Barriers to trade crumble - The European Measuring Instruments Directive - by Roger Ford

A new Measuring Instruments Directive is presently being discussed by countries in Europe. Its aim is to provide conformity for all measuring instruments subject to legal metrological control – which obviously include meters – by establishing essential performance and conformity-assessment requirements. The directive has been widely welcomed.

The main reasons for the proposed European Union (EU) Measuring Instruments Directive (MID) are the need to harmonise national legislation in order to create a barrier-free internal market, plus the need to establish new legal requirements for the accuracy and performance characteristics of measuring instruments which embrace current and future technology.

Much national legislation already exists in EU member countries, in EEC countries and in Eastern Europe, where many countries have applied for EU membership. In a wider context, there is also the global situation to consider.

Carrying the new Measuring Instruments Directive into effect is considered to be of immediate urgency in order to reduce costs and to ensure that existing practice comes into line with EU targets.

HARMONISATION

The history of legislation on measurements and measuring instruments is age-old, because it affects the daily life of every citizen everywhere. However, in the past it has taken the form of national legislation. Although the first steps towards harmonisation of such legislation within the European Economic Community began in 1971, the current situation is that national legislations are not compatible with one another, which leads to trade barriers that are unacceptable within the Community.

EMBRACING NEW TECHNOLOGY

Existing metrology legislation within the Community (a package comprising no less than 24 different directives) deals with instruments as diverse as utility meters, retail weighing  scales, filing machines and breath analysers.

However, these existing directives are product-oriented rather than performance oriented, and many are therefore out of date, because they do not embrace new technology. They were originally formulated to cover mechanical or electro-mechanical technology, but measurement techniques have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, largely due to the introduction of electronics, high-tech digital micro-electronics and software intelligence. Electric power metering also introduces the legal dimension, since its measurements form part of the contract between supplier and purchaser. This is in contrast to the requirements for an instrument used for quality control on a production line, for example.

DEREGULATION

For the utilities, the need to use up-to-date electronic technology is paramount, particularly as the deregulation of supply will clearly be the norm rather than the exception in the future. Some of the few ways in which suppliers can differentiate their offerings to the consumer will be by providing additional information services and a sophisticated choice of tariffs, already being provided with digital technology meters.

The new directive should treat all technologies equally. Those who query the reliability of newer technologies should perhaps stop to consider that vital areas like defence systems, civil aviation and security services all depend upon them.

A NEW APPROACH

The proposed Measuring Instruments Directive (MID) will be a ‘new approach’ directive, aimed at providing a level playing field for all measuring instruments subject to legal metrological control, by establishing essential performance and conformity-assessment  requirements. It will also establish mutual recognition among member states of the results of conformity assessment in any member state, and exclude all parallel national regimes of legal control within the Community.

CONFORMITY

Verification procedures are still under active discussion, but it is currently proposed that conformity of a measuring instrument will be declared initially by a CE marking, complemented by an M when legal control is required. Further verification will be carried out by national certification bodies designated by the member states.

Periodic verification is not at present included in the MID, and discussions continue to ensure that different regular calibration rules in different member states will not constitute an impediment to barrier-free trading. Different technologies should be considered equally in respect of verification and inspection periods.

The new directive should facilitate the benefits of rapid technical development. Essential requirements will be based on performance rather than design criteria, which means that they are less likely to restrain future technological evolution and therefore offer a long-term solution to the problem.

INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS

Björn Hagberg, responsible for surveillance in the field of legal metrology at Swedac, the Swedish Board for Accreditation and Conformity Assessment, says: “We agree with the harmonisation. The new MID is very good because it is an umbrella directive covering many measuring instruments. It is also a new approach directive which will be much more flexible from a technical point of view. Technical development has been rather fast in the last few years, and is likely to be even faster in the coming years. The existing directives are out of date.”

Effective operation and cost cutting are important to the energy companies. Alan Dick of The Electricity Association in London also represents the Brussels-based Unipede Eurelectric organisation in MID dealings with the Commission. “We are happy with the bulk of the proposed legislation, because it allows for greater movement of meters across European borders,” he says. “A greater choice of meters on the market should produce keener prices through competition.

“However, we have some concerns about the proposed loss of third party involvement in type approval. In addition, there is the question of the new approach, whereby there will be no direct requirement to meet international standards for electric meters. This conflicts with the existing Utilities Directive, whereby utilities are required to specify their requirements in terms of international standards. This needs clarification.

“There is also a need to develop the existing Annexe MI-003 regarding electric meters. We are in fact co-operating with CITEF, which represents European electric meter manufacturers, to agree on a common policy which will be presented to the Commission shortly,” Dick concludes.

In addition there is an urgent need to harmonise essential requirements in order to meet the EU principles. “To harmonise essential requirements and conformity assessment requirements, this directive should come into force as soon as possible,” says Marja-Leena Junttila, a spokesman for Tukes, Finland’s Safety Technology Authority, and chair of the  sub-group responsible for the draft electrical requirements. “Most EU countries are in favour of the MID. In fact, we are keenly awaiting it, and have been delaying national legislation here in Finland to accommodate it. We need the MID for the protection of consumers and to ensure the operation of trading markets. The prices of the instruments are expected to fall, thanks to increased competition and reduced manufacturing costs. We would like the directive to cover as many measuring instruments as possible.

“We do not see any major problems unless any of the national bodies raises objections based on the inclusion of new technology, because that would cause difficulties for forward-looking industries.”

TIMING

The current proposed MID, originally under discussion for more than five years as METRO, began life in its present form in early 1997. The proposed directive was submitted for ratification at the end of 1999, but it appears that even after submission, a further two years is likely to elapse before it becomes fully mandatory. However, there seems to be no logical reason why a transition period should prevent the implementation of the barrier-free movements of goods.

Roger Ford is an industrial journalist based in Britain.