A Metric Candle in the Wind

Dan Svec of Pyrographics

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

Dan Svec runs Pyrographics in Des Moines Iowa. They specialize in printing mugs and cups. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan about his business and his use of metric. Dan does precision screen printing of mugs. In order to obtain the best registration of images possible he needed to design his own screen printing press from first principles. In his past work in graphic arts he had encountered considerable confusion with 11/16ths and 13/16ths of an inch. It struck him that the use of millimeters could eliminate this problem. He had earlier read an article in a trade magazine which explained how using metric measurement in graphic arts could save money. The new screen printing press design allows for highly accurate image registration, which in turn allows Dan to print high resolution four color process, color images on mugs and glasses.

A screen printer for mugs has the screen move along with the mug. The squeegee, which transfers the ink through the open screen image, remains stationary. The setup distance is distinctly marked as 27 mm. The diameters of mugs to be printed will vary, which in turn can affect the printing quality. A sample of the diameters of the cups is taken and an estimate of the median value is computed. The diameter in millimeters is used to set the screen printer values. When I asked Dan how much off-contact was used between the mug and the screen, he picked up a small wooden object and said “one Popsicle stick thickness.” This is certainly not an accepted SI unit but does appear to work well for Dan.

Dan could not help but revert to thousandths of an inch when discussing other aspects of printing. He also pointed out that he “has to interface with the outside world” for the graphics which are printed on to the cups, so in general they have no choice but to work in inches with customers.

Because Dan has been trying to introduce as much metric as is possible into his business, I gave him one of my 600 mm millimeter-only metric rulers. As he looked at the ruler, Dan mentioned to a pair of his staff members that it is very hard to find a metric ruler with millimeter markings instead of centimeters in the US. I told them “centimeters are a pseudo-inch that just get in the way.” Dan said “it’s like feet and inches.”

I’ve run into a few businesses which have tried to resist the use of Olde English Units, but often this usage follows the business into the grave. The Baldwin Locomotive Works was pro-metric and used it as much as possible, but when they went bankrupt, metric usage in locomotive design perished with them. It is very difficult for a tiny metric small business ecosystem to exist within an entrenched and massive Olde English one, and not be overwhelmed and perish at some point. I have seen it asserted by person’s who have practiced a trade for many years that because of their longevity they know it must the best way to do things. Often, they have obtained a single year of experience, and utilized the least amount of information to practice their trade over many years. Because they remain in business within a flawed measurement ecosystem, they argue that there is no need to change–because everyone does it that way.

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:

The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays  that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website,  but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.

The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.

The third book is not of direct importance to metric education. It is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.

6 thoughts on “A Metric Candle in the Wind

  1. It would be curious to see some kind of national designation for metric-only businesses, like women-owned businesses. Would/Could they get tax incentives to offset the difficulties of being different?

    • If that were the case, then every company not metric would be applying. From what I understand the US is pretty much split down the middle when it comes to businesses using metric and those not.

      Those who are not have their own set of problems. Limited domestic and export markets and limited raw materials are just a few examples of problems facing companies not using metric. Metric companies can outsource materials from the whole world and have no trouble exporting what they produce.

      The metric – USC war has divided the US to a point that metric industries don’t do business with non-metric industries. This hurts the national economy and is partly the reason the US economy is not and never will recover from the present depression it is in.

      Tax incentives to use metric would not work in the US. The opposition would see that as unfair and a subsidy given to metric businesses and also seen as a punishment to those who use what they consider the American standard system. It would be like giving companies a tax break who use Spanish.

      Metric business will slowing increase in the US as non-metric businesses continue to go out of business.

  2. The only place a business needs to communicate with customers in inches is when it is insisted upon. If a customer is informed that using inches adds costs and errors, they may not force the company to communicate in units other than metric.

    This is where metric businesses have to educate the customer so he is aware that metric is used because it works and USC is problematic. Working in SI units and communicating in USC can result in error especially if rounded numbers in one unit don’t end up rounded numbers in the other.

    Working in metric behind the scenes and hiding it from customer view only creates additional problems that in the long term continue to damage the national economy.

    • Interesting article…

      But the lack of a common and shared future worldwide perspective (ideals) seems to be limiting the (US) metrication horizon, sadly, in these decades without vision, so to speak.

  3. … And in the meantime, sadly, Obama, the government & Co., instead of thinking seriously about much more serious things (like, for example, finally metricating, and in a few years at most!), seem to “think” (?) only about the usual “national security and war, etc. etc.” BS (sic!) – absolutely incredible, to say the least…

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