Precision: Everyday standard at base lab

  • Published
  • By Leslie Brown
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
Calibrating a weapon system properly is the difference between striking at the heart of an enemy force or hitting the friendly forces engaged with that same enemy.

Members of the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory at Eglin are the purveyors of accuracy and precision of measurements -- a precision to one-ten thousandths of an inch in some cases. 

The shop's mission is to calibrate and repair test-measurement and diagnostic equipment, and PMEL members test more than 22,000 pieces of equipment assigned to 406 different accounts on base, across the state and for several bases across the country.

Equipment such as spectrum analyzers, torque wrenches, pressure gauges, optical measuring instruments and counter measures test sets are meticulously fine tuned to meet the PMEL Airmen's four criteria of accuracy, reliability, traceability and safety. 

"Because of the test and development mission here, a lot of what we see is new and unique," said Chief Master Sgt. Martin McKinnon, test, measurement and diagnostic equipment flight chief. 

Besides the out of the ordinary items that are used in operational test and development, PMEL is charged with calibrating the scales Airmen use at the base fitness center as well as those that measure the proper amount of food to feed the military working dogs. 

The daily routine at PMEL could be compared to a day at the post office. 

"The work never stops," said Eric Miller, one of five integrated electronic systems mechanics in the lab here. "Equipment is always due for calibration and inspection." 

And after the calibration is complete, the work doesn't stop there, the daisy chain continues with tracking it in the PMEL Automated Management System. 

"We have a certification document for each piece of equipment," Mr. Miller said. The documents need to be fully completed before items are returned to the owning agencies. 

When a unit is preparing for deployment, PMEL operations go into surge mode. 

"We calibrate items ahead of time that will come due during the deployment," Mr. Miller said. "That way a deployed Airman doesn't have to worry about getting it checked in the war zone." 

But who checks the PMEL equipment that checks the equipment? 

PMELs across the Air Force house their own quality assurance team. These highly-trained members are selected from within the lab and are responsible for ensuring the items certified by PMEL technicians are safe, accurate, reliable and traceable. 

The PMEL QA team also monitors the laboratory environment to include lighting, cleanliness, positive airflow, temperature and humidity. One room in the lab, dubbed the 68-degree room, has to be maintained at 68 degrees plus or minus one degree. Other rooms in have to be maintained within a six-degree temperature fluctuation. 

"We are one of the top priorities with (the Civil Engineers) when we have an air handler problem," the chief said. "The equipment we deal with is sensitive and changes in temperature can cause measurement errors and lead to a break in traceable measurements." 

The Air Force Metrology and Calibration, or AFMETCAL program, mandates that all measurements performed by any PMEL must be traceable to the Air Force Primary Standards Laboratory or the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

Traceability, an established written record of standards, helps ensure quality measurements, and in turn, reliable instruments. The AFMETCAL evaluation is performed by experienced auditors every two years. The Eglin PMEL evaluation was completed November 2008. Key inspections included a Management and Quality Assurance review. After successfully completing all evaluations, the Eglin PMEL renewed its two-year certification, enabling the continuation of safe, accurate, reliable and traceable measurements for the region. 

All of this meticulous work does not go unnoticed. Many of the members in PMEL are recognized for their high-quality attention-to-detail work. Mr. Miller recently was awarded the Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez Aircraft Maintenance Award for Air Force Materiel Command. 

The award is presented to maintainers who have demonstrated the highest degree of sustained job performance, job knowledge, job efficiency and results in the categories of aircraft, munitions and missile, and communications-electronics maintenance. 

"It's always nice to be recognized for doing a good job," Mr. Miller said. "But there are others all around who do a great job every day."