I am involved right now in the fabrication of steel structures on the order of 5-50 feet long. Presently, we measure these structures with garden variety commercial tape measures. Most of the time, we work to a tolerance of about +/-1/16" and don't have any problems. Recently, we're trying to make some items to a very high tolerance (at least +/- 1/32", approaching 1/64" or .016") This tolerance is due to visual not mechanical criteria, but it is still very important to our management.
My question is, how can we reliably measure these sorts of distances with that level of precision? I'm prepared to order some NIST traceable tape measures, but it's not clear to me if they'll really improve the situation. Are there other technologies or techniques that could practically be applied in a fabrication setting? Are any surveying tools accurate enough to solve the problem? Cost is obviously a factor, but we're more concerned with repeatability and robustness than price.
I realize this tolerance will sound ridiculous to most, but I imagine that some other industries may have to perform similarly, perhaps large engines for ships or power plant components?