Monday, November 11, 2013

Choosing a Calibration Provider

If you’re a building product manufacturer implementing or working within an internal quality assurance program, you’ve come across the term “calibration,” and you know there are a lot of calibration service providers out there.

Before addressing what to look for in a calibration service provider, I’d like to define calibration in greater detail. According to The Quality Calibration Handbook: Developing and Managing a Calibration Program by Jay. L. Bucher, calibration is “the process of verifying the capability and performance of an item of measuring and test equipment by comparison totraceable measurement standards. Calibration is performed with the item being calibrated in its normal operating configuration — as the normal operator would use it. The calibration process uses traceable external stimuli, measurement standards or artifacts as needed to verify the performance. Calibration provides assurance that the instrument is capable of making measurements to its performance specification when it is correctly used.”
The critical requirement for any calibration service is that it be traceable to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards. According to NIST, traceability can be defined as “an unbroken record of documentation (documentation traceability) or an unbroken chain of measurements and associated uncertainties (metrological traceability).”
 The item’s final measurement will have traceability to NIST standards if the following conditions are met:
o   The maintenance of an unbroken chain of measurements back to NIST standards.
o   Each step of the chain has known and documented measurement uncertainties.
o   There is a quality system to ensure the item and the associated measurement equipment maintain their measurement uncertainty and accuracy.
As noted in NIST’s definition, measurement uncertainty plays an important role in traceability. However, it’s a complex topic that would require another blog to explain, so I recommend you check out this handy quick guide from NPL for more information.
If your provider doesn’t claim traceability to NIST, then their measurements can’t be related to measurements made with equipment that is traceable, and the measurement loses meaning.
Sometimes the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) can provide calibration services. If their work is traceable, using their services is a good way to go: they know the equipment, have spare parts on hand and usually have short turnaround times.
However, a third party or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) may require that only ISO 17025-accredited or nuclear-audited providers calibrate your equipment. In these cases, don’t hesitate to get recommendations from them. You can also post questions to a forum, as it’s possible someone has already asked the same question. I like elsmar.com/forum. Tap people in your LinkedIn network for recommendations and advice, too.
When considering calibration providers, look beyond cost to quality and customer service. Keep in mind the adage “you get what you pay for.” Be upfront about what you expect the calibration provider to do, and put it in writing. A quality calibration lab will have the expertise and service to assist you in filling in your knowledge gaps.
If you have a lot of equipment requiring calibration, consider a larger calibration provider that’s willing to take on some of the administrative work or provide quantity discounts in return for the guaranteed revenue.
Calibration can be a complicated and complex process; however, a good service provider can help simplify and lessen your burden.
If you’re seeking a calibration provider, here are a few examples of providers with broad scope calibrations:
o   Transcat
To find an accredited calibration laboratory for a specific type of equipment and/or location, use these search sites:
o   ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board: ACLASS and FQS Accredited Companies

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