, almost 35% is with countries that are changing now; less than 0.5% is with the non-metric countries – Burma, Brunei, Liberia and the two Yemens. USA had long been a major stronghold of imperial measures. Not any more. In an Education Bill passed in August this year Congress recognized that the “metric system will become the dominant system of weights and measures in the United States” and voted $40 million to be spent for metric education over the next four fiscal years.

This is what the Executive Director of the American National Metric Council has to say:

“Let there be no misunderstanding. American industry is going metric. Industry in America sees that metric is becoming the world system of measurement. That is a basic fact of life which no country can afford to ignore. In the automobile industry, in computers, in aerospace and in engineering generally, many of the big industrial firms have already taken the decision that new designs will be in metric. These firms included IBM, General Motors, Ford, Caterpillar, Xerox, International Harvester, Boeing, Rockwell.”

America’s external trade accounts for about 2% of the gross national product. Britain’s figures are nearer 20%. What is necessary for America is even more necessary for us. We cannot afford to be the odd man out.


To attempt to stay imperial in the face of such a metric swing would be increasingly expensive. Industry would be burdened with dual design, dual production, dual book-keeping, dual packing: one set for home use, one set for export. But industry imports as well as exports. Countries selling to us would be unlikely to produce in imperial specially for us and British industry would speak with an ever fainter voice in the arena of international standards.

There is of course a reason for this world-wide attraction of metric. It is simplicity. A measurement system based on tens and designed for use in all disciplines is manifestly more efficient than imperial with its accumulation of diverse conversion factors and units.

The British engineering industries set themselves a broad metrication objective rather than a detailed programme. The timetable for these industries, Basic Programme and Guide to the Adoption of the Metric System in Engineering (PD 6426) was published in 1968 by the British Standards Institution. This programme set two main guidelines for metric production in the engineering industry – 25% metric production by the end of 1971 and 75% by the end of 1975.

This article by the Director of the British Metrication Board was first published in the December 1974 issue of The Production Engineer, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the Institute of Production Engineers, London.

Metric value

Surveys show that at the end of 1973, on average, 44% by value of engineering production was in metric or was metric compatible, compared with 34% at the end of 1972. Companies with more than half metric output have increased from 26% in 1972 to 45% in 1973, while the proportion of small companies with more than half metric output is now greater than large companies – 52% against 45%. However, metric production is only one measure of progress and perhaps not a very good one at this stage. The situation in engineering design is a rather more important indication. Of engineering firms that do design work, the proportion undertaking some design work in metric had risen by the end of 1973 to nearly 90%, whereas it was less than 60% in 1969, and 38% were doing over half their designing in metric compared with only 6% in 1969.


While a broad statistical survey of the whole of the engineering industry gives an accurate enough picture of progress in general terms, there is no doubt that the rate of change has been uneven in a variety of sectors. In 1973 the Metrication Board commissioned a study by management consultants of 16 selected sectors of engineering chosen to give a wide coverage of the engineering industry’s production, from components and equipment used mainly in other sectors of engineering to finished goods sold outside the industry. The information derived from nearly 300 firms showed that, while there were no general obstacles to the metric change in engineering, the pace of change has varied and this unevenness in itself was producing particular difficulties between sectors. The Metrication Board is no engaged in an examination with the trade associations concerned of the best means of overcoming these remaining interface problems.


For some time now engineering firms have been reaping the benefits of the metric change. They are proving that the two basic reasons for going metric are sound. The metric system really does make life simpler in industry, whether in the design office or on the shop floor. As a Yorkshire firm which completed its change some time ago found, “when we changed our materials, stock control and costings to metric the arithmetic was simplified and many of the common mistakes made with imperial measurements were eliminated.”

Already firms in engineering and other industries report improved export sales because products made to metric standard really are more competitive in world markets.

Many firms that have completed the change have gained a substantial bonus. Planning and implementing the metric change focuses attention on the whole manufacturing chain. Designers think their designs afresh, production engineers re-examine the production processes, purchasing officers re-consider supplies. Metrication provides a unique opportunity which no management can afford to neglect to overhaul the whole organisation and even in the most efficient firms to achieve worthwhile standardization and rationalization. These benefits do not follow automatically – they have to be sought and won. It is a field where production engineers can make a major contribution.

Dramatic example

Fasteners provide one of the most dramatic examples. Engineers, and users of engineering products, have long been plagued by a plethora of fastener types and sizes. By using the ISO metric range of fasteners, instead of the many incompatible traditional types, there are great cost benefits to be gained. But individual companies can do better than that. Few of them need the whole range and by subjecting their requirements to the closest scrutiny many can reduce the variety of their needs even further without any loss in design freedom or in production standards, and with great gains in efficiency. Marconi Instruments have done it by cutting their screw inventory from 1 250 items to 91. The Ford Motor Company has done it and have reported to the Metrication Board that the benefits are even greater than they had estimated.

Lower costs

Simplicity, standardization and variety reduction – which are among the lasting benefits of metrication – should lead to the achievement of lower production and tooling costs, the reduction of inventories and the saving of time and labour. There are of course costs in going metric, as there are with any other investment, and the transition can be a complex operation. But the costs are once and for all while the benefits are enduring. It has not proved possible either in Britain or in any other country to establish costs on a national basis but a number of individual firms, having estimated their own costs, have informed the Metrication Board that in the event the cost was much lower than was originally expected.

I believe that in achieving these desirable results the role of the production engineer is crucial and cannot be overestimated.

P.J.L. Homan
Director, Metrication Board

St. Regis lumber mill (Missoula, Montana)

From the November-December 2013 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

With the rapid growth of China as an emerging world power, it’s not surprising that their import of materials and products helps spur the metrication of exporting countries. While many exports to China are raw materials, some of those materials have metric dimensions associated with them, and those dimensions help U.S. companies adjust their processes to accommodate the metric system for the buyer.

In the case of lumber exported to China, the St. Regis lumber mill in Missoula, Montana has benefitted from their ability to saw rough-dimensioned lumber to Asian metric specifications. The 50 × 100 mm boards they produce are destined to be concrete form supports in China. Other boards with dimensions of 50 × 150 mm will be further cut into smaller-dimensioned lumber in China for furniture parts, molding and other components.

Prior to this opportunity, Tricon Lumber, which owns the St. Regis mill, exported wood to Japan in the 1990s, when there was a high demand for wood exports from North America.

The increased business due to metric wood exports has allowed Tricon to invest in a new saw line. While both the old and new saw lines can cut metric dimensions, the newer line yields more boards with less waste out of each tree.

For the original story in the (Montana) Missoulan on 4 February 2011, see the link in USMA’s list of published articles about the metric system.

Procter & Gamble going metric

From the July-August 2009 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

by Don Hillger

Procter & Gamble (P&G) does not manufacture machines and hard goods; rather, it is primarily a manufacturer of consumer products. Thus, the focus of its metrication efforts is a bit different from other companies featured in this series of articles.

Interested in optimizing profits, P&G watches carefully over its current operations while planning thoughtfully for its future. When it began its metrication process, it realized that the U.S. was gradually going metric, as individual industries made the move. That meant that at some point, the use of non-metric units would be more costly than using metric units. Shortening the duration of the metrication process was considered to be beneficial.

One of the first metric efforts at P&G was the result of the need, in 1972, to build a Pampers diaper plant in Germany. Rather than converting existing machinery to metric, the company decided to build a true metric diaper manufacturing machine. The design would be hard metric, with dimensions in millimeters and without the use of dual-dimensioning. A metric machine would allow the use of commercial parts available worldwide.

The change to metric was also an opportunity to improve machinery design, improve its function, and attempt to reduce its cost. Metric fasteners were chosen; even in the U.S., they were readily available. The company found that designing in SI units was faster than similar designs in customary units had been, and the metric design contained fewer errors. Design costs were reduced by 5%, and design time was reduced by 5% to 10%.

The redesigned diaper machine operated 25% faster than the previous design, and was easier to maintain. While metrication was not necessary to realize these benefits, it offered the opportunity to improve the design and save money at the same time.

In conjunction with their transition to metric, P&G trained personnel in the metric system. Like other companies, P&G trained only those assigned to metric-dimensioned systems, and then only when they actually needed their metric training.

P&G’s continuing metric role

In the last several years, P&G has shown itself to be a leader in packaging its products in rounded metric sizes. Several of P&G’s metric-sized products, under various brand names, are shown on the USMA’s consumer products pages. The company also supports changes in U.S. labeling laws to permit metric-only net contents statements. In this respect, they are more pro-metric than many other manufacturers and sellers of consumer products.

Note: Material for this article came from various articles written about the Procter & Gamble’s conversion to metric, both in the published literature as well as in past metric newsletters.

Cyanamid of Canada reports on savings

From the November 1980 issue of Metric Commission Canada's Metric Monitor. See also “Conversion experiences in the chemical sector: Cyanamid, DuPont save thousands annually” in Metric Reporter.

Cyanamid of Canada with 30 dry blend fertilizer plants across the country reports savings of $240,000 over the four year period 1975–1979 as a result of metric conversion in their fertilizer product line.

In converting their 50 lb bagged material to the 25 kg size, Cyanamid achieved fractionally lower costs per unit with savings estimated at $60,000 per year.

A subsidiary of American Cyanamid Ltd., Cyanamid Canada’s annual sales are roughly 190 million dollars covering five major industrial sectors: agricultural products, pharmaceutical and surgical products, industrial chemicals, laminated building products and consumer products.

“As part of a multinational corporation, in the broad spectrum of our product line, with sales in so wide a range of trade classifications, we present a ‘pilot plant’ scale model of the costs and benefits of going metric” said E. Nelson Vrooman in an address to the American National Metric Council.

The company formed its metric conversion committee in 1975. The costs associated with going metric in the four year period ending in mid 1979 were $400,000. A little over half of this or $220,000 was the cash cost of installing new equipment or modifying the old. The balance or $180,000 was the amount estimated by the company to have been spent on the four phase program of investigation, planning, scheduling and implementation plus activities and programs of employee training.

“When we began the program we did not foresee any major benefit from conversion” Vrooman said. “But the total savings over the four year span amount to $240,000, or 110% of our cash costs and 60% of our total cost over the same time frame.” While the company anticipates other savings to result from metric conversion — reduction in errors, formulations easier to make up, standardization — “there were no other benefits that have been achieved to date that can be converted with any degree of reliability to dollars and cents”.

Ingersoll-Rand’s Metrication Plan

From the March-April 2009 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Don Hillger

Ingersoll-Rand’s Metrication Plan

Ingersoll-Rand logo

The Ingersoll-Rand (I-R) Company plan was to convert to metric in 10 to 15 years, in concert with the availability of metric industrial standards in the U.S. Their corporate plan outlined specific conversion steps. By January 1978, I-R was designing all new products in metric. Products consisting of partly new and partly existing components were to be metric, too. New parts were hard metric and the rest were soft converted. Existing non-metric products were not immediately changed, since that would have been too costly.

The goal at I-R was to be metric by 1985, a reasonable time period in which to redesign products: not so short as to incur additional costs, but quickly enough to avoid increasing the cost of conversion. For optimum efficiency, I-R wanted to align manufacturing practices to one system—metric—requiring the conversion of machines and manufacturing capabilities. Although the least cost would be to change only when machines were replaced, that would take longer than desired. On the other hand, using dual units adds time to jobs, and for that reason it was desired to keep the transition as short as possible.

I-R recognized that differences in products and markets meant that the timing for metrication needed to vary from division to division, or even from product to product within a division. Their metrication policy included this flexibility to accommodate the needs of the divisions, yet working within the general guidelines of the corporate policy. Each Divisional Metric Coordinating Committee consisted of members from major functioning areas including manufacturing, purchasing, quality control, and engineering.

One of I-R’s first machines to be designed in metric was the J-40 Jackhammer drill. The new, metric design was not only part of I-R’s commitment to metric, but also intended to facilitate manufacture in other countries. Some parts had to be interchangeable with existing units, so those parts were soft converted. Other parts were designed in hard metric.

From the start, I-R was able to purchase many raw materials and components in metric dimensions, including bearings and fasteners, and metal bar stock, sheets, and plates. What was not initially available was nevertheless becoming available quickly as metrication rapidly took place in many sectors of the U.S.

During the transition, metric fasteners were colored blue to differentiate them from non-metric equivalents. Metric tools were yellow. Products with both metric and customary components had a decal to warn the operator, and new metric drawings had a large “METRIC” identification label. Dual-dimensions were not used on drawings, but product literature had dual units to comply with customer needs.

An interesting conversion example was the 100 psi (pounds per square inch) standard compressor operating pressure. That specific pressure did not necessarily need to be hard and fast, and changed as compressors went metric and new metric operating pressures were chosen.

Employees were made aware of the corporate metrication policy, and were assured that “metric is easy to learn and use.” Training was made available to all employees needing it.

A training concept that has been told in other conversion stories was to teach only what employees need to know at the time they need to know it. For example, don't teach units of force and pressure to employees who won't be using them. Training also stressed conceptualizing rather than converting, i.e., using metric units rather than converting between units. Since unit conversion can slow learning, everything in I-R training manuals was given in metric units only. With one set of units, the trainees learned the “feel” of the new units.

I-R realized they would have to spend money to metricate, such as for new tools, machines, and training time. However, those expenses were balanced against the benefits of metrication, such as reducing the number of sizes required. For example, in a particular range of fasteners, 10 new metric sizes replaced 32 old inch sizes. Fewer fasteners mean fewer bins for fasteners, fewer drill sizes for fasteners, etc.

I-R worked with the American National Metric Council (ANMC) through its coordinating committees, consisting of various companies and organizations in an industrial sector. Thus, the conversion schedules of different sectors could be considered, helping with the conversion process.

The bottom line is that metrication at I-R was considered to be a long-term opportunity to simplify operations by substantially reducing the number and variety of parts. Economies result from variety reduction. Even with short-term inconviences and added costs, there were long-term benefits that more than justified the cost and effort, and there were no lasting problems experienced on the shop floor. In the end, I-R correctly anticipated lower manufacturing costs and increased international business due to its new policy of using hard metric in all new or replaced products and parts.

Note: Material for this article came from various articles written about the Ingersoll-Rand’s conversion to metric in various literature and metric newsletters.

Metric at Deere and Company

From the Sep-Oct 2008 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Don Hillger

John Deere logo

John Deere logos introduced in 1956, 1968, and 2000.

Metric at Deere and Company

As far back as 1962, (John) Deere and Company considered universal production designs with worldwide application. At the time, factories in metric countries had to convert inch-based drawings, which meant rounding off numbers. In redrawing, not only is there a waste of time, but mistakes are likely, and there is a real chance of costly errors.

At first Deere used dual dimensions on all drawings, so the same drawings could be used with metric or non-metric parts. However, close tolerances on parts meant that metric and non-metric parts were generally not interchangeable, so maintenance could be tricky and warehouses had to stock twice as many kinds of parts and materials. Although that burden would diminish as metric modules took over, dual dimensioning was not the answer.

The solution was to change to a single (metric) system on all new designs, starting with what they called “a clean sheet of paper.” International designs were first to go metric, but U.S. factories were eventually scheduled for conversion. The goal was to use the same system worldwide. This would eliminate a great deal of confusion and eliminate the additional work of dual dimensioning.

For fasteners, Deere initially stayed with unified (inch) threads because metric fasteners were not widely available in North America. But as metric fasteners became more common, Deere adopted increasing numbers of metric sizes, with the goal of using only one fastener system. As a result, Deere became an industry leader in the use of metric fasteners and in the development of fastener standards and preferred sizes.

Immediately converting drawings to metric-only measurements would have incurred up to a 15% cost penalty from some tool suppliers, as well as the possibility of conversion errors by suppliers not yet ready for the transition. Therefore, Deere initially provided inch equivalents in a corner of each drawing as a way to eliminate outright dual-dimensioning. While Deere did not force metric on users of its drawings, its actions encouraged metric usage.

Training in the metric system was essential, although not overdone. Engineers were trained first, then foremen, and others as the need arose. Training was proportional to the use of metric measurements, and workers were already familiar with decimal measurements—Deere had changed from fractions of inches to decimal inches in the 1930s, as precision manufacturing increased and they realized that decimals were much easier to add—so the transition from decimal inches to millimeters was relatively easy.

In the specific case of a complete moldboard plow line that is all metric, changing to SI did not cost Deere any additional money because the switch to metric was implemented at the same time that model was redesigned and retooled. In another example, Deere saved $380,000 when it converted to metric-sized sheet steel in constructing its combines.

In marketing areas, Deere was more cautious. It decided not to promote the metric system as a sales feature, but some metric informational programs were provided based on dealer and customer needs. (Unlike cars, where buyers typically never knew their new cars were metric, customers for Deere's machinery were more likely to have a “hands on” relationship with the machinery.)

In summary, Deere stressed the long-term advantages of the metric system, giving its suppliers the option to see that “metric makes sense.” Deere’s metric conversion committee provided guidance and coordination so that intermeshing metric activities stayed in step. All factories and activities were part of a well-planned and orderly company-wide transition led by corporate headquarters. The target date of 1978 for complete communications capability in SI resulted in a universal set of specifications and a common measurement language for its worldwide operations.

As a footnote, in 2007 the author visited Deere’s tractor assembly facility in Waterloo IA. Although the tour guide used both metric and non-metric units in describing various activities, it was clear that the company was primarily metric and that metric fasteners were in use. Since a large portion of Deere’s sales are destined for foreign markets, this is an extra incentive to go metric. As an example, the speed limits for various models destined for Europe are clearly displayed as required in kilometers per hour on the rear of the tractors to be exported.

Note: Material for this article came from various articles written about the Deere and Company’s conversion to metric, both in the published literature and past metric newsletters.

Black & Decker's metrication experience

From the Nov-Dec 1997 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Joe DeBartolo, CMS

B&D logo

Black & Decker made the decision that new products should be designed in metric units in 1979. This occurred when the company’s Corporate hierarchy’s recommendation coincided with government encouragement for companies to “go metric.” Older inch-pound designs were phased out over a period of years, as newer models were designed in metric measurement to replace them. However, derivative products, i.e., products that were not really new, but were repackaged, colored differently, or underwent cosmetic or other minor changes were not converted to metric until there was a re-design on those products.

The company, which has many overseas facilities, soon discovered a number of significant benefits of metrication, including the resultant electronic data transfer capabilities:

In addition to these benefits of metrication, it was found that calculations were faster, there were fewer errors, and there was faster detailing.

With drawings and files being easily transferred from one facility to another, a line of DeWalt power drills was developed, consisting of housings designed in the U.S., motors designed in Italy, and switches designed in Germany. The streamlining of the design efforts and data transfer enabled Black & Decker to leverage the strengths of various design centers, improve overall quality, and promote a modularity of design that enables manufacturing flexibility. The resulting line of DeWalt tools has been marketed worldwide and was an incredible success.

Other successful power tools developed fully in metric include the entire range of DeWalt, VersaPak, Workmate, and Wizard products. Household products include successes such as Dustbuster, Scumbuster, and the very popular Snakelight.

Black & Decker requires that its technical employees have a working knowledge of SI because, currently, all programs, and all drawing-practice manuals and new-design work are metric. Also, Black & Decker’s new design, manufacturing, and production equipment must have a metric capability. During the metric transition, suppliers and subcontractors had very few problems in fulfilling the company’s metric requirements. Today, about 90% of the Black & Decker documentation is metric. Non-metric documentation is required for parts and servicing of older inch-pound designs that must be supported even though those products are no longer produced.

ED NOTE: The information for this article was provided to Joe DeBartolo by Glenn Gise, Design & Systems Manager for Black & Decker, North American Power Tool Division. DeBartolo first visited Black & Decker and learned about its transition to metric when, as Manager of Standards Engineering for Pitney-Bowes, DeBartolo led Pitney-Bowes’ metrication program. Later, under contract to the U.S. Dept of Commerce NIST Metric Program (MP), he continued to communicate with Black & Decker while researching the report he was writing for the MP: Study to Identify Industries Positioned for Significant Impact on U.S. Metrication (NIST GCR 96-686).

How IBM went metric

From the Mar-Apr 2008 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Don Hillger

IBM logo

IBM's logo 1956–1972.

In 1972 IBM revealed its program for going metric, with metric measurements gradually becoming the standard in design, test, manufacture, and service. With manufacturing facilities in more than a dozen countries, IBM had been using dual inch/millimeter dimensions on all drawings since 1964, but that step was intended only to aid design and production in metric nations. However, procurement of inch-based supplies abroad became a costly problem. Alternatives were to buy metric parts and alter them; buy non-metric parts and pay a premium; or import non-metric parts from the U.S. All three options were costly.

IBM carried out a metrication feasibility study in 1966. The ad hoc metric committee study recommended increasing use of the metric system. It became apparent that working in two systems was a substantial cost. Therefore, IBM’s corporate metric panel recommended that it was appropriate for them to move ahead, independently of the U.S.’s taking a position on metrication at the time. A metric inter-divisional steering group, consisting of metric coordinators from each IBM operating unit, was formed to coordinate efforts.

The development and implementation of metric changeover programs was left to individual divisions and operating units, which moved at varying paces. Product development and manufacturing was primary, followed by field engineering and sales. The intent of this process was to keep as close to IBM’s normal management and decision-making process as possible without setting up extra functions and organizations. Going metric was part of their effort at optimizing the international manufacturing process.

IBM called for the preferred use of SI units in all product documentation and communication in engineering, manufacturing, and field engineering. Non-product areas were not considered part of the program unless changeover was the lowest-cost alternative. Since 1976, all new products have been designed principally in metric.

Hybrid products persisted for some time. Non-metric components were included in predominantly metric designs when metric parts were unavailable. In other cases, new products sometimes incorporated existing components from older, non-metric designs already in use. Some of the need for hybrid measurements was due to the international leadership of America in the data processing industry, which lead to worldwide standards based on U.S. measures (for example, the width of tape and punched cards in use at the time!).

At the time, electrical components were a big problem because the electronics and electrical industries were not moving as quickly toward metric. This resulted in some inch-based components in metric designs, although in some cases, IBM purchased metric electrical components abroad, when that was cost effective.

Other supply difficulties were circumvented by wider tolerances, such as for sheet metal procurement. Metric fasteners, although initially a procurement problem, gradually became more common. IBM adopted ISO and IFI (Industrial Fastener Institute) fastener standards in all but limited special applications. Blue zinc color coding of metric fasteners aided in repairs.

The idea was to avoid mixing metric and non-metric units within an assembly. Instead, entire units or assemblies were designed in the same measurement system whenever possible. Field service representatives were given a new set of 11 metric tools and a short self-study course. Completion of the metric course was a training prerequisite for work on new metric products.

Service manuals for metric products continued to give units in dual dimensions, when appropriate, for customers' convenience, e.g., giving Fahrenheit as well as Celsius temperatures because many users might not have Celsius thermometers. However, portions of the manuals used mostly by IBM service personnel gave all linear dimensions in metric only, to encourage them to “think metric.”

A two-phased, modular employee-training program was developed in-house and administered as needed. The first phase of the training covered basic metric awareness and use of metric tools. Each employee was given only the metric training that applied to the job. The basic training was meant for most employees, even secretaries, for using metric terms and symbols.

In the second phase, engineers, quality control and inspection personnel, and floor managers were given more advanced training covering ISO standards for such things as fasteners as well as surface finish standards and the limits and fits system. Training time varied, up to a maximum of 22 hours.

In addition, suppliers were given a metric-awareness seminar in conjunction with regular business sessions at IBM. They were also given abridged standards documents and a card explaining rounding rules for cases where it was necessary to convert to non-metric measurements.

When IBM reached its halfway point in 1977, the fifth year of its 10-year commitment to metrication, metric rather than inch dimensions were used in manufacturing. At this point, metric values came first, with the ultimate goal to dimension only in millimeters. Manufacturing equipment was either converted or replaced, as appropriate. All related activities were on target towards the objective of having all IBM products predominantly designed based on metric measurements by 1982.

Two persistent problems at the halfway point seemed to slow the change. One was the normal resistance to change that occurs with any new system, and it was handled through IBM’s comprehensive employee education program. The other problem, because of the company's early approach to metrication, was the lack of availability of metric components at the time. This problem was more difficult to resolve, because it involved organizations outside of IBM.

In 1980, IBM’s director of standards and data security, who was also vice-president of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), was awarded the Astin-Polk International Standards Medal for distinguished service in promoting trade and understanding among nations. This award was likely due to the adoption of international standards by IBM when it went metric.

Material for this article came from articles about IBM’s conversion to metric, in published literature and metric newsletters.

Conversion experiences in the chemical sector:
Cyanamid, DuPont save thousands annually

From the May 1979 issue of ANMC's Metric Reporter. See also “Cyanamid of Canada reports on savings” in Metric Monitor.

Cyanamid Canada

Excerpted from “A Case Study on the Cost-Benefit Relationship in Metrication in a Canadian Multi-Product Company,” by E. Nelson Vrooman, Cyanamid Canada.

Cyanamid Canada Incorporated is a subsidiary of American Cyanamid Company. Our product line in Canada includes five major segments: agricultural products, pharmaceutical and surgical products, industrial chemicals, laminated building products and consumer products.

Based on careful analysis of what records are available in the various departments, minutes of meetings, requests for capital funds, etc., the total cost of the program has been $400,000: $180,000 in “non-cash costs” (time spent in training seminars, time spent by employees planning metric conversion programs, etc.) and $220,000 in “cash” or out-of-pocket costs (new plant equipment, travel and living expenses directly related to metric, etc.)

What benefits have we achieved from this cost?

One tangible benefit has been reported to date, and that is a reduction in costs of bagged materials, primarily fertilizer products. Savings from this project are estimated at $60,000 per year. Thus, the total savings over the four year span of the program amount to $240,000, which amounts to 110 percent of our cash costs over the same time frame.

Here is the major problem we encountered in the conversion program. It is fine to say that 98 percent of the world’s population uses the metric system and that all of the industrialized countries of the world use the metric system except one — if that one happens to be your major trading partner, it creates a problem.

We, in Canada, are confident that the actions taken by the federal and state agencies in the U.S., by trade associations, by many large and prominent multinational companies, and by educators all working through the American National Metric Council, will soon forge a metric policy for the entire nation.


(Excerpted from “Metrication of the Neoprene Package,” by E. P. Torpey, DuPont Company.)

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber manufactured by DuPont. By the mid-1960’s overseas customers, particularly in Europe, began asking for metric weight packages (of neoprene). So in 1968 we changed our export neoprene package from a 5-ply, 50-pound package to a 5-ply, 25-kilogram package.

Advantages of Converting

Advantages Gained by Customers

Better education and savings would result from schools’ teaching only metric

From the Sep-Oct 1996 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Lorelle Young, USMA President

A transition to metric usage in the U.S. would be a major factor in correcting the poor performance shown by U.S. students in math and science, according to an article in the February 1996 Evaluation Review, by Richard P. Phelps, a consultant to the Education Consumers Clearinghouse. Phelps’ study shows that the current practice of teaching two systems of measurement in U.S. schools wastes time and is very costly. The use of the metric system is mandatory for working in many key professions such as medicine, science, and engineering; therefore, metric must be included in the curricula. However, there is no overwhelming need to use inch-pound units in daily lives because metric units can easily be substituted.

In the article, Phelps’ conclusions are reached by examining three methods of teaching measurement. He calculates the net benefits of each system by development of quantitative measures of benefits and costs, then compares the results. His research shows that teaching solely metric system measurement could save 82 days of mathematical instruction-time annually and would provide a yearly $17,653 million in savings to U.S. education. The time and funds gained could be used to teach more math, giving students better skills, and increasing their scores in international mathematics tests. [Presently, the U.S. ranks 13th out of 17 countries on international math tests given to 8th graders.] The current practice of trying to teach both metric and inch-pound usage is wasteful and unnecessary.

The author lists a number of practical reasons why teaching only metric measurement would greatly benefit U.S. education. One example: In learning inch-pound measurements [for length, capacity, and weight (mass)], the student must memorize 21 names and 18 conversion ratios, versus needing only to remember 9 names and 2 conversion ratios for metric measurements. Therefore, time is saved in teaching only metric measurement, and students can make metric calculations with greater facility and fewer errors.

Phelps used the Addison-Wesley Mathematics series as a basis for his calculations to determine instructional-time, and used data from the U.S. Dept. of Education to calculate dollar amounts of education costs. The article also reviews background and current status of U.S. conversion. He makes the provocative suggestion, based on his calculations, that the dollar savings from teaching only the metric system in schools would pay, many times over, for converting all U.S. highway signs to metric. Evaluation Review is a Journal of Applied Social Research and is published in the U.S. by Sage Publications Inc.

Firm sees savings in costs, sizes

From the 29 November 1974 issue of ANMC's Metric Reporter.

Anderton Darby, Inc., a manufacturer of products including retaining rings, pliers, dispensers, and applicators is a U.S. subsidiary of an international organization based in England.

The organization has done business in Europe for the last 25 years and is already geared to the metric market. Currently [in 1974, when this was written], about 50% of the company's total production is in metric dimensions.

With regard to the cost projections, Anderton Darby has established that producing exclusively in metric dimensions will save not only in direct production cost but also in inventory volume and maintenance of machinery — the total number of tools would decrease to about 35% of the present number. In other words, says Sales Administrator John Quistorff, internationally accepted metric standards would be a great advantage.

Xerox and the Metric System

From the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Xerox logo

Courtesy of Xerox Corporation

The old (top) and new, 2008 Xerox logo.

In the 1960s Xerox began marketing its products outside the U.S., first in Europe and later in Japan. At the time, it engineered and manufactured its products in the U.S., but in the 1970s it became apparent that regional design and manufacturing in various countries would offer economic and political advantages. This required the use of multinational designs, and a process called “conversion engineering” was used, involving the redesign of products to accommodate each country’s requirements, including materials and processes. Part of conversion engineering involved units: Products designed in Europe using the metric system were converted to inches for U.S. manufacture, and products designed in the U.S. were converted to metric for manufacture outside the U.S.

Conversion engineering had an adverse impact on costs and schedules, due to the non-creative job of unit conversion for otherwise identical products made in different countries. With looming competition in xerography, it became obvious that Xerox could not live with the downside of its conversion engineering process, so it made a corporate decision to become a multinational design and manufacturing company. A major part of that decision was to adopt the metric system of measurement.

In the implementation stage, Xerox established its Multinational Engineering and Manufacturing System, of which the metric system was an integral part, coordinated by a newly formed Xerox Metrication Council. Starting in 1973, engineering teams developed and documented the processes by which products were to be designed and specified. Among aspects involving the metric system were design and drafting practices such as ISO limits and fits; preferred metric raw materials (sheet metal and bar stock sizes and tolerances); and components and hardware such as fasteners and bearings to match preferred metric shaft sizes.

Other particulars of metric conversion included machine tools retrofitted with digital instrumentation for both millimeter and inch readouts, and metric hand tools made available to model shops. When necessary, inch-based raw materials were machined to standard metric thicknesses. In other cases, materials were selected to meet metric standards. Initially the ISO R 10 series of preferred numbers was used for standard metric sizes. Some tolerances were opened up to accommodate not only U.S. gage sizes but European and Japanese standards.

After 1975, all new products manufactured by Xerox in the U.S. were made to hard metric specifications, to match the metric specifications used elsewhere in the world. Because a complete conversion to metric units too quickly would have been impractical and expensive, some dual-dimensioning was initially necessary for communication internally and with U.S. suppliers. Xerox followed the practice used by Caterpillar Tractor (covered in the previous article in this series) by providing a conversion chart with each drawing. Eventually, once metric standards were completely established and adopted in the 1980s, conversion information was no longer needed, resulting in fewer cost and time penalties incurred by the use of dual units; only metric dimensions were specified on engineering drawings. Suppliers could convert drawings internally if they wished, but all process controls and final inspection is always metric.

Baldridge award

Courtesy of Xerox Corporation

Xerox won the 1989 Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award.

Training in the metric system started in the mid 1970s and included books and charts from the U.S. Metric Association. Xerox’s supplier base was also reduced to 400 from 3000, reducing the effort needed to train their suppliers in metric requirements.

The metric system is routine today at Xerox and has minimal impact, even in the U.S. Errors associated with metric conversions are past history. The advantages of metric measurements were obvious. Metric units minimized conversion engineering (or re-engineering) problems, those involved in designing products in one country and manufacturing in other countries. Worldwide purchasing was facilitated, increasing competition and reducing costs, as well as providing opportunities for better quality and more timely delivery. A standardization opportunity was also provided for piece parts, components, and raw materials, in that a new (metric) system was adopted. A company does not often have the opportunity to “start over again.”

As proof of their success, in 1989 Xerox was awarded the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, in only the second year of the award program. The annual award recognizes U.S. organizations for their achievements in quality and performance and raises awareness about the importance of quality and performance excellence as a competitive edge.

Material for this article came from various articles about Xerox’s metrication.

Indiana Firm to Pursue Metrication

From the Sept-Oct 2005 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

Hadady Lake Street Plant

Front of Hadady Corporation’s manufacturing plant in Dyer, Indiana, where USMA member Jim Frysinger recently assisted in initiating the company’s metrication process.

Hadady Corporation of Dyer, Indiana, has decided to begin metrication of some of its manufacturing processes. James R. Frysinger, LCAMS, owner of the metrication consulting firm, Metric Methods, has been selected by Hadady, a maker of precision-manufactured parts, to provide guidance in metric education and in the planning of the changeover. Frysinger visited Hadady’s 1.4 ha manufacturing plant during the week beginning 1 August 2005, to meet the staff of the company and begin work.

With increasing regularity, Hadady’s dealings with its customers now involves products with metric specifications. This, and the realization, much of it coming from its U.S. customers, that the U.S. continues to metricate, convinced Hadady CEO Jane Sullivan to initiate the transition of some company operations to the metric system for the sake of economic efficiency and competitiveness.

Frysinger’s consultancy to Hadady came about as the result of recommendations from what he described as “multiple sources . . . including one from folks I have never known.”

Located about 50 km south of Chicago, Hadady (pronounced “HAH-da-dee”) offers a diverse product line for industrial, mass transit, and railroad applications. Examples of products made at the Dyer facility are marine diesel engines and locomotive wheel trucks (also called “bogies” in the UK). Machining and welding are the plant’s primary manufacturing processes.

During his visit, Frysinger divided his work between mapping out the company’s metrication process and training workers in the metric system. With his help, the stages of metrication and the steps involved in bringing that about were discussed and disseminated to the staff. Along with Hadady Director of Human Resources Bruce Schooler, Frysinger organized the company into training classes, and provided training to each group according to its role in planning, production, and support of metric production lines. Training materials from USMA augmented the detailed instructional literature that he wrote and provided in booklet form. Engineers and a few others were involved in discussions on unit conversions, but other workers received training that emphasized familiarity with the SI system of units and prefixes, and also on re-scaling prefixed units (moving decimal points to account for unit prefix changes).

Thermometer on wall

Thermometer mounted on wall near Hadady employee locker room and lunch area promotes use of Celsius temperature only.

On the broad theme of metrication at Hadady, Frysinger emphasized that the U.S. is metricating “from the bottom up,” and that the process is being driven by commerce. He also stressed to Hadady employees the USMA principle of “think in metric and do in metric,” as opposed to thinking in non-metric and then converting to metric units. The need for this method was demonstrated in an unusual way by a Hadady worker in one of the metrication classes. The worker was asked to read the temperature indicated by the Celsius-only thermometer on a wall in the classroom. The man, from a country outside the U.S., nevertheless attempted to mentally convert the reading from Celsius to Fahrenheit, but without success. Apparently, he was used to associating metric units with Spanish and non-metric units with English. Suddenly, a co-worker told him in Spanish, “Don’t convert! Just read the temperature in degrees Celsius, like normal!” That illustrative moment was part of an otherwise busy learning period, during which Hadady staff members had a chance to orient themselves to SI by measuring their heights, masses, fingernails, thumbs, and hands in metric units.

Frysinger came away from the meeting with a most favorable impression of his new metrication client. He stated, “The close, personal communications and the cooperative efforts that take place throughout the entire company stand out clearly as being major reasons that this company is successful.” With great pleasure, he noted the openness, hospitality, and strong work ethic that he encountered at all levels of Hadady. The workers were enthusiastic about the metric training they received, and looked forward to the new production procedures. Frysinger is confident that the company will achieve metrication smoothly and successfully.

Metrication Celebrations Are In Order at Eastman Kodak Co.

From the March-April 2000 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

In 1998, Eastman Kodak Company began a concentrated initiative toward achieving the utilization of only one system of measurement: SI metric. Since some pockets of the company were already metric, and Kodak had realized the substantial benefits of being metric at that time, the company made the commitment to take full advantage of metrication benefits across all operations.

A corporate policy was put into place requiring all new products, processes, and systems to be metric. Bob Burkowski, Corporate Metrication Leader, noted, “We are incorporating the use of metric units into our training processes, our operations, and our product design and manufacturing. SI, the international system of metric measurement, is a key ingredient in obtaining six sigma quality worldwide.”

Benefits of worldwide trade to be gained from metrication

Goslee and Young

Charles P. Goslee, Eastman Kodak Vice President (left) discusses Kodak’s metric conversion with USMA President Lorelle Young.

Charles P. Goslee, Kodak Vice President, Chief Quality Officer, and one of the primary sponsors of the metrication program, stated, “Using the system of measure the rest of the world is using becomes a must for a global company to effectively operate and realize the many benefits of global parts sourcing, service, componentry, and to have the ability to technically exchange information on a common measurement basis around the world.”

The Kodak conversion strategy was based upon learning from the experiences of others who had converted to metric usage, focusing on applying it to new products, processes, and systems. Training, which is underway, is being executed on a just-in-time (JIT) basis, concentrating on which metric training is needed for specific employees and when it is best to supply that training. Metric implementation tactics followed the product/process life cycle beginning with marketing, research and development, process design, etc. Early advantage was taken of networking and benchmarking with the company's colleagues in France and England, using their metric experience and know-how.

Metrication teams receive positive reinforcement

A key ingredient of the Eastman Kodak metrication program was inauguration of a positive reinforcement plan for employee accomplishment in the conversion process. Both individual and team accomplishments were recognized. This plan is based upon one of the company’s six stated values: recognition and celebration. Many companies have found over the past years that converting from the comfortable use of familiar units to (in many cases) a less familiar measuring system can be a really significant challenge to those making the changeover. Therefore, to celebrate and praise the correct behaviors and milestones achieved during the company’s metrication journey, positive reinforcement is being utilized, via the use of celebration meetings.

Kodak’s most recent metrication progress celebration took place at the end of 1999 and was a “fun” time. Accomplishments of the metrication team, along with the sub-teams and coordinator teams, were recognized. Team members received blue denim button-down shirts with the Kodak logo alongside the wording “Metrication Team.” A video from Kodak foreign-site team members was shown. The video praised the U.S. conversion accomplishments and included a teamwork song.

Burkowski and Young

Bob Burkowski, Kodak’s Corporate Metrication Leader (left), receiving Federal Highway Administration Metricube from USMA President Young. Both are wearing the blue denim shirts which feature the Kodak metrication logo.

USMA President Lorelle Young was invited to this metric-progress celebration as a speaker, and reports that she was impressed with the enthusiasm shown in making the metric transition. During her speech, she informed the attendees: “The way you have attacked this challenge and capitalized on this metrication opportunity to streamline all designs, standards, and manufacturing processes will translate into greater competitiveness and most importantly, will result in enhanced customer satisfaction. USMA is proud to have been a part of this important achievement.”

Eastman Kodak’s metric conversion process strongly promotes standardization. Metrication is considered an opportunity to achieve global standardization, and full advantage is taken of the metric changeover to attain that goal. During this process, company standards and specifications are cleaned up, simplified, and improved. Through standardization, the company is reducing the number of different items it buys, inventories, and repairs. This use of fewer items (but greater quantities of those used) means real dollar savings. The use of common measurement units provides an opportunity for substantial savings which result from reduced waste, process simplification, and standardization.

Metrication at Caterpillar Tractor

From the July-August 2007 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Don Hillger

Caterpillar logo

Caterpillar Tractor Company's old logo. In 1986 the company changed its name to Caterpillar Inc. to more accurately reflect its growing diversity.

Caterpillar Tractor Company began to metricate its U.S. plants in 1971, shortly after publication of the U.S. Metric Study—A Metric America: A Decision Whose Time Has Come—that had been commissioned by Congress. As a multinational operation, Caterpillar was convinced that going metric was in its best interest. With plants in many countries, it was already involved in the expensive task of converting inch drawings from the U.S. to metric for non-U.S. operations. The company's chief standards engineer summed up the decision: “The longer we wait to go (metric), the more costly and difficult it will be.”

To make all new designs with dimensions in millimeters, coordination among departments within Caterpillar was important. However, Caterpillar decided not to force its suppliers to go metric. The company developed a computer program to convert dimensions for suppliers requiring inch measurements, giving suppliers time to adjust. Although some were initially surprised at Caterpillar’s conversion, suppliers have since converted to metric.

Training was needed, especially for design engineers, and generally consisted of a two-hour session. The net cost of this training was effectively zero, because overseas engineers were no longer going through the costly conversion of inch designs.

Caterpillar is a strong advocate of metric education. The company's employment application forms query applicants on their knowledge of the metric system, and Caterpillar’s major presence in Peoria, Illinois, led the city's school district to teach the metric system almost exclusively.

Actual costs for going metric were much lower than the initial cost estimates because Caterpillar did not have to replace tools, gauges, and measuring equipment. In addition, plant disruptions were almost non-existent. Dual dimensioning allowed the use of existing designs and equipment. Step by step, soft conversion of old designs progressed to hard conversion as new products were introduced. Over time, the attrition of non-metric designs created a predominantly metric operation.

Caterpillar found that adopting metric sizes for steel, particularly sheet and plate steel, reduced inventory and costs. A 54% saving was achieved by replacing 74 non-metric sheet and plate steel sizes by 34 metric sizes. Over 500 flat bar sizes were replaced by fewer than 200 metric sizes. Most of these changes took place over a three-year period, with surprisingly few exceptions.

Caterpillar chose metric drill sizes already used in Europe, because they provided a better choice of drill sizes and thread choices in some sizes. This change did not increase costs. However, Caterpillar continues to use some ISO inch fasteners for its U.S. operations.

One aspect of Caterpillar’s metrication was its aim at influencing international standards. This was accomplished by working with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to provide American input to the standards-making process.

The benefits of metric conversion at Caterpillar included elimination of redesign in overseas plants; reduction in the number of sizes, resulting in fewer and larger steel orders, as well are reduced steel inventory; improved design selection resulting from a more logical sequence of sizes; and cost reductions of between $900,000 and $1,000,000 a year!

In summary, Caterpillar realized that the cost of conversion was minimal and would not have been lower had they put it off until later. The company feels that its customers and users have likewise reaped benefits from its gains in going metric. In the end, Caterpillar achieved the goals of making its products more salable worldwide, improving standardization and design, and reducing its production costs.

Note: Material for this article came from various articles about Caterpillar’s conversion to metric.

The General Motors Metric Story

From the May-June 2007 issue of USMA's Metric Today.

By Don Hillger

Moving Metric in GM

In 1973 General Motors Corporation (GM) announced its plan to go metric. Metric conversion had been under consideration for some time, but was thought to be too costly as recently as 1967. That, however, changed as automobile manufacturing became more international in nature.

The GM plan included four basic components, outlined in a press release at the time:

1. New product development will be metric from the start. This includes items already in the development stage.

2. Service parts already in production will remain unchanged.

3. Supplier coordination will be implemented as required.

4. While metrication is being accomplished, some capital equipment (tools and machinery) with dual measuring capability will be required.

To minimize conversion costs, GM decided to metricate only when a machine or part was due for replacement. That replacement was specified in metric units, resulting in little or no additional cost.

Suppliers were informed of the decision to metricate specifications and design. Of the 40,000 suppliers at the time, little if any resistance was encountered, because purchasers at GM were willing to work with suppliers to overcome any problems.

Metrication was accompanied by a reduction in the number of sizes required for any given part. A good example of such rationalization was fan belts, where more than 900 old sizes were reduced to fewer than 100 new sizes. Because of the need for replacement parts, an enormous warehousing operation is needed, and by reducing the number of parts, the costs associated with part proliferation can be reduced. Through this rationalization GM was able to recoup its conversion costs and turn them into profit.

Similarly, the number of steel sizes were reduced by deliberately designing a logical progression of sizes, and fewer of them, during metrication. This process was extended into many areas, so that small costs associated with going metric were more than made up through rationalization.

In another example, the switch to metric standard wire sizes permitted the use of fewer sizes to adequately cover GM's needs. This more efficient wire use alone produced a cost reduction of more than $1.6 million annually, a savings in a single division that exceeded the company’s annual metrication costs, with benefits that continued far into the future.

Training was expected to be costly, but only 10–15% of GM employees required training, and that training took less time than originally predicted. Sometimes as little as an hour was sufficient, because training was tailored to the needs of each job. GM summarized its training philosophy as: Teach only those who need to know, only what they need to know, and only when they need to know it.

GM chose dual units when dealing with the public, rather than the metric-only goal for its operations. As a result, of course, some customers are unaware of the metric transition that took place at GM and in the rest of the automobile industry. Some consumers still think American cars and trucks are non-metric, not realizing that the automobile industry changed long ago to reap the benefits of a single measurement system.

Material for this article came from various articles written about the GM conversion to metric, both in published literature as well as in past metric newsletters.

Metric is good move at Brown & Sharpe

From the November 1983 issue of the American National Metric Council's Metric Reporter.

More than 40 percent of the products designed and sold by Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company of N. Kingstown, RI, are designed in hard metric, thanks to a corporate policy established in the early 1970s and maintained today. “Our impetus to use metric came from a desire to be in a position to design products both (domestically) and for overseas subsidiaries so we wouldn’t have to fight back and forth in two measurement systems,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Donald A. Roach in an interview with the Metric Reporter. “In addition, we had a strong belief that our international customers would be better served if we designed our products in metric.”

Brown and Sharpe designs and manufactures machine tools and precision instruments. Metric design, which is used in all new products, has been a key to increased sales opportunities and has simplified corporate communications, Roach said. “Being able to produce metric items has enhanced our ability to export and improved coordination between our overseas and domestic operations,” he said.

Brown and Sharpe has an ongoing metric training program for all new employees with individual divisions tailoring training to employee needs. Thus, metric training can be incorporated into basic employee orientation to simplify training efforts.

The cost of transition and the difficulties in making the changeover have been “far less than anticipated,” Brown said. There is no tracking system for specific cost benefits since the company has a strong commitment to metric and considers metric design and production as part of the regular order of business.

“I believe in using metric,” Roach said. “Since we are a manufacturer of both metric and (inch/pound) machine tools, we stand to benefit as the industry makes its transition. We decided to assume leadership in those efforts and will continue to do so.”

Small-business entrepreneur John Robinson

From the March-April 1997 issue of Metric Today.

CEO John Robinson, who founded Black Diamond Enterprises Ltd in 1976, says that going metric has helped improve operations at his manufacturing plant, in addition to providing the means to seek export customers. The company manufactures high quality stainless steel carts, shelving, and sinks for the food service, health care, and high-tech industries. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Denny’s, Giant foods, Hardy’s, and the U.S. Navy Research Lab are a few examples of the types of customers the firm services.

Black Diamond Enterprises is located in Easton PA, and Robinson, who is a USMA lifetime member, has been involved in a number of prestigious business groups and seminars. The most recent was his election as chairman of the DC Delegation to the White House Conference on Small Business. This group developed a list of recommendations for enhancing small-business operations and the economy, which were forwarded to President Clinton. It also arranged for a 10-member delegation that visited Russia last September to get first-hand knowledge on the experiences and challenges that small business owners face in the [Russian] developing economy.

Robinson said, “This program was an outgrowth of the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s efforts. It gave U.S. small businessmen a chance to share [with their counterparts in Russia] strategies open to small business for creating jobs and helping a nation’s economy grow. I am honored and pleased to have been a part of this first DC Small Business Delegation’s mission for helping strengthen relationships between the future leaders and businesses of America and Russia.”

During an interview with USMA President Lorelle Young, Robinson provided some very interesting comments:

Young: Was exporting of your products the major reason you went metric?

Robinson: No. While it was a prime factor, the major factor was learning the inherent advantages of this simple measurement system, and the fact that the metric system is the international measurement system of the future. Presently, exporting takes only a small part of company production.

Young: What benefit have you gained by switching to metric?

Robinson: Because the metric system is easy to use, it is easier to train employees, so saves time and money. I have had experiences where new employees had major problems doing their jobs where the use of fractions was involved, but their work is performed more easily and correctly when using metric units. Changing to metric production also helped to set my company up for exporting, and it facilitates communication with foreign customers.

Young: Did you train employees on the job?

Robinson: Occasionally, new employees were trained on the job. But I also took advantage of excellent worker training programs available from the state of Maryland and NIST.

Young: Were there problems to overcome when you made the transition to metric system production, particularly in getting metric parts and equipment?

Robinson: None at all.

Young: Did going metric yield any special benefits?

Robinson: In addition to savings in training employees and expediting operations, going metric definitely expands a company’s markets, contributing to increased profits.

Young: I understand your company is known for its top quality production. Why, then, are you now in the process of preparing for ISO 9000 certification, which is based on quality?

Robinson: I feel that quality improvement should be an on-going effort, and ISO 9000 offers excellent guidelines for developing a company’s ability to conform to the highest standards of design, quality, and reliability. It also can help in sales to European Union and other foreign nations.

Young: What advice would you give to any USA company?

Robinson: I’d inform them that manufacturing to metric units will make it easier to train employees, particularly those with minimum education; and metrication can help expedite a company’s operations. It also can increase profits, through exports. Businesses need to look ahead to determine where changes may occur and should plan ahead. One way to build up business is to check export opportunities. For example, Russia offers rich opportunities for American business, and I feel it soon will be the second biggest world economy, after the USA.

The metric payoff

From the November-December 1996 issue of Metric in Construction, published by the Construction Metrication Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

By Thomas R. Rutherford, P.E.

What is the “payoff” for metric conversion? The answer is different for each organization or industry, but it can be estimated by calculating metrication costs and benefits. Costs include all the “up front” costs of conversion, including administrative and technical time, paperwork, supplies, and training. Some industries may have substantial sales and capital equipment costs as well.

Benefits include the dollar value of the long-term gains from metric conversion. These gains come from two principal sources: (1) increases in productivity and quality brought about by the use of a decimal-based measurement system, and (2) the ability to more effectively compete in world markets. Some estimate that for measurement-based activities such as construction, savings from productivity and quality alone can amount to 1 percent of construction costs; others believe the percentage is even higher. Regardless of the amount, the savings are perpetual.

For example, total metric conversion costs for the 50 state highway departments are estimated to lie between $50 and $100 million. The states spend about $20 billion on highway construction every year so a 1 percent reduction in construction costs due to improved productivity and quality amounts to an annual savings of $200 million. At the 1 percent rate, the payoff for highway conversion takes 3 to 6 months with a savings of 100 to $150 million the first year and $200 million each succeeding year. Even at a tenth of this rate, the payback period is only 30 to 60 months with savings in each following year amounting to $20 million in perpetuity.

For industry, the benefits of metrication as a passport to the global marketplace can far exceed productivity and quality gains, but each firm must assess its prospects based on the mix of products and services it provides. Some have been amazed at how metrication has increased sales; others have had to metricate just to retain market share. As Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan noted in Congressional testimony this year: it is not just how much we will gain by metrication, it is how much we have been losing by not switching to the world’s standard of measurement.

A parallel issue is the simultaneous retention of the inch-pound system in construction activities. The federal government soon will have about $25 billion in metric facilities entering the inventory each year, and it will become increasingly expensive to retain two measurement systems. We must, therefore, move completely to the metric system for all phases of the facility life cycle (i.e., design, construction, operations, and maintenance). The longer we delay in doing so, the fewer the benefits we receive from metrication.

Port proliferation solved: U.S. leads on ISO 6149 metric port

From the July-August 1995 Metric Reporter, published by the American National Metric Council.

By Phillip Robinson, Vice President–Engineering, Fluid Connectors Group, Parker Hannifin Corp.

ISO 6149

Parker Hannifin, Tube Fittings Division

The bottom portion with the O-ring is an ISO 6149 male end. The groove distinguishes an ISO 6149 male end from a DIN 3852-1 male end, whose threads would appear to mate with an ISO 6149 port but would not seal properly.

For years, conventional wisdom held that the U.S. could have little, if any, influence over international standards. However, the fluid power industry's adoption of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 6149 Metric Straight Thread O-ring Port Connection has demonstrated that the U.S., working as a team, can indeed have a major impact on world standards.

The result of this move: significant benefits for the U.S. in particular and the world fluid power industry in general.

As defined by the industry, a port is an external opening on a valve body. Hydraulic components, such as pumps, valves, and cylinders, are connected to each other by tubing or hose through fittings that screw into these ports.

Costly chaos

Before ISO 6149 was adopted as the standard port, the world fluid power industry had been using dozens of non-interchangeable port designs. This proliferation of different kinds of ports increased costs, had a negative impact on service part deliveries, complicated maintenance, and reduced the perceived values of machinery. What's more, the U.S., with its own port styles, often was shut out of the world's markets.

This general state of chaos motivated the U.S. to lead the industry in adopting one international port standard. A key step came in 1988, when the U.S. passed the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, which designated metric products as the official U.S. standard.

Soon after, Parker Hannifin Corp. led a Metric Summit, a 1989 gathering of 11 major mobile-equipment manufacturers. Participants convened to discuss the benefits of a standard port and recommend the best design features for the mating male fittings.

Agreed upon was the idea of one port for the whole world: the ISO 6149 metric port. Introduced in 1980, the port was a metric version of the SAE J-1926 straight thread port, a proven leak-free connection. What was missing: a common standard for the mating male connector.

A cooperative effort

Interacting cooperatively, the ISO working group members designed a standard connector to fit the port and had it thoroughly tested around the world for high-pressure hydraulic service. The new standard combined the lowest assembly torque requirement with an elastomer O-ring seal to eliminate leaks completely.

With outstanding cooperation from country delegates to this ISO working group, ISO 6149 quickly gained international acceptance. In 1990, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) issued a metric-only policy and included ISO 6149 (listed as SAE J2244) as its port of choice.

Several major U.S. “pacer companies” such as John Deere committed to ISO 6149. Additional Metric Summits organized by Parker in 1990 and 1993 continued the momentum. Further support came from the Big Three U.S. automakers, which adopted the port as standard on their new machine tool equipment, used in manufacturing.

Choice confirmed

Two recent, major developments have confirmed ISO 6149 as the world's port of choice:

• ISO 6149 is now listed in the specification itself as the only port to be used in new designs.

• Other ports still being manufactured now feature the disclaimer, “Not to be used for new designs.”

The benefits of this U.S.-led effort are now being felt. Trade barriers throughout the world are being overcome, leading to increased global business opportunities. True multinational production and servicing of equipment is now possible. Non-interchangeable port designs still in use worldwide, such as NPFT, BSPT, BSPP, DIN, and JIS, gradually are being eliminated.

Above all, manufacturers and customers are achieving leak-free hydraulic systems, because of the improved metric port design.

It is clear that a “wait and see” attitude by U.S. industry regarding metric is unfounded. The adoption of the ISO 6149 metric port proves that the U.S. can shape international standards to everyone's benefit — if it takes an active approach.

Minnesota screen printer finds using metric increases profitability

Kutzwald logo

From the January-February 1994 issue of Metric Today.

An interesting article in the September 1993 issue of Screen Printing outlines the experiences of Kutzwald Inc., Lake Crystal, MN, in converting to metric system usage, which resulted in cost savings and better customer service.

Owner Jon Kutz, a USMA member, decided to begin a policy of going 100% metric, eliminating dual dimensioning to avoid errors, and selecting applicable ISO standards. Kutz states he is now about 90% metric and says: “Upcharge costs are offset by the significant time and scrap reduction that is possible through standardization. One example: With a single base size sheet for all materials, we save time in cutting the sheets and having to print on only three panel sizes.”

Going metric pays off: Buerk Tool & Machine

From the May-June 1993 issue of Metric Today.

Dick Buerk, president of Buerk Tool & Machine Corporation, Buffalo, NY, which manufactures parts for the auto, food processing, health services, and other industries, states, “I found it limits your customer base if you can't produce goods to metric system dimensions, so going metric is good business practice.” He indicates that conversion to metric production at his plant was not via a specific plan to go metric. He just started responding to requirements of his customers, beginning with the first customer who placed a metric order. The result was an expanded customer base and better profits.

“Metric is not a mystery,” he notes. “It is almost impossible to buy a machine that doesn't give both metric and inch-pound readouts.” Buerk Tool employees work in both measurement systems to satisfy export and domestic markets, and they are a well-trained workforce. When asked about the costs of producing metric products, Buerk said, “The price of a product encompasses manufacturing costs, whether it is a metric or inch-pound product. I see no significant difference.” He states that, increasingly, it is becoming important for companies to be world-class manufacturers if they want to stay solvent. “If we don't export our products (or don't make them for the government), we make the parts for someone else who exports or is a government contractor. We must face the fact that most of the world is metric.”

Going metric pays off: Rotor Clip Company

From the March-April 1993 issue of Metric Today.

Among the customers served by Rotor Clip Company Inc., Somerset, NJ, a major supplier of retaining rings and hose clamps, are the industries involved with business machines, automobiles, agriculture machines, and appliances. With conversion of the automotive industry to metric production, Rotor Clip installed metric tooling and now has diversified its company line so it competes well in the global marketplace.

Rotor Clip worked with ANSI in 1975 to develop a set of ANSI metric standards for retaining rings, and now has a capability to furnish government contractors with the required metric retaining rings and hose clamps. The company also has installed the tooling to produce German DIN (metric) retaining rings and components to meet customer preferences.

Robert Slass, president of Rotor Clip, states that his company meets customer demand, whether metric or inch products are involved. “We investigated customer needs,” he says, “and invested in $1.5 million worth of new tooling to expand our markets in Europe and Japan. This global marketing strategy has paid off well because we have earned the reputation of a world-class quality supplier, and are enjoying a spurt of unprecedented growth.”

Going metric pays off: Peavey Electronics

From the January-February 1993 issue of Metric Today.

Peavey Electronics Corporation, Meridian, MS, exports to 103 countries. Owners Melia and Hartley Peavey note that some of the success of their ever-increasing export business is due to “not only giving customers high quality products, but producing the products in the metric units that those foreign customers use.”

The Peavey firm, which has 20 U.S. facilities, is the largest producer of musical instruments and sound equipment in the U.S., structuring the design of its products on SI metric units. The company adopted computer integrated manufacturing, resulting in lower operating costs and enhancement of competitiveness. Hartley Peavey states, “The growth of our company has been based on innovative technologies to create new products; on hiring quality people to produce our products; on helping our dealers with training programs and other support; and on adding the capability to manufacture with metric units.”

The company has established five inhouse classrooms for employee training based on determining and building talents of individuals. The company's excellent training program utilizes the Job Skills Education Program developed by the University of Florida. As a result of Peavey Electronics' outstanding training program, President Bush presented Hartley and Melia Peavey with the National Literacy Award at a White House ceremony in 1992.

Peavey Electronics' marketing strategy has been widespread, covering the global marketplace, thus increasing export sales. The owners worked with the Dept of Commerce to make inroads into the Japanese trade area and the company's success is shown in the fact that Peavey amplifiers are top-selling products in that country as well as in the United States.

Going metric pays off: Stride Tool

From the January-February 1993 issue of Metric Today.

Lori Northrup, president of Stride Tool, Inc., Ellicottville, NY, says that the company went metric because (1) it wanted to serve the international marketplace, and (2) U.S. customers were increasingly requesting metric hand tools. Also, Stride sees an opportunity in the international market for both bench-type and hand-operated tube benders that the company manufactures.

She states, “Changing to metric production did require some expenditures in documentation and administration, but the resulting increase in business volume made the cost insignificant.” The company now manufactures both metric and inch tools, depending upon customer requirements.

Recently, Stride Tool received accreditation under ISO 9001. This makes Stride the first U.S. hand tool company to attain ISO 9001 certification, and one of the first 100 companies in the country that has met this quality manufacturing standard. Steve Slater, Marketing Director, notes, “We don't see using metric system measurement as doing anything special. Our employees use the metric system every day. We found that manufacturing to metric is easier and has contributed to additional productivity.”

In discussing the retooling required, Slater indicated that it is not necessary to resize the entire tool, as handles and some other parts do not need modification. There are many sizes where the tolerances allow direct conversion, i.e., many of the components of a 516 in tube fitting wrench can be used for an 8 mm wrench.

Slater states, “Going metric and receiving the ISO 9001 accreditation has resulted in increased sales. We are proud of this increased capability and of the dedicated employees who are making Stride truly an international company.”

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