One of the perennial red herrings that is enlisted by those who want to stop the metric system from being adopted in the US, is the cost of tools. As we have seen, representatives of small business in the 1977 metric hearings asserted that if they were compelled to purchase metric tools that it would cause a “metric apocalypse,” and requested the government have disaster loans available for small business. Tooling costs have been cited as a reason to resist metrication in the 1905, 1921 and the 1977 metric hearings. Last April I gave a talk about the metric system to an audience that had a considerable number of engineers and scientists. One of the very first questions was: “but what about the tooling costs of conversion?” I could not help myself, I laughed, and then explained why it’s nothing but a canard.
At one company for which I worked, a few years back, I was recruited to work on the development a system which would put RFID tags on tools. It was an interesting idea, each tool would have an RFID tag which would allow all the tools in the back of a pickup truck to be automatically inventoried at the end of each day. If there were any tools missing, it would be known immediately.
I naively said “Is this a big problem—losing tools?”
The reply was incredulity at the question “It’s astronomical, this is a great opportunity.”
The project did not continue, but the information stuck in my mind. Recently I had some work done on my house. The contractor showed up and soon needed to leave because he didn’t have a tool. It was an elliptical sander. In order to keep the work progressing I lent him mine. He admitted he had purchased three sanders this year because he had lost them. “I just don’t know how they get lost” he said with incredulity.
I mentioned this to my father who immediately recognized the problem. So many tools were disappearing each month at his printing company, that the resulting bills at the local hardware store caused considerable consternation. My father was asked what could be done to stop the loss of tools. He replied they could lock them up and only give them out when needed. It was decided that this could cause a considerable loss of time if no one with the key was around to pass out tools during an equipment breakdown. The cost of the tools seemed smaller than the loss of production time.
In the US we have two types of wrenches, US Olde English and metric, so potentially, in the worst case lost tools could cost us twice as much as the rest of the world. It also costs twice as much as the rest of the world to maintain two sets of tools.
The other aspect is to question just how many tools first of all are dependent on a scale and second would need to be replaced. When I look at my own tools in my Engineering prototype lab I see:
Screwdrivers — No change needed
Levels — No change needed (mine do not have any scales on them)
Cordless & Corded Drill — No Change needed, metric or US Olde English bits will fit.
Vice Grips — No Change needed
Crescent Wrenches == No Change Needed
Tweezers — No Change Needed
Clamps — No Change Needed
Files — No Change needed
Chisels — No Change Needed
Pliers– No Change Needed
X-Acto Knife — No Change Needed
Hammer — No Change Needed
Putty Knife — No Change Needed
Glue — No Change Needed
IR Thermometer — No Change Needed (Use Celsius only)
Pipe Cutter — No Change Needed
Shrink Tubing — No Change Needed
Scotch Brite — No Change Needed
Chemicals — No Change Needed (purchase in mL or L only)
Q-Tips — No Change Needed
Arbor Press — No Change No Change
Soldering Iron(s) — No Change Needed
Reflow Oven (Soldering) — No Change Needed (Use Celsius setting only)
Drill Bits — Yes (but they wear out and are replaced)
Calipers — Yes (to get metric only)
Allen Wrenches Yes (to get metric only)
Radius Gauge Yes (to get metric only)
Wire Stripper — Yes (if metric wire is introduced)
Tape Measure — Yes (to get metric only)
Tap Set — Yes (to get metric only)
Machine Screws — Yes (to get metric only)
Scales/Rulers — Yes (To get metric only)
Socket Set — Yes (to get metric only)
This unscientific inventory of the common tools in my lab indicates that a majority of them would not need replacement. The ones that are cited for replacement generally already have been purchased by small businessmen out of necessity to deal with Domestic and Foreign products that are metric. The cost of changing over to metric would be minimal. It is also lost on businessmen that only in the US do we need to have two sets of tools, one US Olde English and also metric. Apparently this doubling of tooling cost doesn’t scare them nearly as much as legislation for metric only in this country. It’s time to cast aside the irrational arguments about the incredible amounts of cost that metric “re-toolling” would incur. It costs us more, about $16 per day per person, not to have metric only tools and measurements in this country. Small business is wasting money by not demanding metric only legislation in the US.