Business and enterprise – guidance

National Measurement System

A guide to research programmes and other services funded by the National Measurement System.


The National Measurement System (NMS) provides the UK with an infrastructure of laboratories that deliver world-class measurement science and technology and provide traceable and increasingly accurate standards of measurement.

The UK, along with all developed countries, invests in an infrastructure that allows measurements to be made with integrity and consistency by holding and maintaining internationally-recognised measurement standards and practices.

The NMS is delivered through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The science programmes are delivered by the UK’s Measurement Institutes:

These 6 organisations form the UK Measurement Infrastructure, a basis for communication with a wider metrology networks, forming a measurement community.

Measurement has an important role in improving export and trade, increasing productivity, giving confidence to new technology and innovation, and providing solutions to societal challenges. The world leading impact of the UK Measurement Infrastructure gives confidence on an international level to the UK’s science and technology capabilities.

NMS science programmes

For the UK to prosper in a competitive world, business must innovate, improve productivity and grow. Measurement is an enabling capability that has been independently proven to be essential to this endeavour. Government invests in the measurement system to ensure a thriving economy – no single company can afford the substantial investment needed to develop and maintain these capabilities. The access to measurement that the NMS funded programmes provides helps support trade and innovation for government, academia and companies large and small and a higher quality of life for UK citizens.

The portfolio of programmes is subdivided into 3 categories:

Knowledge base programmes

Each knowledge base programme deals with national challenges facing the UK, such as growth, energy, health, productivity and sustainability by developing and maintaining a core infrastructure along technology capabilities. They provide core support for the development and maintenance of the International system of Units (SI), including re-definition of those units.

The current programmes include:

  • Acoustics and Ionising Radiation Metrology – NPL
  • Chemical and Biological Metrology – LGC
  • Engineering Metrology – NPL
  • Flow Metrology – TUV-NEL
  • Materials and Modelling Metrology - NPL
  • Optical, Gas and Particle Metrology - NPL
  • Quantum, Electromagnetics and Time Metrology - NPL
  • Surface Chemistry and Biophysics Metrology - NPL

Longer-term research programmes

Strategic Capability

The Strategic Capability programme is the NMS programme with a longer-term perspective that delivers the major, step-change measurement capabilities for the UK. It is a programme that uses the best science from the measurement infrastructure and academia to deliver capabilities for the UK that are unique and world-leading to accelerate future innovation and productivity growth in important UK economic sectors.

National priorities such as the strategically important industrial sectors and the technologies of greatest importance to the future of the UK have been identified as areas for major government focus. This programme is the National Measurement System’s response to the biggest measurement related challenges posed by these national priorities. The investment in this programme is focused where the NMS can have the greatest impact over the long-term, deploying the best of UK science to maximise future benefit for the UK.

Some important focuses for the programme include quantum technologies, graphene and 2D materials, surface and near surface analysis, and, multi-scale materials characterisation.

Innovation, Research and Development

The innovation, research and development programme covers multi-disciplinary, emerging and disruptive technology challenges with a mid to long-term view. It aims to support and accelerate ‘challenge-led’ innovation by developing, applying and exploiting new leading edge measurement science and technology to meet emerging industry and societal needs.

The programme has a focus on the important national challenges such as growth, energy, sustainability and health.

Knowledge exchange programme

The Knowledge Exchange (KE) programme plays a vital role within the portfolio of NMS programmes, ensuring that the knowledge and outputs from the science programmes are disseminated in an effective way to the stakeholders. By delivering the national and international KE activities through a single programme, the NMS ensures that a coherent and joined-up approach is taken across all the programmes. It focuses on 2-way interaction with stakeholder groups, industry sectors and technologies that align with market needs and government strategies to increase the overall impact of the National Measurement System portfolio to the UK.

Statutory and policy obligations

Government Chemist

The Government Chemist programme underpins the statutory role of the Government Chemist. The programme, hosted by LGC, provides expert opinion, based on independent measurement to help avoid or resolve disputes pertaining predominantly to food and agriculture, and advice to government, devolved administrations and the wider community dependent on analytical science.

It also supports a wide range of activities designed to underpin the Statutory and Advisory functions of the Government Chemist. These include:

  • Horizon scanning of regulatory and technological developments that have an effect on the provision of referee analysis
  • Development of analytical capability to address potential future disputes in emerging areas of concern
  • Developing technology that improves the cost-effectiveness of regulatory compliance and enforcement
  • Knowledge transfer activities to increase awareness of and improve uptake and benefit derived from knowledge gained under the function

The legal metrology programme, delivered by NMRO, supports manufacturers seeking product certification and assists trading standards officers in their market surveillance and inspection duties. The legal metrology infrastructure underpins trade measurement and confidence in the market, including providing a range of certification services that enable businesses to export their products globally.


The NMS strategy for 2011 to 2015 sets out a framework to deliver leadership in measurement through growth and innovation.

The Measurement Strategy for 2016 to 2021 is currently in development and is due to be published in March 2016. Read the UK Measurement Strategy executive summary.


NMS roadmapsThe roadmaps provide a snapshot of the direction and scope of the science programmes and a strategic overview of the NMS. Delivered at theme level they show how the technical content of the programmes will deliver solutions to meet specific challenges and drivers for the UK..


BIS invests £56 million a year in the NMS. The table below provides a breakdown of how the budget is divided each year across the NMS portfolio.

Areas where budget is spent Percentage of budget
NMS infrastructure 33%
Challenge driven research and development 25%
Strategic capability 11%
Knowledge transfer 9%
Long-term SI 7%
Programme Management 6%
Statutory and policy obligations 5%
International obligations 4%

Advisory bodies

BIS advisory bodies represent the beneficiaries of the NMS programmes. Their advice enables BIS to act as an intelligent customer and commission and monitor the publicly-funded measurement programmes to deliver optimal impact and benefits to meet industrial and public needs.

Programme expert groups

BIS runs 9 programme expert groups (PEGs) comprising individuals with an active interest in the development of their area of business or market sector. The group members provide advice on the objectives, priorities and progress of the NMS programmes.

Specific responsibilities will be providing BIS, as customer for the NMS programme contracted to NPL, with independent advice on:

  • The appropriate alignment of NMS programmes and contracted outcomes to the National Measurement Strategy;
  • The technical delivery of NMS programme outcomes and the value for money they represent;

Members have technical knowledge broadly related to the NMS programme and an understanding of the importance of metrology in their sector. Collectively, NMS PEG members cover the breadth of activity in their programme and are nominated on an individual basis.


The NMS shares measurement knowledge and information through research, events, case studies, networks, training, newsletters, advice and guides available to the wider measurement community.

Case studies

Here are some case studies on how measurement science from within the NMS impacts on our economy and environment.

Measurement helps fight against cancer

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology. Request an accessible format.

If you use assistive technology (eg a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.

Novel 3D imaging to improve type 1 diabetes treatment

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology. Request an accessible format.

If you use assistive technology (eg a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.

Erosive flow test facility

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology. Request an accessible format.

If you use assistive technology (eg a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.

Economic impact

BIS and partner organisations previously commissioned two studies on the economic impact of the NMS. Up and coming studies, currently in draft version, include a chapter on measurement and metrology in the Edward Elgar ‘Handbook of Standards and Innovation’, and an econometric analysis of the impact of the NMS and Innovate UK by Frontier Economics.

Find out more about the products and services offered by the laboratories:

EU metrology programmes

European Association of National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET) is jointly funded by the EU and the 22 participating countries. The UK measurement laboratories are involved in European Metrology programme for Innovation and Research (EMPIR) collaborative projects across energy, industry, environment, health, new technologies and the SI units. They are among the most respected in Europe, providing leadership, facilities and expertise to help progress innovative measurement research across Europe.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

See links below for more information:


If you wish to find out more about the NMS or get in contact with a member of the team please telephone +44 (0)20 8943 7272 or write to the address below:

National Measurement System
Stanton Avenue
TW11 0JZ