» TRaC Global – In defence of testing
06 March, 2015
In order for any business to survive or indeed thrive in the modern commercial environment, it is important that its products or services do exactly what they say on the tin. In many industries, such as healthcare, defence and aerospace, the reliability and interference-free performance of equipment can be a matter of life or death. But how can government, industry, customers and ultimately users have confidence in the performance of products and services in rapidly developing industries? The answer, increasingly, is accreditation.
Under EU legislation, each Member State has a single National Accreditation Body (NAB), to carry out the independent third-party assessment of organisations that offer conformity assessment services; namely testing, calibration, inspection and certification. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) has been the UK’s NAB since its formation in 1995. Its role is to check that conformity assessment services are meeting a required standard of performance. By effectively checking the checkers, the process of accreditation determines in the public interest the technical competence and integrity of companies offering these assessment services.
Receiving UKAS accreditation over 30 years ago, TRaC Global is a leading testing and certification group and has a team of nearly 200 experts operating out of six UKAS accredited facilities across the UK. With a well established track record in defence and aerospace industries, the company also offers its electrical testing and certification services to a wide range of industry sectors including automotive, medical, electrical, marine, energy and rail.
Whilst there are many types of tests that can be performed in the defence and aerospace sector, arguably the two most important are environmental testing and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing. Based on mechanical engineering, environmental testing examines the ability of a product to withstand the environment within which it has to be operated, stored or transported. EMC testing looks at the effect a product has on the environment around it. EMC is a two-fold requirement - it determines whether a product or system generates electronic noise which could interfere with other electronic equipment and secondly, ensures that it is going to work satisfactorily in that environment. Taken together in this context, the tests aim to ensure that equipment can operate properly in extremes of temperature, humidity and pressure whilst not adversely affecting the numerous items of electronic equipment used for communications, navigation etc.
Flying high: the benefits of accreditation
ISO/IEC 17025:2005 is the international standard to which all testing laboratories testing can be accredited against. Additionally, there are many other sector and application specific standards, particularly those relating to the testing of military, aerospace and automotive applications, which can be accredited by UKAS.
Mark Heaven, CEO of TRaC Global explains, “Being UKAS accredited to the international ISO 17025:2005 standard is often a contractual requirement for testing work in the aerospace and defence industries. Even where it is not mandated, TRaC views accreditation as an investment in the business rather than a cost of doing it. Demonstrating to an independent body that we’re successful at meeting the requirements of international accreditation standards gains us credibility, both within our industry and to prospective and existing customers.”
Regardless of the industry sector, operating environment or regulatory regime, using accredited testing services can confer many benefits on customers, as Mark adds. “Testing is nothing to be scared of. If anything it should be embraced and integrated as early as possible into the process of making kit better, safer and more cost-effective. Working with us early in the design stage through our Early Stage Qualification® (ESQ) service can help to bring products to the market quickly and successfully for lowest cost.”
Mark continues, “Holding UKAS accreditation instils trust and our customers know that the results generated are technically accurate and reliable. This also has the knock on effect of giving our customers the confidence that a product will perform as expected. Additionally, it helps to minimise the time and expense of the audit process, as using a UKAS accredited company means that they are receiving the most appropriate service for their needs.”
Navigating different national regulatory regimes can be a stumbling block for UK companies, especially when dealing with testing and inspection requirements in a global supply chain. However, owing to a series of multilateral agreements, the standards used for accredited assessment are internationally recognised in 135 different economies. With such a diverse international base, this ‘tested once accepted everywhere’ approach has been of particular benefit to TRaC Global’s customers, as Mark emphasises. “Accreditation reduces the cost of global compliance for customers, since the test results are accepted in many countries. This is significantly more efficient than having to test multiple times for different markets.”
Benefiting the bottom line
The recent ‘Economics of Accreditation’ report conducted by researchers from Birkbeck, University of London, assessed accreditation’s financial contribution to the UK economy at over £600m per annum. UKAS accreditation is also an integral part of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) strategy for the UK.
Rather than being simply an exercise in box ticking or meeting industry requirements, becoming accredited can confer many benefits on the business itself. These include providing evidence of best practice and increases in internal efficiency, as Mark concludes. “The process of accreditation helps organise a business to structure itself in a way that ensures that measurements and tests are performed in the correct manner consistently, with the underlying procedures and documentation in place to provide a vital audit trail.”
* Case Study cover image: © Crown copyright Royal Air Force Chinook and Army Air Corps Apache Helicopters