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Engineering tolerance

 

A primary concern is to determine how wide the tolerances may be without affecting other factors or the outcome of a process. This can be by the use of scientific principles, engineering knowledge, and professional experience. Experimental investigation is very useful to investigate the effects of tolerances: Design of experiments, formal engineering evaluations, etc.

A good set of engineering tolerances in a specification, by itself, does not imply that compliance with those tolerances will be achieved. Actual production of any product (or operation of any system) involves some inherent variation of input and output. Measurement error and statistical uncertainty are also present in all measurements. With a normal distribution, the tails of measured values may extend well beyond plus and minus three standard deviations from the process average. Appreciable portions of one (or both) tails might extend beyond the specified tolerance.

The choice of tolerances is also affected by the intended statistical sampling plan and its characteristics such as the Acceptable Quality Level. This relates to the question of whether tolerances must be extremely rigid (high confidence in 100% conformance) or whether some small percentage of being out-of-tolerance may sometimes be acceptable.

Genichi Taguchi and others have suggested that traditional two-sided tolerancing is analogous to "goal posts" in a football game: It implies that all data within those tolerances are equally acceptable. The alternative is that the best product has a measurement which is precisely on target. There is an increasing loss which is a function of the deviation or variability from the target value of any design parameter. The greater the deviation from target, the greater is the loss. This is described as the Taguchi loss function or quality loss function, and it is the key principle of an alternative system called inertial tolerancing.

For example, if a shaft with a nominal diameter of 10 mm is to have a sliding fit within a hole, the shaft might be specified with a tolerance range from 9.964 to 10 mm (i.e., a zero fundamental deviation, but a lower deviation of 0.036 mm) and the hole might be specified with a tolerance range from 10.04 mm to 10.076 mm (0.04 mm fundamental deviation and 0.076 mm upper deviation). This would provide a clearance fit of somewhere between 0.04 mm (largest shaft paired with the smallest hole, called the Maximum Material Condition - MMC) and 0.112 mm (smallest shaft paired with the largest hole, Least Material Condition - LMC). In this case the size of the tolerance range for both the shaft and hole is chosen to be the same (0.036 mm), meaning that both components have the same International Tolerance grade but this need not be the case in general.

When designing mechanical components, a system of standardized tolerances called International Tolerance grades are often used. The standard (size) tolerances are divided into two categories: hole and shaft. They are labelled with a letter (capitals for holes and lowercase for shafts) and a number. For example: H7 (hole, tapped hole, or nut) and h7 (shaft or bolt). H7/h6 is a very common standard tolerance which gives a tight fit. The tolerances work in such a way that for a hole H7 means that the hole should be made slightly larger than the base dimension (in this case for an ISO fit 10+0.015-0, meaning that it may be up to 0.015 mm larger than the base dimension, and 0 mm smaller). The actual amount bigger/smaller depends on the base dimension. For a shaft of the same size, h6 would mean 10+0-0.009, which means the shaft may be as small as 0.009 mm smaller than the base dimension and 0 mm larger. This method of standard tolerances is also known as Limits and Fits and can be found in ISO 286-1:2010 (Link to ISO catalog).

Many commercially available resistors and capacitors of standard types, and some small inductors, are often marked with coloured bands to indicate their value and the tolerance. High-precision components of non-standard values may have numerical information printed on them.

In civil engineering, clearance refers to the difference between the loading gauge and the structure gauge in the case of railroad cars or trams, or the difference between the size of any vehicle and the width/height doors, the width/height of an overpass or the diameter of a tunnel as well as the air draft under a bridge, the width of a lock or diameter of a tunnel in the case of watercraft. In addition there is the difference between the deep draft and the stream bed or sea bed of a waterway.