Not All Calibration Services Are Equal

Materials testing equipment plays a critical role in the operation of many businesses. As such, having materials testing equipment regularly verified and calibrated to ensure it is operating within the proper parameters is critical to running a successful quality program and business.

Fortunately there are hundreds of companies that offer calibration services for materials testing equipment. But what they offer, or more importantly don’t offer, could be exposing your business to costly mistakes, lawsuits and lost sales. With the confusing array of calibration services available from so many companies a seemingly simple decision can become very complicated.

Price Is Not The Answer

All too often the decision to select a company for your testing equipment gets made by price.

  • “Company A costs less than Company B” so Company A is chosen.
  • “Company B costs more than Company A but they are the largest company in the industry so they know what they’re doing”.
  • “It’s not worth paying Company A to travel all the way out here when Company B does the same thing and they’re local”.

Sound familiar? But have you ever compared what Company A is doing versus Company B? What you’re getting for your money may be very surprising. The size of the calibrating firm and the fees they charge is rarely a good indicator of the quality of the service you are receiving.

  • Does the company complete preventative maintenance on the equipment and installed accessories?
  • Does the company assess the condition of the equipment you have before making any adjustments to it?
  • Does your company automatically adjust your calibration to more optimal levels even if it is already within tolerances?
  • Does the company provide any additional advice or recommendations for better performance?

It is not unusual to find companies that do most or all of these things for less money than those that do not offer them.

Preventative Maintenance

Surprisingly few companies actually provide meaningful preventative maintenance procedures or provide an extensive list of “action” items that have little or nothing to do with the accurate operation of the machine. Does your firm oil ball screws, check belt tension and oil levels on motors, replace mechanical parts such as bearings and washers, inspect the inside of gear boxes, check that cords aren’t able to be caught in moving parts, etc? A few examples:

  • Recently PTES was sent an electronic tensile tester to be repaired. The machine was being calibrated annually by an outside firm. The drive screws were so dry and clogged with debris that they actually “froze” in place leading to costly repairs.
  • A recent repair involving a Scott tensile tester was caused because the mechanical parts in the weigh head (which should get replaced every 12 months) had not been changed in nearly 7 years and had become so corroded that they were creating a drag of nearly 7 lbs on a 50 lb scale! Did the product certified on this machine really meet the customers specifications? A certification sticker from an outside calibration firm was on the machine and current!

As Found And As Left Checks

Most calibration companies have “levels” of calibration service. These services range from “standard” or “basic” services to fully accredited calibrations.  Many companies “standard” service involves single point checks of a force, not a range of forces as prescribed in most procedures. Just because you’re receiving a certificate in the mail doesn’t mean your equipment is being properly verified.

  • At a recent tensile tester calibration by PTES another company was observed completing a laboratory scale “verification”. The technician, from an ISO accredited company, was training another technician. They put a weight on the scale, completed the calibration menu on the scale, verified the same weight, put a sticker on the machine and left, all in under 5 minutes. Was the scale within tolerances when they started? Was the scale accurate throughout the entire capacity range? Was the scale level? There are significant implications for all of these questions.
  • Last year PTES was contracted to complete scale verifications for new equipment that had been purchased. The scales were accurate to about 50% of full scale but then a significant error was found. Ultimately it was determined that the shipping screws had not been removed when the scales had been purchased. A single point check like the one completed in the prior example above would not have found this. Substantial errors in the weights of compounds being used in the manufacturing process were occurring. Is a single point check really worth less money?

Advice And Guidance

Materials properties testing is a vast and highly segmented industry. Some calibrating firms are strictly limited to the procedural requirements of certifying a piece of equipment. Others have decades of experience with industry procedures, materials testing equipment, fixtures and other facets of your industry. Is that worth paying more for a calibration? Absolutely.

  • Can you pick up the phone and talk to the actual technician who works on your testing equipment? Do you pay for that service?
  • Is your technician familiar with your industry and the related test procedures? Does your technician know the common problems and pitfalls associated with your testing?
  • Does your calibration firm proactively remind you when certifications are due?
  • When was the last time your calibrating company came to you with suggestions for improving the performance of your equipment and/or processes without being asked to help?

Summary

Any reputable quality program involves regularly scheduled maintenance and calibrations of its materials testing equipment. Comprehensive, regularly scheduled calibrations of your equipment ensures it operates within tolerances and is reliable for many years to come. Compromises in this area lead to increased maintenance costs, machine down time, lost sales and lost customers.

As the new year approaches and quality budgets are finalized for 2012 be sure you select a calibrating firm that understands your business and is offering the right services at a competitive price.

PTES provides comprehensive maintenance and verification services for a wide variety of equipment. If you would like a more detailed explanation of the calibration services that PTES provides or a quote for your testing equipment please contact us at today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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