National Physical Laboratory

Surface topography measurement

Most manufactured parts rely on some form of control of their surface characteristics. The surface is usually defined as the feature on a component or device that interacts with the environment in which the component is housed or in which the device operates, or with another surface. The surface topography of a part can affect how two bearing parts slide together, how fluids interact with the part, or how the part looks and feels. The need to control, and hence to measure, surface features becomes increasingly important as we move into a miniaturised world. Surface features can become the dominant functional features of a part and may become large in comparison to the overall size of an object.

Surface topography measurement

In the past, surface topography was primarily measured using contact stylus instruments but increasingly non-contact optical instruments are being used in the advanced manufacturing industry. NPL has been developing high-accuracy instrumentation for measuring surface topography for over 40 years and continues to have active research projects in surface metrology. Our current research focuses on calibration of surface topography measuring instruments and on the functional characterisation of surfaces.

Research themes include:

  • Development of calibration methods (and artefacts) for areal surface topography measurement and characterisation
  • Development of background theory and practical measurement methods for determining the spatial frequency response of an instrument
  • Development of software measurement standards for areal characterisation
  • Development of methods to aid an understanding and control of the function of a surface

Research team

  • Claudiu Giusca
  • Andrew Henning
  • Stephen Downes
  • Lakskmi Nimishankavi
  • Rahul Mandal (PhD with Loughborough University)
  • Gavin Macaulay (PhD with Brunel University)
  • Nicola Senin (visiting from University of Perugia)
  • Jeremy Coupland (visiting professor from Loughborough University)

Recent publications


NPL Reports

Calibrations artefacts

Good Practice Guides



Last Updated: 7 Nov 2016
Created: 26 Mar 2013


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