Calibration lab makes sure everything measures up

By By Keith Hayes, Public Affairs Specialist

The Calibration Laboratory validates the accuracy of measurements of nearly every piece of precision test or measurement equipment aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow to ensure it meets the accuracy specified by the manufacturer of the instrument or those specified within the Navy/Marine Corps Calibration Program.

Peter Dembowski is the head of the Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Division located in building 598 on the Yermo Annex of MCLB Barstow. The calibration laboratory is comprised of Electronic, Physical Dimensional, Electro-Optic and the Radiation Detection Indication and Computation (RADIAC) measurement sections.

Dembowski said they play a key role in making sure whatever the tool or piece of equipment being used does meets the stated accuracy of the manufacturer. “If the Marine Corps owns it and it uses gauges and instruments to measure its output, then they rely on us to ensure the accuracy of those instruments,” Dembowski explained.

The technicians at the lab don’t fire the mortars or pull the triggers on machine guns, for example, but “… we do calibrate the gauges for a weapon which are used to set timing on machine guns,” Dembowski said.

The artisans at Production Plant Barstow, Marine Depot Maintenance Command, right across the street from the Cal Lab, use tools and equipment that have been tested for accuracy by the lab.

“If the torque wrench they’re using is rated to tighten some lug nuts on a (light armored vehicle) to 180-foot pounds of torque, then we test to make sure that it does. If it doesn’t, then the wheel could fall off on the battlefield or the lug nuts could be sheared off by overtightening,” Dembowski said.

The native of Coldwater, Ohio, and former U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class said the lab also tests radiation detection equipment that Marines and artisans use to determine if there are harmful levels of radiation in the area or contaminating equipment.

“We also calibrate equipment which is used for testing communication equipment,” he said. “If a radio is rated, for example, to output 10 watts, but our testing shows it can only output five watts, then that is something you’d want to know,” Dembowski said.

“You’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t know if the broadcasting capability is what the manufacturer claims it is, and in a battlefield situation that can get very dangerous.”

Dembowski said they eventually calibrate all tools and equipment capable of making measurements aboard base at one time or another.

“We have Approved Service Provider lists, which means we’ve reviewed that provider’s calibration services, so we can just test a representative sample from a recently purchased batch of test equipment, for example,” Dembowski said.

“The manufacturer should have a certified quality management system of their own that they comply with when calibrating their product before the shipment is sent on to the DoD,” he said.

“But once the equipment is taken in and it’s put on what is called a calibration cycle, every piece of equipment, every one of those one thousand torque wrenches, if that’s what it is, will eventually be calibrated again by us or another Marine Corps laboratory,” he said.

The calibration lab technicians’ diligence and meticulous attention to detail when doing the calibrations has yielded good results for the Department of Defense, and eventually, the taxpayer, by ensuring the Corps is getting what they paid for.

“Once at the Albany, Ga. Plant calibration lab a large order of oscilloscopes were calibrated which were not up to standard,” Dembowski said.

An oscilloscope is a laboratory instrument commonly used to display and analyze the output of electronic signals from a device.

“We sent them back for factory warranty repair before they went out to fleet and it saved the Corps tens of thousands of dollars by being fixed or replaced under the warranty coverage compared to eventually having the tools repaired out of warranty,” he said.

“The lab also has a Fleet Automotive Support Team (FAST), that calibrates engine and transmission dynamometers throughout the Corps to certify they meet the manufacturer’s torque and horsepower claims, a program that is unique to the Barstow calibration lab,” Dembowski said.

“But (Albany has) wind tunnel capability there where they can do airspeed tests,” he said. “We don’t have that at Barstow.”

The calibration lab has 18 Marine and civil service employees who have been trained to become calibration technicians, Dembowski said.

“I have calculated that it takes a minimum of about three years for a technician to become competent in our various measurement areas,” Dembowski said. “Plus you have to send them to specialized calibration schools such as Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss., for electronic measurement techniques, or Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for physical and dimensional training,” Dembowski said.

“There are a lot of other schools that specialize on specific measurement areas such as liquid flow or gas flow. We have 18 primary measurement areas within our laboratory. Depending on what the item is that we’re testing, we may use one or a combination of these areas to determine if the piece of equipment is functioning properly,” he said.

Any of the four Marines who also work at the calibration lab could get jobs once they get out doing exactly the same thing, Dembowski explained.

“In civilian life, they could get a similar job as a calibration technician because the outside world depends on calibration just as heavily as the DoD does,” he said.

“I helped write the position description for the Civilian Occupational Specialty WG-3378, Precision Measurement Equipment Calibrator, for the DoD in order to ensure calibration stands out as the specialized field that it is,” Dembowski said.

“Large companies often have their own laboratories that calibrate the measurement equipment that is used for testing of whatever they’re manufacturing,” he said.

“Either they do it in house or they send their precision measurement equipment elsewhere to be tested, but they have to have a calibration program.”

“They say the quality of the technology of a nation is directly proportional to the accuracy of its instrumentation,” Dembowski said.

“The calibration lab is very important to Production Plant Barstow and the entire Marine Corps because anything that shoots, has wheels, or has electricity flowing through it relies on us to ensure the accuracy of the instrumentation used on every piece of equipment,” he said.

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow website.