Two, three or four times a year, laboratories around the world check their performance with testing programs from ASTM International’s Proficiency Testing Program and the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory.
Using samples sent for a particular program cycle, labs run specific methods and submit their results to PTP and CCRL for analysis. Each lab then receives reports that serve as a quality control gauge of their performance and which can fulfill accreditation requirements.
Proficiency Testing Program
ASTM International’s PTP programs — from petroleum and oil (ASTM’s largest and longest-running programs) to plastics, textiles, flammability and more — offer statistical quality control tools used by laboratories worldwide. ASTM’s customer laboratories take in more than 4,300 units of participation from 89 countries.
For each program, samples are supplied by an outside contractor to participating laboratories according to a predetermined test cycle. The lab performs its regular ASTM methods and sends its results to PTP. After analysis, the data becomes part of statistical summary reports that ASTM prepares and sends out electronically to each and every participant.
Labs can meet accreditation requirements using the information, and participants can also monitor how they’re doing internally. The reports contain:
- Each participating laboratory’s test results, coded for confidentiality;
- Statistical analysis of test data;
- Charts plotting test results against laboratory code; and
- Other pertinent information.
Fred Boldt, TechPlas Consulting, Milford, Ohio, and an ASTM International member since 1993 who works on Committee D20 on Plastics, has been involved in developing PTPs and in oversight for PTP plastics programs, which use methods that characterize materials and yield technical information for producers and users. Boldt says that PTP participation has benefits: “Labs need to have some means of validating their data in comparison to their peers. Participation in a PTP provides a means of benchmarking a lab’s performance in this regard; it also provides a means of substantiating results in the event of disputes.”
Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory
ASTM International’s Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory, based in Frederick, Md., offers proficiency sample and laboratory inspection programs to facilities around the world.
Whether cement or concrete, masonry materials, pozzolan or steel reinforcing bar, CCRL proficiency programs begin with sample distributions for tests that participants run according to ASTM International standards. After the test laboratories run the procedure and submit their data, preliminary and then final reports go to the labs; the reports include average values and standard deviations plus scatter diagrams. As with PTP, the data gives participants a way to monitor performance, and about 1,600 laboratories globally take advantage of the opportunity.
Through the portland cement proficiency sample program, for example, chemical and physical test samples of Portland cement are shipped in July and January. Participating laboratories perform physical tests for air content, fineness, strength, expansion, setting time and more, and chemical tests, including silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and other oxides, loss on ignition and insoluble residue.
CCRL also offers a Laboratory Inspection Program. Through LIP, an inspector visits a facility to check all aspects of its operation — its procedures and practices, equipment and capabilities — and how the lab stacks up against ASTM International standards requirements. Using what could be considered a mobile measurement lab, the inspector looks at critical equipment dimensions and operations; watches a technician demonstrate test procedures and reviews the quality system. The most recent LIP circuit included inspections at more than 1,300 laboratories.