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Metric America

- 01 Nov 2008 -
26 posts / 0 new

Oh God, the pain, would you guys please please please make the change? Its driving the rest of us crazy and I'm tired of arguing with baby boomer engineers.

With such a huge economy surely it makes business sense to make it easier for everyone to buy things from you?

"The European Union has a directive[21] banning non-SI markings after 31 December 2009 on any goods imported into the European Union. This applies to all markings on products, enclosed directions and papers, packaging and advertisements. On September 11, 2007, the EU announced that the United Kingdom would be exempted from this directive and imperial measurements would still be permitted indefinitely alongside with the metric system as supplementary indications.[22]"

"Three nations have not officially adopted the International System of Units as their primary or sole system of measurement: Liberia, Myanmar and the United States." !!!!


- 01 Nov 2008

You've hurt our feelings. What ever happened to respect for Cultural Diversity?

- 01 Nov 2008


Its a mess.

"(CNN) -- NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency's team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday.

The units mismatch prevented navigation information from transferring between the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft team in at Lockheed Martin in Denver and the flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Lockheed Martin helped build, develop and operate the spacecraft for NASA. Its engineers provided navigation commands for Climate Orbiter's thrusters in English units although NASA has been using the metric system predominantly since at least 1990."

more at....

- 01 Nov 2008

Come on Heath, you're asking the US
to apply logic to things the rest of the world figured out a long time ago? :-)

Take something as simple as money, paper money to be specific. Paper euros are sized according to denominations. Absolute brilliance, the larger the denomination, the larger the size of the currency, thus blind people or the visually impaired can instantly recognize change returned to them when making a purchase just by touch. In the US 1's, 5's, 10's even one hundred dollar bills are all the same size.

Owe that blind man thirty bucks, give him three singles, he'll never know the difference, appalling.

- 02 Nov 2008

there's no excuse for what L Martin did, but. . .if it's good enough for Britain, it's good enough for her principle colony, sez I !

In thinking about what the English system does for me that metric doesn't, it comes down to some kind of material poetry, versus the driest imaginable prose, written by a soulless robot. With feet, inches and fractions thereof, the smaller the dimension becomes, the more refined the numbers used to denote it -- fractions halving each remainder, doubling in number. It just feels right.

Of course, one becomes devoted to what one knows, and abhors a revolting readjustment of a basic function. If only the world had been set out metrically to begin with. . .!

I do regret that the US pledged to reform, and then reneged. Sadly reminiscent of our treatment of the UN. . .

- 02 Nov 2008

Indeed, the rest of the world
should've stuck with inches, feet and miles. And Fahrenhit, too.

- 02 Nov 2008

Are you being faceatious Barry?

What is actually even worse than the fact that the US hasn't made a complete change is that some industries work in metric entirely, others almost exclusively in imperial and others a mixture. It would be better if you had just stayed entirley with imperial rather than this.

I've just spent hours returning and getting a new table saw blade because the centre hole came in 25mm dia. and a 25.4mm dia. (1") and the get the picture.

The romance of imperial is something only those over 45 seem to understand. I don't get it.

- 02 Nov 2008

Just another of those "extinctions" that seem to be taking place hourly.

Manual transmissions.
Desk phones.
Gas ranges.
Courteous drivers.

Perhaps the young will not miss what they never had ?

- 02 Nov 2008

The problem has huge practical implications, its nothing to do with nostalgia or romance. There are also safety issues I hadn't thought of until I found this link, its so much worse than I thought.

Because the US market is so huge products are inevitably specified for that market and its Europe and the rest of the world that are caught inbetween.

How much would be saved in time and resources if we had a radical international effort at standardisation? A lot, I imagine.

Thread sizes too!

- 02 Nov 2008

SDR, check out what happens...
SDR, check out what happens when you google image search 'table saw joinery'


- 02 Nov 2008

Didn't see anything out of the ordinary. . . What did I miss ?

- 02 Nov 2008

such modesty, your finger joi...
such modesty, your finger joints! First up, top left.

- 02 Nov 2008

google 'image' search, you...
google 'image' search, you know the one we use to look for pictures of...chairs.

- 02 Nov 2008

we in the US also have

120 alternating electrical current,
drive on the right, and
our TV's have the NTSC format,

220 direct electrical current,
drive on the left and
your TV's have the PAL format.

Call us Imperial? Don't think so. Why can't it be cool to be different?

By the way, here, chips are potato chips (not crisps) and French Fries are your chips.

- 02 Nov 2008

International standards are pretty good
If I recall correctly, as much as 10% of sea freight volume is lost due to differently sized pallets. And that is just one part of the total increase in trade costs resulting from the many different pallet sizes:

"The multiplicity of pallet sizes increases trade costs because goods have to be depalletized and repalletized resulting from differences in pallet sizes. The additional
handling operations increase delivery time and cost. The cost of different pallet standards can even be more dramatic when products loaded on one pallet cannot be imported because of the incompatibility of the handling machinery or because the pallet does not satisfy the requirements of the destination country.


As the case of bananas shows, the multiplicity of pallet sizes increases trade costs significantly - 21% in the case of Ecuadorian bananas."

Source: Raballand, G. & Aldaz-Carroll, E (2005). How Do Differing Standards Increase Trade Costs? The Case of Pallets. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3519 (available from

- 02 Nov 2008

Having to work in both systems I guess I became fluent in both and after a short period of adaptation I have never seen it as a problem. Maybe the fact that in the post war years all wood measurements in my father?s workshop were imperial (at least until the late sixties) has helped me.
I actually find it strange that pallets are used as an example of incompatibility. In fact the 48" x 40" is the same as the 1200 x 800 mm (Europe) and the 42" x 42" is the same as the 1100 x 1100 mm (Asia). The major problem is not the difference between the different systems, but the incompatibility with the container size. The ideal pallet would be 776 mm x 1150 mm or 30" x 46". It would allow either two in the width or three in the width of a container, depending on the direction (container width is 2330 mm or 94") and 5 in the depth of a 20' container (5918 mm deep) or 10 in a 40'container (12015 mm deep) Right now neither of the pallet systems works with the container system. Containers coming out of the far east usually do not use pallets because labor is cheap and a pallet takes space in the height. But more and more north american and European importers specify that the goods have to be on pallets so it is time to have a second look at pallet sizes. For those familiar with logistics, most handling equipment is flexible enough to handle all the measurements, the major problem is not format but construction. Some pallets are two way, others are one way, the well build two way pallets usually have a cross member on the ground which is a nuisance when the forks are supported by front wheels... a common feature in narrow alley warehouses and side loaders Etc.
I think that a far more interesting aspect of the two systems, at least from a design point of view, is that the use of different units leads to different proportions. In fact any trained eye can see right away if a product has been designed in the metric or in the imperial system simply because different units and, as SDR pointed out, the use of fractions in one system and decimals in the other leads to different choices in proportions.

- 02 Nov 2008

koen, thanks for elaborating...
koen, thanks for elaborating so thoughtfully on the rather fascinating subject of pallets. Yes, it mainly comes down to container sizes (which are standardised), and construction (there is a four way pallet as well).

It may be worth noting, though, that the picture I posted shows only the six international pallet size standards (ISO 6780). They are based on the most commonly used sizes around the world. Of these six, four are metric and two are imperial. There are far more sizes still in use. As the linked source notes:

"In the U.S., one-third of the market uses 48 x 40 inch pallets. The next most common size is used by less than 6% of the U.S. market. There are hundreds of different pallet sizes, which is fine for domestic use. But once you start moving shipments globally, it forces countries to re-palletize product that goes overseas, which adds costs to the consumer."

And as you note, poorer countries are particularly vulnerable:

"The multiplicity of pallet sizes poses a particular challenge for LDCs [Least Developed Countries] because the lack of rental and exchange pallet markets limit LDC's ability to comply with differing pallet size standards in destination markets. The low value added of the products
carried on pallets from LDCs makes their exporting firms more sensitive to the increases in trade costs resulting from the multiplicity of pallet sizes."

Also an interesting observation on the potential effect of a change from one system to the other on proportions (and maybe more). I wonder if this could explain the difference between some of Herman Miller's and Vitra's Eames pieces? As an example, the LCW differs rather obviously between the two.

- 02 Nov 2008

In our (work)shops
one gets used to an inch being about 25.4 mm -- and of course a meter is not much bigger than a yard, for rough estimating of longer distances.

The palletization info is interesting and (as usual) not readily available, but for Koen's link between us and the larger world ! Now, what about pallet material and construction ? Only the re-use of pallets and/or their wood makes pallets anything but a green disaster, doesn't it -- somewhat akin to the constant making and recycling of cardboard, except the re-use statistic is radically different, isn't it ? Cardboard is widely (?) recycled, giving work to the marginalized, while many pallets are re-used as is ?

- 05 Nov 2008

Too many sunk costs...
and too much strategic leverage in maintaining the distinction in standards for USA to ever completely let go of the English standards.

What keeps USA from dropping the English standard is the same thing that kept Europe balkanized by different languages, different engineering standards, different etc. for so long.

What keeps USA from dropping the English standard is the same thing that keeps the EU from dropping Linux, or USA from dropping Windows. Legacy systems, standards, etc. have sunk costs key players do not want to absorb until they absolutely have no choice.

Now, if Europe wants to PAY USA huuuuge dollars to underwrite the conversion (write off sunk costs and retrain a population of workers), and if Europe wants to grant USA the same authority and control over the Metric system of standards that USA holds over the English system of standards, well, then I reckon USA would only be too happy to convert.

Personally, I prefer Kelvin and Base 5, to Celcius and Base 10. Do you think Europe would be willing to convert for me? Or would they raise the issue of sunk costs and retraining costs as too prohibitive to make the change? ;-)

I also prefer either Windows, or Apple to Linux. Do you suppose Europe would be willing to dump Linux, and bring its state bureacracy, and especially its intelligence organizations onto either a Windows, or Apple standard? ;-)

I feel your frustration, Heath, but reality is bigger than your frustration, and mine too.

- 08 Nov 2008

reality is millions of people...
reality is millions of people, business and governments being frustrated, losing money and wasting resources, but simply accepting the problem becuase it allways been there, its so ingrained people don't even notice it.

The US is a keystone nation when it comes to imperial measurements, I think if it changed problems like pallet sizes etc would slowly resolve, a good proprotion of US industry already uses metric.

As for the diversity argument... well a yamulke might me 25cm dia and a stetson might be 35cm but they're still yamulkes and stetsons.

- 08 Nov 2008

Reality is...
probably 200-300 million Americans don't give diddly squat about metric; that's the reality.

But, still, I feel your frustration.

- 17 Dec 2008

Case in point--beds
I am getting really frustrated trying to figure out which, if any, beds I should move to Lausanne when we move house in February. The bed size conversion chart on Wikipedia is enough to make me want to drink heavily. I think the chart is trying to tell me that my California King, which is 72 inches by 84 inches, is just too long to fit any sheets over there, right? Do any of you European DA's know if you can buy sheets anywhere that are longer than 200cm? I guess I could just stock up on sheets here before I go, sorry for whining! I think this is just going to be the first of many "incompatibility" issues I am going to come across.

- 17 Dec 2008

The White Company do a size called Emperor that would fit your California King.

The real incompatibility is with mattress sizes, even between UK and European.........

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