Building for the Future
ASTM International's Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory's new headquarters in Frederick, Md., is a metaphor for the organization as a whole. In the move, CCRL and the AASHTO1 Materials Reference Laboratory took what had been an empty warehouse building and transformed the interior into something completely different, a building that houses modern offices, new laboratories and a modern proficiency sample production facility. Like the outer shell of this building, CCRL has the same mission as when it was first created in 1929 by ASTM's Committee C01 on Cement: to improve the quality of construction materials testing. But just as the inside of the new headquarters building bears no resemblance to the empty warehouse it was at this time last year, the CCRL of today goes far beyond what its founders ever envisioned for the organization in 1929.
Looking at the mission, CCRL increases the quality of construction materials testing by providing programs and services that individual laboratories can use to differentiate themselves from less qualified competitors and that specifiers can use to find laboratories that can truly provide the testing capabilities they need to support construction projects.
Specifiers can be government agencies at the federal, state and local levels or private engineering consultants that work on major construction projects. These agencies and firms base important, and sometimes career-defining, decisions on the assumption that test results accurately describe the materials under test. The CCRL programs are often used as part of their strategy to choose qualified laboratories that will provide materials testing in support of construction projects. Engineers and designers count on test results being accurate so that the materials used in such projects are more than adequate to support building or highway design specifications.
CCRL's core programs are the Laboratory Inspection Program and the Proficiency Sample Program. Originally created to improve the quality of cement testing, these programs now cover many other materials, including concrete, concrete aggregates, blended cements, masonry mortar, steel reinforcing bars, concrete masonry units and pozzolans. The programs that originally provided service to a small number of cement producers and testing laboratories now serve nearly 2,000 laboratories located around the globe.
The CCRL LIP provides direct evidence of a laboratory's ability to perform ASTM test methods. CCRL visits the laboratory to evaluate its performance of these standards by witnessing demonstrations of all test procedures, examining the equipment used to perform those procedures in detail and assessing the laboratory's quality system. CCRL uses meticulously detailed worksheets based on current ASTM standards and notes every deviation from the standards in a formal report that is sent to the laboratory shortly after the inspection visit.
The CCRL LIP has a reputation for its thoroughness, attention to detail and unbiased nature. The respect that specifiers have for CCRL means that an LIP report has value and meaning. The latest laboratory inspection tour (CCRL's 34th, comprised of one circuit of all laboratories inspected by CCRL) included over 2,100 inspections at more than 1,300 laboratories.
The CCRL Proficiency Sample Program provides participating laboratories with the opportunity to compare their results with those of other laboratories by testing samples of the same material. CCRL obtains and homogenizes representative material, packages the material into samples and ships the samples to participating laboratories with instructions for testing. The statistical analysis performed on test results returned by the laboratories results in the generation of a summary report of findings that is sent to participating laboratories.
Proficiency samples currently distributed by CCRL (and the number of participating laboratories) are: portland cement (280), blended cement (110), masonry cement (70), concrete (1,375), pozzolans (100), concrete masonry units (190), steel reinforcing bars (125) and masonry mortar (45). Currently, more than 1,500 laboratories participate in one or more of CCRL's Proficiency Sample Programs, including laboratories in 38 countries outside the United States.
The users of CCRL programs include material producers, government agencies and accrediting bodies, in addition to testing laboratories, standards developers and researchers. The quality control laboratories in most cement plants in the United States choose to be inspected by CCRL. Several state agencies, including the California Division of the State Architect and the Massachusetts Building Code Commission, require laboratories in their jurisdiction that test cement and concrete to ASTM standards to be inspected by CCRL. While CCRL does not accredit or certify laboratories, several accrediting bodies rely on CCRL and require that laboratories they accredit participate in the CCRL Laboratory Inspection and Proficiency Sample Programs.
The AASHTO Accreditation Program exclusively bases its accreditation on participation in the CCRL programs for those areas covered by the CCRL LIP. As of Jan. 31, nearly 1,600 laboratories were accredited by AAP, including more than 1,200 in areas covered by the CCRL programs.
Laboratory accreditation goes beyond the demonstration of a lab's ability to incorporate a quality system. Quality is a continuous process that does not start or stop when an inspector enters or leaves the laboratory. Laboratories that are accredited, whether by AAP or other bodies, must demonstrate that a system is in place to maintain quality. The CCRL programs are a tool used by laboratories as part of an overall quality strategy.
Why does quality in construction materials testing matter? Good materials testing leads to good test results, which themselves result in better information used in construction design and in turn leads to better designs and ultimately better highways and buildings for improved public safety and security.
CCRL, in the construction materials field, has been part of the national quality picture for more than 80 years and will continue to modernize and improve its services to meet its customers' needs. No one imagined in 1929 that CCRL, which at the time served 208 laboratories, would grow to serve nearly 2,000 laboratories worldwide. The CCRL that only inspected cement testing laboratories now inspects more than 1,300 laboratories that test a variety of construction materials and sends more than 9,000 proficiency samples all over the world.
CCRL has changed because its customers' needs have changed. Just as CCRL took an empty warehouse shell and transformed it to meet the organization's needs, so will CCRL focus on its mission, to improve the quality of construction materials testing, and continually transform itself to meet the future needs of its customers, the members of ASTM, the international construction industry and the public it serves.
1. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.Steven E. Lenker, P.E., is the director of the Construction Materials Reference Laboratories in Frederick, Md., which includes both the ASTM CCRL and the AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory.
ASTM's Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory and the AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory celebrated the move to a new headquarters in Frederick, Md., with an open house on Jan. 27.
Speaking at the event were Steven Lenker, director, AMRL and CCRL\; James Thomas, president, ASTM International\; John Horsley, executive director, AASHTO\; Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.\; and C. Paul Smith, Frederick County commissioner.