BOX: Want to go? Calibration Solutions is located at 18330 Old Statesville Road, Cornelius. Call them at 704-987-4300.   

CORNELIUS – More than 5,000 years ago in Egypt, the Royal Cubit was the primary unit of measurement. Carved from a block of granite, it was equal to the length of the reigning pharoh’s forearm from bent elbow to the tip of the middle finger plus the width of the palm.

Foreman who managed construction at tomb, temple and pyramid sites had a wood cubit they’d use to make sure their workers’ cubits all measured the same length. At every full moon, wood cubits were presented for measurement against the granite standard, and any foreman who failed to show up could be killed.   

With this traceability standard, the Egyptians were able to construct the 756-foot tall Great Pyramid of Giza within 4.5 inches of accuracy.

These days, the study of calibration is even more precise.

Properly calibrated instruments make sure you get the right amount of gas at the pump and that your bananas really weigh 12 ounces on the grocery store’s scale. 

But Robert Ray opened Calibration Solutions in 2000 to ensure that clients like Duke Energy, ABB and BMW use the most finely tuned tools to measure whatever they need to, from laboratory humidity levels to electrical cable length.

“Calibration is all about measuring unknown pieces of equipment with known pieces of equipment of a higher degree of accuracy,” he said. 

His business, a general purpose calibration lab employing 13, serves the needs of commercial clients across the region and aims to make its own equipment at least four times more accurate than the customer’s equipment.

A native of Ohio, Ray received the training to become a calibration technician in the U.S. Air Force, where he worked as a precision measurement equipment laboratory technician in the 1980s.

“I remember when I was a kid driving down I-77 going somewhere with our family and crossing over the bridges right around Exit 30,” he said. “You could look out and not see anything, no houses, just water. And I said to myself, ‘Someday I’m going to live here.’”

Ray’s Lake Norman lab now ensures that Coca-Cola machines in South Carolina don’t allow wayward electrical signals to zap a person innocently pressing a button for a soda.

His employees might also make sure Duke Power’s temperature sensors, which monitor its turbines, are accurately reading steam pressure and temperature or that ABB’s cable cutters measure the right lengths.

“If their footage counters are counting off 1.01 of a foot, they’re going to lose money over time because they’re giving the customer more than they’re paying for,” he said.

Medical providers may even bring in luminescence readers to be calibrated, ensuring MRI machines aren’t so bright that they hurt patients’ eyes or too dark, making them feel claustrophobic.

Ray added 65 percent of his team’s work occurs at the client’s place of business.

Customers send their equipment to be calibrated by Ray’s company, who in turn sends their devices back to their respective manufacturers once a year for a checkup.

The U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology maintains standards in measurement from the pound and inch to the volt and amp.

“You couldn’t even talk on your cellphone without all these towers being calibrated and timed,” Ray said. “Every cell tower in the country gets the same signal of the standard time, and it’s disseminated by time zones. Calibration is really all around us.”