Unique Ideas and Advice about Weighing and Scales

Guidelines to External Calibration Services Management

by Isaac Olijslager

For companies that decide to outsource calibration services to an external provider, the following are important guidelines to managing the process of acquiring and retaining the right service provider. This typically falls under the scope of the Quality Manager's job (QM), who works in consultation with senior management.

Steps to Competitive bidding when sourcing for providers

The four main issues that come out when considering external service providers include cost, traceability, performance on delivery and accreditation. For most organizations, competitive bidding is the best way to weigh potential providers' compliance on these issues. However the process must be run in accordance with accepted standards for high-end services, i.e. the lowest bidder is not necessarily the best option.

1. Dissemination of bid qualification documentation

The kind of documents you need depends on your line of business and which standards you subscribe to. For instance, businesses that must comply with ISO/TS 16949 should hire calibration providers that have ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. The QM must remain current on these requirements, since they are frequently changed and updated.

Accreditation should be required as a pre-qualification condition, given that delivery of accurate calibration is the main service and such accreditation proves that the potential service provider's technical abilities have been appraised by a qualified metrological body (which must be internationally or nationally recognized).

Accreditation should include evaluation of the technical proficiency of both lab and personnel as well as the scope of accreditation. You can also ask for both positive and negative references to gain an objective understanding of the kind of service they will deliver.

2. Document submission

The potential calibration services providers should provide their procedure manuals and quality manuals in addition to their uncertainty budget. Together, these describe the provider's top performance capability or BMC, which is the smallest degree of uncertainty associated with specific measurements with near-perfect conditions and equipment.

You should also ask for the model certificates you will receive following accreditation, and these should have the logo of your provider's accrediting body. Finally, potential providers should submit proof of workers' compensation and liability insurance for their employees while on your premises.

3. On-site appraisal

This is less important where the calibration services provider is already accredited by recognized accrediting bodies. Develop an illustrative sample of your scales/equipment to be serviced by the provider and then audit the provider's procedures in calibrating them. For consistency and comparison, use the same sample to appraise all providers.

Bonus tip: Cost

Cost is rightly placed as the least significant consideration, though your top management may not agree with that. As the QM, your evaluation report should feature the most important pros and cons for the top providers, culminating in your rankings and recommendations of the top three contenders. Submit supporting documents should they be needed.