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Non-Destructive Testing Laboratory Accreditation - Australian AdvancementsBrett Hyland, NDT Manager, NATA.
Accreditation of Non-destructive Testing laboratories in Australia is the responsibility of the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). NATA has implemented important advancements in recent times particularly in regard to a new Approved Signatory system and implementation of ISO 17025 - the International Standard for general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration bodies.
Keywords: NATA, Accreditation, ISO/IEC 17025, Signatory
The accreditation of non-destructive testing (NDT) laboratories in Australia is the responsibility of the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).
NATA was established over fifty years ago and has a key role in Australia's technical infrastructure as the national authority for accreditation of laboratories in a wide spectrum of technical fields, including NDT. NATA also accredits inspection bodies and this activity has a close relationship with NDT laboratory accreditation.
A number of significant advances in NDT laboratory accreditation have been implemented during 2000-2001. In addition, other aspects have been strengthened in order to enhance the foundations upon which confidence in Australia's non-destructive testing services is based. Recent developments include
and discussion of these forms the basis of this paper.
The new International (and Australian) Standard AS ISO/IEC 17025-1999 "General Requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories" has been adopted by NATA as the basis for laboratory accreditation and all assessments undertaken after 1 September 2000 have been conducted to this standard.
NDT laboratories that comply with ISO/IEC 17025 will also be operating in accordance with the quality system standard ISO 9001:1994.
Management system and technical requirements are separated within the standard, however it can be stated that the overall requirements for laboratories' systems and procedures have become more extensive.
Personnel requirements encompass education, training, experience and skills of laboratory personnel, personnel certification, training needs, training programmes, job descriptions and authorization of personnel to perform particular laboratory operations.
Validation of methods such as non-standard methods and laboratory -developed methods, together with estimation of uncertainty of measurement represent strengthened technical requirements. In regard to uncertainty, NATA's Non-destructive Testing Accreditation Advisory Committee (NDTAAC) is currently considering the difficult question of application of uncertainty to non-destructive tests. The NDTAAC is developing guidance material for circulation to NDT laboratories, although it is acknowledged that it may be a considerable time before NATA can be fully definitive with regard to uncertainty.
All accredited laboratories, including NDT laboratories were provided with a copy of NATA's new Accreditation Requirements (NAR).
The NAR contains, amongst other items, a copy of ISO/IEC 17025, together with supplementary requirements for the field of testing concerned. In NDT, the supplementary requirements amplify or explain individual 17025 clauses, as well as detail the technical requirements for each test method, calibration intervals and classes of non-destructive tests.
Assessors have also been provided with assessor resource kits.
A checklist is available for laboratories to assist them in checking their compliance to ISO/IEC 17025, and can be downloaded from the NATA website (www.NATA.asn.au).
A "Help Kit" has additionally been provided to help laboratories implement the 2000 Criteria for Signatory Approval as well as ISO/IEC 17025 requirements. The "Help Kit" contains a series of checklists as follows.
In November 2000, NATA circulated to member NDT laboratories its Policy Circular No 4, "Non-destructive Testing Signatory Approval" giving details of the (then) forthcoming changes in the NDT signatory approval system.
The two principal features of NATA's new signatory system, currently called the "2000 Criteria for Signatory Approval" are:
NDT laboratories continue to operate to the "old" signatory system until their scheduled re-assessment is undertaken, unless the change to the 2000 Criteria is specifically requested. Notwithstanding, qualifications (basically Level 2 qualifications or equivalent in each method) are required to be held by each approved signatory or NDT operator.
Qualification to AS3998[AS 3998-1992: Australian Standard Non-destructive testing-Qualification & Certification of personnel - General Engineering] Level 3, or equivalent, is required for each method for which signatory approval is sought. Tertiary qualifications in metallurgy, materials science or engineering will be accepted in lieu provided the Level 3 requirements for training and experience stipulated in AS 3998 or an equivalent standard are met.
AS 3998 Level 2, or equivalent, is generally speaking, the minimum qualification requirement for persons performing NDT tests and for those to whom signatory approval has been delegated.
Australian Institute for Non-destructive Testing (AINDT) qualifications obtained prior to introduction of AS 3998-based certification, current nationally recognised certifications (eg., PCN, CSWIP) etc and current nationally recognised in-house qualifications (eg., ASNT, AS 3669(Aerospace) are currently considered to be equivalent qualifications.
4.2 Signatory Approval Delegation
An approved signatory is a person within a laboratory to whom NATA has granted formal approval to sign reports bearing the NATA endorsement. This person assumes responsibility for the technical validity and accuracy of all information contained in a NATA-endorsed report.
Approved signatories are able to delegate their approval to personnel they supervise, provided that these personnel satisfy NATA's requirements for training, qualification and experience.
The laboratory must receive written approval from NATA before delegation can be commenced.
Also each laboratory delegating signatory approval must have documented and implemented an in-house proficiency testing programme. All persons who have been delegated signatory approval must be included in the programme. The programme's extent is determined by the scope of work undertaken by a laboratory. Routine or repetitive work as undertaken by a laboratory attached to a manufacturing facility, would typically require a proficiency test programme which was less diverse than the programme for a public testing service.
Detailed records of a delegate's training, qualification/certification and experience, together with details of each delegation are required to be kept by the laboratory and made available to NATA upon request. A process to monitor the appropriateness of signatory delegation in each laboratory is in place, and appropriate penalties for non-conformance will be enforced.
Delegation of signatory approval provides for greater flexibility of a laboratory's operation. Laboratories are able to use delegated signatories on non-destructive testing tasks within their established competencies to suit work requirements without obtaining specific authorization from the Association. The number of signatory interviews will be greatly reduced, with a corresponding reduction in NATA's administrative procedures. This will, in turn, reduce costs to laboratories, as signatory interviews are chargeable.
The assessment process also benefits. The new requirements offer the opportunity to reduce the time spent in personnel interviews and to increase the witnessing and assessing of actual tests being carried out.
One significant development is the mandatory requirement for qualifications to be held by approved signatories and NDT operators in all main test methods. As previously mentioned, AS 3998 level 3 qualifications, or equivalent are required for approved signatories, and level 2 for persons performing radiographic, ultrasonic, magnetic particle, dye penetrant and eddy current tests. Whilst most radiographic or ultrasonic testing personnel were already qualified in these methods, this certainly was not the case for magnetic particle or dye penetrant operators. A phase-in period was allowed; however after 31 January 2001 qualification/certification was required for all approved signatories and operators involved in these tests.
As a result, there was an upsurge of applications to AINDT for certification in these methods during late 2000 and in examination activity, with a significant number of individuals gaining certification.
For each laboratory accredited for magnetic particle and/or dye penetrant testing, signatory approval has been continued for appropriately qualified personnel and has been withdrawn for those who are unqualified. There have been several cases in which individuals have subsequently gained certification and signatory approval has been reinstated.
These qualification requirements were well publicized beforehand, commencing with NATA's Circular" Non-Destructive Testing Requirements for Accreditation" of January 2000.
NATA's past practice has been to re-assess NDT laboratories at the nominated laboratory address at two-yearly intervals. However, NATA's new surveillance approach now incorporates, for the first time in NDT, mandatory visits to work sites and also provides the flexibility to independently schedule the various assessment components:-
A signatory system visit to evaluate and monitor the signatory delegation system and/or a work site visit to view and appraise actual work performed at one or more work sites can now be conducted either as part of the routine reassessment of a laboratory or as independent visits, depending on the circumstances of the laboratory or upon constraints on assessor availability.
Laboratories necessitating additional visits (involving any combination of the various assessment components) during the two year period are charged accordingly.
The separation of the several components of an assessment better enables NATA technical assessors to concentrate their efforts towards the technical aspects of re-assessments and job-site assessments as well as providing greater flexibility in structuring NATA's contact with laboratories.
NATA is also addressing the difficulty of assessor availability. It is frequent for NATA staff officers when arranging assessments to be informed by the laboratory concerned that commercial conflict exists with regard to assessors from another public testing service. We are currently taking steps to overcome this barrier and to convince laboratories to be more flexible in accepting assessors from potential competitors.
An active proficiency testing programme within each laboratory is a key activity which underpins the developments already mentioned.
As mentioned earlier, an in-house proficiency testing programme must have been implemented before a laboratory may commence delegation of signatory approval. Details such as the scope and relevance of the programme, the test specimens used, their degree of difficulty and their verification, the marking scheme and any corrective actions found to be necessary will be evaluated initially and monitored during assessments.
Additionally, NATA aims to conduct a "round robin" proficiency test programme annually. Each programme involves all laboratories which are accredited for the class of test concerned. NATA's programmes are conducted by its Proficiency Testing Group, and this group provides programmes in all fields of testing. The NDT Accreditation Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisers provide essential inputs. Technical advisers are usually (but not necessarily) members of the NDT AAC, with particular expertise in the test method being used in the programme.
A radiography proficiency testing programme is being conducted this year, and is nearing completion. In this test, each laboratory is provided with a welded carbon steel test plate, requested to radiograph it and report the results to NATA. Participants are instructed to treat it as a routine job, and test, record, and report it in accordance with nominated test method and application standards.
Each participating laboratory is provided with the results of its test within two weeks of NATA receiving the radiograph, worksheet and report. An overall report will be prepared and issued to all participants at the conclusion of the programme.
Corrective action (including an additional test) is required when an unsatisfactory result is received.
The test plate supplied to each laboratory has been randomly selected from a number of available plates. The advantage of NATA's proficiency test programme is that each plate is tested by a number of laboratories, thereby enabling comparisons to be made in regard to the results obtained. The disadvantage is that typically 4 to 5 months are required to circulate the test plates around laboratories. The programme is conducted in each state in turn. There is also logistics concerns and transport costs as the plates have to be circulated from State to State throughout Australia.
A modest charge is levied on participants to cover costs - in this case the fee for each laboratory is $280.
Results to date from the current radiographic testing proficiency program will be presented at the conference.
NATA operates a well-established program for the accreditation of NDT laboratories and is always striving to enhance the technical basis that underpins NDT accreditation. NATA is mindful that NDT is frequently a critical component of substantial engineering projects throughout Australia.
From the recent advancements described in this paper, it can be seen that NDT laboratories in Australia and the users of such services have a strong basis for confidence in the accreditation scheme operated by NATA.
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