For most operations and maintenance departments, precision calibration of measurement equipment is a necessary evil. It’s time consuming and requires a great deal of paperwork. But when that inspector comes around, either from the FDA, ISO or another governing body, and you can produce all the required certs and answer all their questions, you’ll know it was money well spent.
However, not all metrology and calibration companies are created equal. Some are the real deal: measurement professionals who take pride in what they do and provide a high quality service and value for money. Others are fly-by-night operators who work out of their homes with outdated calibration standards. You might be asking yourself, how do I find the best calibration services provider for my operation? Here are 10 questions to ask so you can tell the difference, and ensure you are are working with the best.
1. Are they ISO17025 accredited? Just like ISO9001 for manufacturing industries, ISO17025 is the standard that all measurement companies should adhere to. It certifies that the lab in question is technically competent and can produce precise and accurate calibration data. 17025 also demonstrates that they have a robust system to ensure the quality of their processes and measurements. A2LA, A Class and LAB are examples of accreditation bodies and a quality calibration provider will display their seal.
2. Can they calibrate more than just scales and balances? Production requires all sorts of equipment to be used: ovens, micrometers, pressure gages, torque testers and much more. Labs require even more specialized equipment with even higher resolution, allowing them to detect incredibly small differences in measurement. Make sure that not only your calibration provider can do all your equipment to its full capacity, but that they are accredited for it. If they calibrate it and it’s not in their scope, your certificate isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
3. Can they come onsite and perform the calibrations at your location? It’s much faster and less complicated if all your equipment is calibrated at your site. There is no need for backup tools to cover when a piece of equipment is sent out for calibration. Obviously, in order to do the work, the calibration company must have the right equipment with them, not always a given. Also, onsite work requires accreditation that can travel outside the lab, as well as hefty insurance to cover in the event of a mistake or accident. Look for at least $5 million here.
4. Do they understand tanks and liquid measurement? From incoming raw materials, to batching and blending, to bottling and packaging, liquids need to be measured in a variety of industries. Calibrating tank systems and other liquid measurement devices is not always straightforward, however. Is your provider testing all the way to full capacity? Are they doing a build-up test to ensure linearity? Load cells, all the way up to 100,000 lbs. can also be pre-calibrated in a lab prior to installation, which might be an option.
5. Do they know how to deal with and operate in hazardous areas? Nasty chemicals that have the potential to explode can be a factor in many industries, as are corrosive ingredients and cleaners. All hazardous areas require extra PPE, special training and a healthy dose of common sense. The risks in these areas are high but your calibration provider should not compound them.
6. Can they track all your assets and calibrations in one place? Anyone who’s prepped for an audit knows that half the battle can be just locating the equipment in the first place. Calibration companies can offer online asset tracking and certification access as part of their normal service. This provides 24/7 location information and PDFs of your certs when and where you need it.
7. Can they design custom solutions when you need it? Sometimes the standard calibration just doesn’t work – you may not have enough space to hang weights or can’t shut the line down. Does your calibration provider have an engineering department who can work with you to design something specific for your application? These engineering groups can also provide innovative, customized measurement solutions for applications where off-the-shelf won’t work.
8. Do they understand process control systems? Can they calibrate within them or design new ones, if needed? Like hazardous areas, process control systems are a fact of life in production. Calibrating equipment within the system requires a more advanced knowledge of how each piece fits into the larger picture. Get it wrong and the whole system can shut down, impacting productivity.
9. Do they have rapid response times? You’re losing money when your line goes down or is not accurate. Do they have the same sense of urgency to get it back up and running that you do? Can they assess the issue and fix the problem the first time? Anything less is not acceptable.
10. Are they world class in all parts of their operation? Not just their technicians on site but their office staff, accounting department and accounts receivable. Are their invoices accurate? Little things like a wrong invoice or a scheduler who doesn’t help you right away can cause more headaches than you need.
Regular, accurate calibrations are a necessary part of research and production. Choosing a world-class provider can not only ensure compliance, but also protect your bottom line.