» Accreditation: The SMaRT way forward in testing and academia

05 December, 2016

Swansea Materials Research & Testing Ltd (SMaRT Ltd) is a specialised supplier of mechanical test data to industry and academia.  Established in 2009 as a spin out company by Swansea University, SMaRT’s three staff initially focused on the aerospace industry.  Today, the company has grown to encompass blue chip companies from the aerospace, power generation and petrochemicals industries, served by 12 staff from a purpose-built facility at the heart of the new Bay Campus.  It also has strong links with many leading UK universities.

The unique concept behind SMaRT is to house a commercial test house specialising in bespoke testing alongside an academic research facility that provides a holistic approach to the generation and interpretation of mechanical data.  This model is unique and is mutually beneficial for both parties as Colin Small, Chief Operating Officer at SMaRT explains: “The commercial test house can draw on the co-located academic expertise to develop and mature novel test methods and techniques.  Similarly, the academic team can perform mechanical testing in an accredited environment which makes the research data much more valuable to their sponsors as it has a certified pedigree.”

In addition to holding approval certificates from its main customers, SMaRT has been accredited by UKAS to ISO17025:2005 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, covering a range of tensile, creep, fatigue and crack propagation methods.  Outlining the importance of UKAS accreditation to SMaRT, Colin said: “Customers regard ISO 17025 accreditation as a critical factor in placing mechanical testing – without it they would not use SMaRT.  It assures them that the work is being carried out to recognised standards and that there are appropriate systems to manage, report and deliver the results in a timely and cost effective manner.  This also generates confidence that any bespoke forms of testing we design and perform are subject to the same overall quality system.”

Around 40% of SMaRT’s work falls directly under its scope of accreditation, whilst UKAS accreditation plays a role in attracting the remaining 60%.  In addition to being ’business critical’, the recognition and reputation offered by UKAS accreditation has been invaluable in developing both new customers and testing areas.  “Our major customers demand that we hold the appropriate ISO 17025 accreditation, so without it we would not gain their business.  It has opened doors to new customers, who have found us on the UKAS website when looking for test houses that can perform a particular test type.  Similarly, it has opened new opportunities with existing customers, since it is not unusual to find that there are other, more bespoke or unusual tests, that they are interested in and that SMaRT is uniquely placed to help design.  Our UKAS accreditation means that there is a recognised system for development of novel test types from initial idea through to commercial implementation which again gives the customer confidence that what is required can be controlled and delivered.”

Testing times

Far from being a one-off examination, UKAS accreditation is a continuous and robust assessment process operating over a four-year cycle.  Whilst this may initially appear to be an onerous or time consuming task, the long-term benefits to the company go beyond an increased customer base, to include how the company operates on a day to day basis.  Colin said: “The benefits of going through the accreditation process can take time to materialise, as there is a preconception of it being a challenge; accreditor versus the company.  However, this is only because you are so busy ‘getting ready’, drafting the necessary documents and systems, that you do not have enough time to stand back and absorb the lessons the process is teaching you.  Once you do recognise this need and review the outcome of the initial accreditation/follow up surveillance visits, you see how the lessons can be applied in their widest context and start making changes based on those outcomes.”

Amongst the benefits SMaRT derived from the accreditation process, the most important relate to improved efficiency and quality, as Colin explains.  “Accreditation forces you to look at your systems and practices, ensuring that they are streamlined and fit for purpose.  It also has a positive impact on the quality of your outputs as the better control means that you produce a higher quality output in a more-timely manner.”

Highlighting the important role that assessors can play in the accreditation process, Colin concluded, “The assessors have a wealth of experience and it pays to listen carefully to what they are saying during their visits.  Whilst they are not allowed to give you direct advice, what they say can often point to things you had not thought of that actually needed improving.”

 

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SMaRT Universal Laboratory 

 

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SMaRT testing thin sheet

 

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SMaRT creep lab