3 TIPS FOR ENSURING YOUR MEASUREMENT LAB IS QUALIFIED
Can you be confident in your measurement results?
There is no shortage of facilities that offer measurement services. The range of these services span many industries, technologies, and applications. Along with this range of services comes a range in experience, equipment, and qualifications. If you’re reading this post you are most likely already aware of what metrology is, and who some of these service providers are in your setting. What you may not be aware of is how to understand the qualifications of those providers.
Why is this important? If someone is interested* in building a part to specification they need to be confident that whoever is measuring to those specifications is competent, has the proper equipment, and that the measurement methods are valid, tested, and correct. It is very easy to innocently provide incorrect results because incorrect practices and methods were used. It’s even easier to purposely falsify results for the benefit of the manufacturer.
*some are not interested in building a part to specification and are simply looking to check a required box. Haven Metrology has been called countless times to verify results from other labs because those results weren’t adding up in some way.
Tip 1: Accreditation – ISO9001 Registration vs ISO17025 Accreditation
ISO is the International Organization of Standardization.
ISO9001 is a broad net. It allows a wide variety of organizations to utilize and comply with general ISO principles by specifying what its quality management system needs to look like. The benefit of this is to ensure that the company has well defined and organized processes and a continuous improvement system based upon a plan-do-check-act methodology. The ISO9001 standard helps organizations:
- Organize processes
- Improve the efficiency of processes
- Continually improve
ISO9001 is a foundation, but when it comes to calibration and testing laboratories there is a “next level” of accreditation.
ISO17025 is a tightened net. It is specifically and rigorously designed for calibration and testing laboratories. To have the IS017025 accreditation proves that the laboratory has:
- competent and qualified staff
- traceable, calibrated, and maintained equipment
- processes in place for handling and sampling of artifacts
- methods for ensuring validity of data
- development and continuous monitoring of measurement uncertainties
- proper reporting of results
Compliance with ISO17025 is not the same as ISO17025 accreditation! Just because one can drive does not mean they should. A lab in compliance without accreditation has no responsibility to maintain that compliance, follow any standards, or be tested against the rigors of said accreditation. There is no verifiable proof of this compliance. There is less skin in the game without the effort of obtaining and risk of losing this accreditation.
Tip 2: Diversity of Equipment – Does the equipment match the application?
There are some very clear benefits to having a variety of measurement equipment:
The most relevant benefit to our given topic of qualifications is cross testing. By having several types of qualified equipment, we can verify results with a different set of tools. At Haven Metrology we call this a “sanity check”. Is this feature really this far out of position? Could it be the equipment or a measurement method? Let’s verify this result with a completely different piece of equipment, software, and with someone else who can double check the method. We can also verify the accuracy of equipment against other pieces of equipment to test if it’s time for early calibration, or if one piece of equipment could be better for a certain application.
All of our equipment has strengths and weaknesses, just like car models. You wouldn’t use a Toyota Prius to tow a boat, and you wouldn’t use a Ford Superduty for the best gas mileage. In the same way, you wouldn’t use a Faro Arm for the highest possible accuracy, and you wouldn’t use a vision system for its portability. Further, the Faro Arm is the best way to acquire a lot of data very quickly while a vision system is the best way to measure 2D applications like bar codes, circuit boards, logos.
You would be hard pressed to find Haven Metrology measuring a large batch of parts with tight tolerances with a Faro Arm. Why? We have coordinate measuring machines that maintain much higher accuracy and can be programmed for automation. You’d also be hard pressed to find a temporary CMM set up in the middle of a shut down production line measuring the locations of assembled equipment. Why? Because 1) that would be silly and 2) that’s what Faro Arms are for!
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t then it’s good to have options.
Tip 3: Third Party – Are unbiased results being produced?
OEMs often require their suppliers to obtain third party certifications for fixture and part layouts. Why? Results must be unbiased. It would be far too easy for a supplier to produce an artifact, test that artifact in house, and falsify the data for their own purposes. This is another benefit of being an ISO17025 accredited lab. Reputation, accreditation, and liability is on the line when results are produced. Here are two scenarios Haven Metrology has experienced:
- We measured a part that had several dimensions out of specification. The report was provided to our customer. This customer then modified the results so that everything was in specification and passed this along to the OEM. Some time passed and we got a call from said OEM asking about the report. They said that the results don’t make sense for several reasons, so we opened up our report to discover very different results.
- A large percentage of our work is fixture certifications. We acquired a customer because of the following scenario: they sent a known out of spec fixture to a different measurement facility who provided a report that showed the fixture to be in spec. We measured the same fixture and provided accurate (out of spec) results.
The takeaway is this: compromising integrity for short term gains is not worth the possibility of losing customers, reputation, and our hard earned ISO17025 accreditation. Further, if you are using a third party lab, you may be required by your customer and/or a regulatory body to use a lab accredited to ISO17025. Most top-tier automotive, military, aerospace, and medical device manufacturers require this, often due to regulatory bodies like the FDA.
If you have any questions about this topic or Haven Metrology’s accreditations and services, please reach out by emailing or calling. All of our contact information is here.