Invest in Your Lab



Cicely Enright

How laboratory accreditation and ASTM proficiency programs help you maintain excellence in testing.

Accreditation can make a difference. It's a distinction that recognizes your laboratory's capability. It's a distinction that can affect your business success. And it may also be required, such as by the state of California for school construction and U.S. state highway departments for infrastructure. For laboratories that test construction materials or consumer products, accreditation validates service quality.

ASTM's Proficiency Testing Program and its Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory enable labs worldwide to achieve a required component of accreditation: documentation of the evaluation and monitoring of their service capabilities.

"Proficiency testing allows the management of the lab to determine how its laboratory performs in correlation to other labs on a global scale. Additionally, results can be submitted to your accreditation body, which allows labs to maintain their certification," says Barbara Snowden, manager, fuels and lubrication, CMS Labs, Clark Testing, Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania, and a member of Committee D02 on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels and Lubricants.

Connecting Testing and Accreditation

Meeting accreditation requirements shows that a lab excels at its services: measuring slump in a concrete sample, quantifying sulfur in gasoline, determining the strength of yarn or thread, and so on. Providing these services rests on the staff's ability to run tests reliably, handle samples appropriately, calibrate and maintain test equipment, and produce accurate, meaningful results.

An advantage for both a laboratory and its customers, accreditation is more than a one-time check of equipment, personnel and test performance. It's a process with regular visits to check on lab capabilities and quality systems.

Accreditation bodies require quality assurance through regular lab participation in proficiency testing. ASTM's Proficiency Testing Program and the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory provide just that.

"The proficiency sample programs are part of accreditation," says Steven E. Lenker, P.E., director of the Construction Materials Reference Laboratories in Frederick, Maryland, which includes both CCRL and the AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) Materials Reference Laboratory. "Accreditation is meant to be an ongoing thing, and it doesn't end at the inspection. For example, if you're a lab, you would also test proficiency samples, and if you have poor results you'd be required to investigate that and find out why. You're required to have a quality system that you use to manage your testing and that's the difference between somebody pursing accreditation and somebody just getting the inspection."

"An accrediting organization wants to know that a lab is monitoring and checking its quality. That mechanism is provided by proficiency testing programs," says Timothy Brooke, vice president of certification, training and proficiency testing, ASTM.

ASTM's Proficiency Testing Program

ASTM's Proficiency Testing Program offers more than 50 statistical quality assurance programs for laboratories to assess their performance in conducting test methods. A complete list of programs as well as program information can be found online.

Laboratories around the world participate in PTP - half of its 4,650 units of participation are located outside the United States. The program counts units of participation because a corporation may have more than one internal lab running different tests.

Formed more than two decades ago by ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels and Lubricants, PTP today includes aviation fuel, gasoline, biodiesel, oils and greases among others in its close to 30 offerings for the oil and gas industry alone. PTP also runs programs in plastics, metals and textiles.

The aviation turbine fuel (Jet A) program, for example, distributes fuel samples to more than 300 labs in March and then again in July and November. Labs run more than 30 tests on those samples for such properties as acidity, flash point and freeze point, hydrocarbons, sulfur and viscosity.

After the labs submit their results to ASTM, the results are coded for confidentiality, and statistical summary reports are prepared for all participants. The reports include results, test data statistical analysis, charts plotting test results versus laboratory code and more.

The Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory Programs

ASTM's CCRL, which traces its roots to the Cement Reference Laboratory established in 1929, runs both proficiency testing and laboratory inspection programs for more than 2,000 labs worldwide. ASTM Committees C01 on Cement and C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates oversee CCRL operations through a joint subcommittee, and its services help meet accreditation requirements of, for example, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Accreditation Program (see sidebar).

CCRL's mission, says Lenker, is to increase the quality of construction materials testing. "That's what we're really here for," he says. "Any program we do is oriented that way - otherwise we don't do it."

The CCRL proficiency testing programs cover cements, concrete, masonry (mortar and units), pozzolan and steel reinforcing bar. Participating labs run one or two rounds of testing each year according to specified ASTM standards and submit results to CCRL. From the resulting data, reports are distributed that contain statistical information and ratings that show how the lab performed.

The CCRL inspection program, using equipment in what is essentially a mobile measurement laboratory, sends inspectors to evaluate labs first-hand. They check equipment dimensions and operations, watch a technician demonstrate test procedures and review the quality system. Results provide a lab with a measure of its overall performance. "That's what is submitted to the AASHTO accreditation program," says Lenker. "That's what the decision is based on, whether or not to accredit a lab."

For More Information

To learn more about the ASTM PTP and CCRL, check their websites: www.astm.org/STATQA and www.ccrl.us.

Please contact ASTM sales for multiple site subscriptions and pricing of these programs (tel +1.877.909.ASTM).

If you're interested in a new PTP or a custom program, please contact Steve Hepburn, ASTM director of the PTP program (tel +1.610.832.9688).

Accreditation and CCRL

U.S. federal requirements call for state highway agencies to maintain accreditation with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or AASHTO. "These requirements assure that Departments of Transportation have a high level of competence when testing materials for acceptance on transportation projects," says James A. Williams, P.E., assistant chief engineer – operations for the Department of Transportation, Jackson, Mississippi.

According to Williams, as part of his department's lab accreditation, it participates in both the AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory and the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory Proficiency Sample Program. "MDOT uses the results to take an internal look at the quality of the work within the laboratory for the purpose of continual improvement. The AMRL and CCRL proficiency sample programs fill a very important role within our quality management program for the laboratory; they need to show consistent and repeatable test results."

The AASHTO accreditation program serves labs that test all sorts of construction materials, from asphalt and aggregate to cement and masonry, iron and steel. Close to 1,800 labs are accredited by the program. "We don't know of any that are larger than that for construction materials," says Steven E. Lenker, P.E., director of the Construction Materials Reference Laboratories in Frederick, Maryland.

Labs can be accredited for more than 650 AASHTO, ASTM and state standards through the AASHTO Accreditation Program. The accreditation criteria involves on-site assessment and quality management system evaluation as well as personnel qualification and proficiency testing, with a process that checks each facet of the lab's operations.

According to Lenker, U.S. federal aid projects require that testing be done by an accredited lab; many states also have that requirement. He adds that accreditation helps ensure that labs testing materials for schools or highways have met this standard of quality.

"The programs leave nothing to chance," says Williams. "When an owner specifies that the testing for a project be conducted by an AASHTO accredited laboratory, there is confidence that the test results were produced by a high quality laboratory with the utmost in professional integrity."

March/April
2015
Industry Sectors: 
Construction
Consumer Products
Metals & Materials
Quality
Transportation