DIMENSIONS AND UNITS Dimensions and Units: A dimension is a property that can be measured, such as length, time, mass

, temperature, velocity (length/time). A unit is a mean of expressing a dimension, such as meters or feet for length, seconds or hours for time. Two of the most commonly systems of units are: 1. SI – Le Systeme Internationale d’Unites. 2. AE – American Engineering system of units. Fundamental (or basic) dimensions/units are those that can be measured independently such as mass, length, time and temperature. Derived dimensions/units are those that can be developed from the fundamental dimensions/units, such as area (m2 or ft2) or velocity (m/s or ft/s). A summary of fundamental and derived units in both the SI and the AE systems are listed in Tables 1 and 2.


Table 1: SI Units (Himmelblau & Riggs).


Table 2: AE Units (Himmelblau & Riggs).


Conversion of Units: An engineer has to be able to convert units from one system to another. The procedure is done by multiplying or dividing by conversion factors. The procedure described here is done by multiplying by 1. For example:
1in = 2.54 cm


1in =1 2.54 cm So, that 10 cm are: 1in 10 cm = 3.94 in 2.54 cm (3) (2)

Example 1.2 (H&R): Convert 400 in3/day to cm3/min.
400 in 3 ⎛ 2.54 cm ⎞ 1day 1 hr = 4.55 cm3/min (4) ⎜ ⎟ 1day ⎝ 1in ⎠ 24 hr 60 min


The gc Conversion Factor: In the past you used to write Newton’s second law of motion in the following wrong way:

F = ma


Where F is force, m is mass and a is the acceleration. However: N ≠ kg⋅m/s2. In order to make the equation dimensionally consistent, we introduce a conversion factor:
F= 1 ma gc


The force of 1 N is required to accelerate a mass of 1 kg at a rate of 1 m/s2. Therefore, in SI units the conversion factor is gc = 1 kg⋅m/N⋅s2. In the AE system gc = 32.2 lbm⋅ft/ lbf⋅s2. Most of the books do not place the gc in the equations. However, you will find out that this is essential, especially when working with the AE system.


Significant Figures: A measurement should include the following: (a) the magnitude of the variable being measured, (b) its units and (c) an estimate of its uncertainty.
When we have no idea of the accuracy of measurement we can do the following. For example, 1.43 indicates 1.43 ± 0.005, so the value can be between 1.425 and 1.435. Another interpretation is 1.43 ± 0.01. The numbers 81, 81.0 and 81.00 are different. The first one has 2 significant figures, the second one has 3 significant figures and the third one has 4 significant figures. The number 2300 has 2 significant figures and the number 23,040 has 4 significant figures. When we multiply or divide numbers, we should retain in the final answer the lowest number of significant figures among all the numbers involved. For example:
1.47 ⋅ 3.0926 = 4.54612 = 4.55



Consider the following example:
98 = 1.05365 = 1.1 93.01


If we follow the rule, the answer is a distortion of the true error. Since 98 ± 1 has an error of about 1% while the result 1.1 ± 0.1 has an error of about 10%. This time 1.05 may reflect a better answer. Avoid increasing the precision of your answer very much over the precision in your measurements. Also, use some common sense! When adding or subtracting, the number with the lowest decimal places will determine the number of digits in the solution. For example:
110.3 + 0.038 = 110.338 = 110.3


Finally, a rule of thumb for rounding off numbers in which the digit to be dropped is 5 is always to make the last digit an even number. For example:
1.35 → 1.4