Necessity for Calibration

The foregoing discussion has described the static and dynamic characteristics of measuring instruments in some detail. However, an important qualification that has been omitted from this discussion is that an instrument only conforms to stated static and dynamic patterns of behavior after it has been calibrated. It can normally be assumed that a new instrument will have been calibrated when it is obtained from an instrument manufacturer, and will therefore initially behave according to the characteristics stated in the specifications. During use, however, its behavior will gradually diverge from the stated specification for a variety of reasons.

Such reasons include mechanical wear, and the effects of dirt, dust, fumes and chemicals in the operating environment. The rate of divergence from standard specifications varies according to the type of instrument, the frequency of usage and the severity of the operating conditions.

However, there will come a time, determined by practical knowledge, when the characteristics of the instrument will have drifted from the standard specification by an unacceptable amount. When this situation is reached, it is necessary to re-calibrate the instrument to the standard specifications. Such re-calibration is performed by adjusting the instrument at each point in its output range until its output readings are the same as those of a second standard instrument to which the same inputs are applied. This second instrument is one kept solely for calibration purposes whose specifications are accurately known. Calibration procedures are discussed more fully in Calibration of Measuring Instruments and Sensors.