There are two main delivery methods when it comes to calibration of instruments, no matter what industry it relates to. In-house calibration refers to the process of a company choosing to perform calibration on their own. They may have engineers who are trained in calibration who can properly adjust the necessary instruments. Outsourced calibration refers to a third-party laboratory that specializes in calibrating instruments. Ideally, the labs are certified and accredited, a company can send their instruments for calibration. There are pros- and cons- to each method, especially depending on the specific needs of a company.
Choosing between in-house and outsourced calibration relies on how much money you are willing to invest in the instrument, what your use of the instrument will be, how often the manufacturer recommends calibrating the instrument, whether you need the instrument calibrated to a standard and whether you have employees trained in calibrating instruments.
Improper calibration, or lack of calibration, can lead to enormous risks in and out of the workplace. There are a couple reasons why an instrument may not be performing correctly.
There is always a specified time for calibration from the manufacturer of an instrument. Often time’s calibration is recommended every six months, but could be more or less depending on the instrument. When an instrument has gone a prolonged amount of time without calibration, the data retrieved from the instrument is not reliable. Keeping a record of each calibration and when it needs it again can mitigate these risks.
There is a specific calibration accuracy that an instrument is manufactured at. If a manufacturer specifies an instrument’s accuracy at ±5%, the instrument cannot be calibrated to work at an accuracy of ±1%. Using the instrument as if it does give that type of accuracy can incur severe risks.
Just as not calibrating your instrument on time can throw off data, so can over calibrating your instrument. The manufacturer sets a standard calibration time for a reason and calibrating your instrument too often can risk throwing it off.
For every instrument there is a right and wrong way to calibrate. Depending on what type of instrument it is, in-house engineers might not be familiar with the item they are calibrating. Especially in risk-sensitive fields like health sciences or aerospace and defense, incorrectly calibrating an instrument can have severe consequences.
Putting an instrument into any of the above scenarios can carry risks to the customer or a workplace. For instruments that are used within the workplace, an improper calibration can lead to increased scrap, expenses and reduced productivity. For instruments that impact items produced for clients, improper calibration can lead to defects resulting in recalls and risk to the customer’s well-being.
There is a fine line between cost saving and costly for in-house calibration. If the company already has a lot of functions necessary to perform calibrations in place, it will be an easy transition. However, performing calibrations isn’t just a few twists of the knobs.
The costs of setting up an in-house calibration lab are not cheap. Some items that need to be considered before jumping into this endeavor are employee training, lab equipment and the facility. Not just anyone can calibrate instruments properly. Many employees of third-party calibration labs are certified and are aware of industry regulations. Either employees of a company will need to trained, or outside workers will need to be hired to properly calibrate these instruments. Further, calibration equipment and the facility, although it could be a one-time cost, are pricey.
Estimates for the costs of starting-up a calibration lab are well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. To first buy all of the calibration equipment, it is estimated the cost will be about $250,000. The cost of training and hiring the employees to work in and run the calibration lab is estimated to be around $100,000. Annually, it will cost around $75,000 to run the lab. Not included in these costs is the amount it takes to create a climate-controlled lab.
Depending on the route taken when setting up an in-house calibration lab, time can either be saved or many, many hours wasted. If training current employees in proper calibration, time is a huge factor. Often times, many instruments will need to be calibrated on a regular schedule. This means that 10 to 20 instruments will all be due for calibration at the same time. When employees are focused on getting through the daunting task of calibrating these instruments, they will be putting off their other daily tasks.
When deciding on whether to set-up in-house calibration at a company, weighing the pros- and cons- is helpful. Is it worth it to put the time and money into training employees and purchasing equipment? Can the laboratory keep up with accreditation and industry standards? Are many of these functions already in place?
For some companies, in-house calibration is not an option. Without the correct setup and employees to perform the calibration, there is no way to ensure the calibration was done properly. Now, with outsourced calibration, there are a few factors to consider in choosing a laboratory.
An outsourced calibration lab should be accredited from a recognized body. This ensures that the calibration will be performed to an industry standard. ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out a calibration and testing. The type of accreditation is voluntary, which shows that the lab is paying attention to quality management.
Every industry has different regulation’s they need to follow. Whether it is meeting the standard of the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Aviation Administration, a calibration lab should be aware of and follow those regulations. Further, the calibration lab itself should be meeting the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) regulations.
A proper calibration lab should give documentation and certification of the calibration of an instrument. This not only ensures that the instrument was properly calibrated, but is an identifier for record keeping within a company. Since calibrations should be performed within a certain time frames, these certifications can be kept to inform the company of when their next calibration is due.
Sending instruments out to a certified and accredited lab guarantees quality assurance. The employees working at a calibration lab have solely been trained to do this work, whereas, an in-house calibration lab may have employees focusing their time and energy across multiple tasks. When searching for a calibration lab, doing in-house visits of their facility can ensure that the lab is doing a job that is reliable. If upon stepping into the lab instruments, papers and other items are strewn across the lab, this may be a red flag that the work done there will not be up to quality standards. A proper lab should be organized and every item should have its own place.
When deciding between in-house and outsourced calibration, it is all dependent on the company itself. A small company with a few items each to be calibrated would not benefit from doing in-house calibrations. By the time employees are trained and paid for their work, calibration equipment is purchased and a lab has been fitted to have climate control, the company can be well in over its head in a $500,000 project. It may be at least 12 years before a return or break-even point is reached on that investment. On the other hand, a large company that has enough to invest in the project and enough instruments to justify building an in-house lab may find the project well worth it.
If a company cannot justify building an in-house calibration lab, it is important that an accredited and quality calibration lab is chosen for the job. The calibration lab should be ISO/IEC 17025 accredited, the lab should be able to meet the regulation standards for the instrument’s industry, be able to provide documentation of the instrument’s calibration and have a quality lab that is organized.