Inspec Insights

Getting the Most Value For Your Calibration Dollar

Basing your calibration provider decision solely on price may result in hidden costs and the potential for quality issues to affect your product or service.  This article will explain some of the reasons why the lowest cost calibration service provider may not be the lowest total cost to your business.

Like many businesses, calibration service providers operate and compete based on profit margin.  The less time they spend calibrating an instrument, the less they need to charge, and the more competitive they appear to be on paper.

What is and isn’t included in a “low-cost” calibration (LCC)?
When LCC providers do not have the equipment or expertise to complete a comprehensive calibration, they may consider shortcuts.  These include “functional tests only” of certain parameters, the use of calibration standards that do not fully meet the requirements outlined in the calibration procedure or allowing inexperienced or partially- qualified technicians to perform the work.  LCC labs may also reduce calibration time and increase margins by “shortcutting” industry recommended procedures such as warm-up time.

Calibration providers should have the financial resources, technical expertise, and commitment to meet customer expectations and needs. When evaluating calibration labs, review their published ISO/IEC 17025 scope of accreditation and then contact them to fully understand their quality management system.  Have them explain their internal quality assurance program and what, if any, external assessments are made of the laboratory.  Other questions to ask include:

  • Does your calibration capability cover all of the equipment I need calibrated?
  • How do you determine appropriate standard substitutions when you do not have all of the calibration standards specified?
  • If you cannot service my equipment do you have access to other labs?
  • Do you have access to subject matter experts who can advise you on proper procedures?
  • How do you determine the calibration cycle of your laboratory standards?
  • Do you perform interim checks on your equipment?
  • How do you manage out-of-tolerance laboratory standards and what is the history of these incidents?
  • The provider should be prepared to fully review their technical capabilities and quality processes with their customers and the answers will help you determine if they have suitable process controls. 

The provider should be prepared to fully review their technical capabilities and quality processes with their customers and the answers will help you determine if they have suitable process controls.  LCC providers may not have complete answers for these questions and try to tell you why they aren’t important.

Why opt for comprehensive calibration procedures?
Comprehensive procedures specify uncertainty levels for calibration standards used as well as pre-calibration steps to ensure proper equipment operation.  They also define the required calibration points used to verify an instrument’s full range of operation.

A LCC service provider may only provide calibration to “face specifications,” or specifications found on an instrument’s marketing data sheet which usually offer only high and low values, enough to evaluate an instrument for purchase but not intended for calibration.

While there is currently no directive preventing the issuance of a calibration certificate using only “face specifications,” metrology professionals recognize that these types of procedures rarely test an instrument’s full capability or meet the customer’s full requirements to ensure manufacturing quality. To ensure a calibration service provider is using defined, comprehensive calibration procedures, ask the following questions:

  • Will you show me your calibration procedures and their source?
  • Does your quality policy provide assurance that these procedures will be used consistently?
  • How do your technicians select calibration procedures?
  • Are you able to provide full calibration data and accredited measurement uncertainties for all data points?

Hopefully these points will help you chose a supplier who can provide comprehensive, quality calibrations at a price that meets your budget and supports your manufacturing and inspection quality.

Inspec, Inc. is ISO/IEC 17025 accredited and has more than 26 year of calibration experience.  If you would like to discuss your calibration needs or any of the points listed please contact us.

Leave a comment