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Calibration explained – de-mystifying the world of traceability, accreditation and NATA scope
Q & A | Technical

If you use measurement equipment, regular calibration is essential to ensure that your devices are returning accurate and valid data. But calibration can be confusing – you’ll know that it’s important that calibration has ‘unbroken traceability to NMI’, but what exactly does that mean? Why is it important to have traceability and accreditation?  How frequently should you calibrate? At ECEFast, we work with a wide range of customers and equipment and are Australia’s leading calibration lab. It’s fair to say that we understand calibration better than most. So in this article, we’ll explore the world of calibration – clarifying meanings, busting some myths, and giving you the low-down to ensure that your equipment is doing the job you need it to do.


Why is calibration important?

If you’re going to measure temperature or humidity as part of your business process, you have to know that your readings are valid and accurate. You have to be able to rely 100% on your measurements, for:


  • Safety – for example in food safety and HACCP compliance, or in curing concrete for durable, resilient construction.
  • Quality – such as in the production of glass and plastics.
  • Consistency – so that you know that today’s product is the same as yesterday’s and tomorrow’s.
  • Risk management – reducing the risks to your clients and your own business.


Calibration tests your devices and ensures that they give the same readings as a reference device that is known to be accurate. It gives you confidence as a user of precision instrumentation that your readings are accurate.


Standards bodies

Standards bodies set the standards against which your device is calibrated. Standards bodies may be national or international. Australia’s peak measurements body is the National Measurements Institute (NMI), and equivalent bodies exist in many other countries. The recognised international body is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which despite the word ‘national’ in its name, and being part of the US Department of Commerce, provides internationally recognised and accepted standards.


Unbroken traceability to NMI/NIST

When calibrating measurement equipment, you will need to ensure that you have an ‘unbroken chain’ to a national or international standard. This means that your equipment either has to be calibrated directly by the standards body (known as primary calibration) or by a laboratory whose calibration instruments have been calibrated by the standards body (this is called secondary calibration). This primary and secondary calibration ensures the unbroken link back to the standards body.


NATA accreditation

Where NMI and NIST are standards bodies, NATA is an accreditation body. The standards body will calibrate a lab’s equipment, and NATA will assess its people, processes and equipment against the stringent requirements of the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation (testing and calibration laboratories).


NMI and NIST confirm that the equipment calibration is traceable to their standards. But NATA confirms that every aspect of the lab’s operation means that it is capable of running a calibration service. You may see the term ‘NATA traceable calibration’ but this is inaccurate,  incorrect, and misleading. Traceability can only be to a standards body, not an accreditation body.


Think of it like the difference between testing a car and testing the driver. The car might have a 5-star ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) safety rating, but just having a ‘safe’ car doesn’t mean that you will have a safe journey. The competence, knowledge and experience of the driver play an essential part in getting safely from A to B.  In the same vein, NMI/NIST confirms that the reference equipment is accurate, and NATA accreditation shows that the laboratory and its people are competent to run the calibration service.


Scope of NATA accreditation

When a lab goes through NATA accreditation, it registers the range of measurements for which it wants to be accredited and is assessed for this scope. This may not be the same thing as all the equipment it uses, so it’s important to be aware of the scope of the accreditation.

How frequently should you calibrate?

NATA has guidelines for how frequently each type of equipment should ideally be calibrated. It tends to range from every six months for some medical equipment, to every three years. ECEFast can point you to helpful information, but cannot provide advice or a detailed schedule. You’ll need to take into account the NATA guidelines, along with the application, the intensity of usage and the environment in which the equipment is being use – if you’re on a dusty dirty mine site, for example, it may need more frequent calibration than equipment used in a kitchen.

ECEFast’s calibration laboratory

ECEFast’s calibration laboratory offers the widest range of temperature and humidity calibrations in Australia. The laboratory has ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, and our entire company is accredited to the ISO 9001 quality standard. We are a secondary calibration lab, offering full traceability to NMI, NIST and some European standards, dependent on the country where the equipment is manufactured.

We have 15 engineers and calibration technicians, all very high quality and all accredited by NATA. They work in a strict hierarchy from being able to calibrate under supervision, then without supervision, then being able to sign off a calibration job and finally being able to train others.

We calibrate clients’ equipment in our Melbourne facility, or our engineers and technicians can run the calibration at your premises for large, non-portable equipment such as a cool room, warehouse, fridge/freezer, incubator, autoclave, oven or furnace, where the sensor is built into system.  All of which means that we can offer a one-stop shop for all your calibration requirements.

or non-frozen food, they use a probe (most food safety issues stem from the outer 10mm of the food) which uses Bluetooth to send the reading to the software. In the case of frozen food, where a probe cannot penetrate, they use a non-contact infra-red (IR) sensor to accurately capture the temperature. For food temperature monitoring, the software program can also be used to send reminders, ensuring that all checks are done on schedule.


The benefits of digital monitoring

For food production facilities of all types, the benefits of digital temperature management are significant:

  • Time saving – the average food business carrying out manual temperature checks spends 2-4 hours a day recording data. In a large facility it can be even longer. With digital temperature management, that time can be redirected into food preparation and customer service.
  • Elimination of human error and/or manipulation – manual systems are open to human error – a staff member forgetting a check, a mis-read of the temperature, or a mis-recording of the data. If a check is forgotten, a manual system is open to manipulation, with data being ‘backdated’.
  • Eliminates paper –manual temperature records generate an incredible amount of paper. Even in a small or medium facility, it’s estimated at 10,000 sheets per year – that generates a significant cost for storage and handling, and with each sheet taking 6-9 years to decompose, it carries an environmental burden too. Paper can also get lost or damaged. An electronic system eliminates paper, reducing cost, effort and environmental impact.
  • Reduced food waste – with all food and equipment at the right temperature, stock is protected, and food waste and lost inventory is reduced.
  • Real time visibility – automated electronic monitoring gives the food production facility an immediate view of all checks and any risks, and the opportunity to intervene early to stop a problem escalating.
  • Reduced risk – the facility can be sure that all the required checks have been done, reducing the likelihood of temperature related issues, unsafe food being served, insurance claims and loss of reputation. If a fridge/freezer door is accidentally left open, an automated alert reduces the risk of stock being spoiled. Electronic data can be kept secure, reducing the  risk of loss or corruption.
  • Compliance – with data captured and stored electronically, businesses can be sure they have all the records they need to comply with regulations.
  • Streamlined auditing – records can automatically be accessed and reviewed by auditors.
  • Reduced insurance premiums – by automating the process of temperature management, and therefore the risk, facilities may be eligible for lower insurance premiums.


Choosing the right temperature specialist partner

As we can see, the digitisation of temperature monitoring can be a game-changer for food production facilities, but it requires reliable, high quality thermometers and sensors, and a provider who can give you expert advice and service . ECEFast are experts in the provision and calibration of sensors that help food production facilities around Australia.


Digital temperature control in practice

Fast food, safe food

For one fast food chain, ECEFast provides a monitoring kit for almost 1000 stores. The kit consists of thermometers and probes which are used to monitor the temperature in fridges, of the oil in fryers, of the meat patties as they are cooked and of the ice-cream. The kit is refreshed periodically and calibrated every year. The ECEFast monitoring solution helps to ensure food safety and consistent quality.


Food safety in the air

ECEFast carried out a project with a leading airline, who were previously logging all their food production temperature records manually – generating enough paper to fill a truck every month! Not only did they want to reduce paper and save time, but they wanted to be able to link temperature records for each food item to the cart and the flight on which it would be served. ECEFast provided a solution that enabled the airline to automate the process, eliminate all paper records and track food safety data against cart and flight information.


Get in touch

If you’re battling with the time and cost of manual temperature checks;  if you’ve got a high level of food waste; or you want to eliminate paper from your food safety process and streamline your HACCP compliance, talk to the temperature monitoring and calibration experts at ECEFast.

ECEFast – temperature made simple.