From pharmaceuticals to aerospace, accreditation plays a critical role when it comes to choosing where to calibrate your instruments.
Providing the underlying assurance that an organization is adhering to internationally recognized standards, accreditation is about demonstrating quality and competence.
But what does it mean to be an accredited laboratory? And how does it differ from standard labs?
To understand accreditation first means defining calibration.
Simply put, calibration involves comparing and documenting the measurement of a device to a traceable reference standard. Its origins trace as far back as 2700 BC and the Egyptian cubit, which was a standard measurement of length that workers referenced to build, with incredible accuracy, wonders of the world such as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Accreditation, meanwhile, involves a third-party authority formally recognizing a laboratory’s ability to meet certain standards and perform responsibilities that are within the scope of that accreditation. For example, Alpha Controls' lab in Markham, Ont., is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 (scope # 2260.01) by A2LA, or the American Association of Laboratory Accreditation.
(Note: Although they are sometimes used synonymously, accreditation is different from certification. The latter is used to verify labs can perform certain test methods and calibration parameters according to their scopes of accreditation.)
What does accreditation look like?
Accreditations such as ISO/IEC 17025 cover more than just the equipment. They look at management and quality systems, as well as technical competence for the scope of accreditation. In Alpha’s case, that’s includes temperature, humidity and dew point, pressure, electrical, particles and flow.
The initial accreditation process involves an advanced and/or in-person review of management system documentation, as well as on-site examinations of everything from sample handling processes and technical record reviews to interviews with technicians and observations of the tests being performed.
The quality manuals, specifically, are important as they need to cover all aspects of an accredited calibration, including that we follow the more stringent test methods and parameters established by standards such as ISO/IEC 17025.
Once accredited, laboratories such as Alpha’s then go through reassessments every two years. Officials from governing bodies such as A2LA re-evaluate technical competencies and quality manuals on rotating two-year cycles. The re-accreditation process also addresses any updates that might have occurred with the standards themselves, such as technical changes, vocabulary and developments in IT techniques.
Standard vs accredited calibration
It’s important to note that not all labs are accredited. For example, a non-accredited, or standard, calibration can be performed under a laboratory’s quality system, and not the standards and procedures that are part of ISO/IEC 17025.
A non-accredited calibration will still include a standard certificate that includes typical information such as the manufacturer, model/serial number, calibration date, next service date and a pass/fail grade.
However, it might not always align with the highest standard, and will likely not include additional requirements such as measurement data and uncertainty values. Both of these, which are part of Alpha’s accredited calibration process, are vital as they provide customers with a history of measurement trends of each piece of their equipment, as well as the necessary data to analyze the measurement results and accuracies. As a result, Alpha Controls' Primary Standards “calibrators” are traceable to the NMI (National Metrology Institute) NIST, NRC and others to provide to our customers the highest available accuracies that they require.
Working with an accredited lab
In addition to the above advantages, there are several other benefits to working with an accredited laboratory such as Alpha’s. We not only can prove we have the necessary structure and resources in place, but also the competence to consistently obtain accurate measurement results.
Let’s focus on the latter for a moment. Today’s calibration technology is advancing at a rapid pace. This means the testing equipment has never been more accurate. While a Test Uncertainty Ratio (TUR) of 4:1 – the comparison between the accuracy of the unit under testing and the estimated calibration uncertainty – used to be the sought-after standard, it’s becoming increasingly harder to achieve. In some cases, it’s lowering to 2:1 or even 1:1.
What’s this have to do with the difference between an accredited and non-accredited laboratory? While it puts all testing equipment on a similar playing field, the difference then comes down to the systems in place –and, most importantly, the technicians operating the equipment. In other words, just because a piece of equipment can calibrate doesn’t mean everyone knows how to do it.
Customers working with Alpha Controls have the added insurance that the calibration of their equipment is being performed by Certified Laboratory.
Accreditation is synonymous with both the quality and competence of an organization, based on international standard(s). Accreditation refers to the recognition given to an organization by an authoritative body such as A2LA. It is a process by which an authoritative body gives formal recognition that a Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) fulfills specified requirements and is competent to carry out specific tasks.
Accreditation is the most appropriate way to ensure an organization’s competence to perform a specified task. By encompassing the human element of the CAB, end-users can be sure that their data is accurate and dependable. A2LA is a third-party body that performs accreditations to various international standards, ensuring an unbiased and objective evaluation of your organization’s functions.
The goal of any calibration will always be to ensure your instruments are operating at consistently high levels of precision during the production processes. Reasonably, you need that calibration process to also align with the highest standards.
Accredited laboratories such as Alpha’s provide more than just peace of mind. We can be counted on to provide you with precise, trustworthy and recognized calibration services that mitigate risk in your operations.
Learn more about how Alpha Controls can solve your calibration needs. Contact us to reach one of our trained representatives today.