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The AMRC Advanced Structural Testing Centre and Microscopy Laboratory (AMRC Testing Laboratories) is part of The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC). Employing over 450 people, the AMRC is a world class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies. The techniques developed are applied across a broad spectrum of high value industry sectors, ranging from aerospace, automotive, rail and marine to construction, power generation, medical, and even the sports sector. With one eye on the future, the AMRC’s specialist training centre educates more than 400 apprentices, who are employed by a range of advanced manufacturers. The AMRC with Boeing is the first organisation of its kind to structure its research activities around a commercially recognised Quality Management System.
Like many testing laboratories wishing to demonstrate its competence, the AMRC has gained UKAS accreditation against the internationally recognised ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 standard. The vast majority of ISO 17025 accreditations granted by UKAS are ‘fixed scope’, where the test method, equipment and materials are all specified on the schedule of accreditation. Any tests performed by the laboratory outside of these parameters fall outside the scope of that laboratory’s accreditation. As most laboratories carry out a wide range of tests, it is not uncommon for a laboratory to have several different and separate testing procedures specified on its schedule of accreditation.
Accreditation – your flexible friend.
Whilst adopting the tactic of multiple fixed scope accreditations suits the majority of testing laboratories, the AMRC has taken an alternative approach. It is the only structural testing facility within a UK university to hold ISO 17025 accreditation with a ‘flexible scope’. This enables the AMRC to establish new and amended test methods, modify existing methods and include newly revised or technically equivalent method, covering a range of fatigue, tensile and compressive force and pressure testing. The AMRC also holds accreditation for hardness, metallurgy and mechanical tests.
Being in this unique position is of vital importance to the AMRC, as Mr Phil Spiers, Head of AMRC Testing Laboratories explains: “The ‘flexible scope’ of our accreditation is key to the operation of the labs at the AMRC. The nature of our research means we constantly come into contact with materials, methods and designs that have never been tested before, so the ability to devise, define and agree test methods to prove efficacy is key to our business. The flexible nature of our scope means that clients with previously untested new materials, methods of manufacturing and designs can be confident that the testing methods we develop will provide accurate, repeatable results. These can then be used to assess and prove the capabilities of their product.”
Having confidence in the accuracy of results is a vital component in the highly innovative research and development sector. UKAS accredited testing gives customers the necessary confidence to move forward with product development, as Mr Spiers highlights: “Accreditation is the independent assessment that demonstrates that we, as a test house and laboratory, do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Many companies that have their own testing capability come to the AMRC labs for testing because they need the specific backing of UKAS accredited testing to market their products.”
As part of the government backed High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), the AMRC helps companies of all sizes take new technologies from the concept or laboratory stage to a point where they can be proven in operating conditions and environments. Mr Spiers said: “With each increase in the technology readiness level of the HVMC, the burden of proof and attention to detail increases. At the same time, the process for achieving accuracy, repeatability and reproducibility must be fully transparent. UKAS accreditation sets us apart from our competitors, making it easy for our partners to prove to their auditors and regulatory bodies that the data reported is true, accurate and traceable back to internationally recognised standards.”
The confidence derived from using UKAS accredited testing services can, in turn, be passed on to clients, their clients and so on down the industry chain. Mr Spiers continues: “Accreditation means the results we provide are independent, credible and transferable. They are a statement of fact as to what occurred during a test campaign. Holding UKAS accreditation enables our clients to prove to their customers that quality testing had been conducted on their products.”
Going through the accreditation process can involve a lot of hard work, but in addition to benefitting clients, it can have positive internal effects on the company itself, including its culture. Mr Spiers concluded: “Accreditation is the outcome of a philosophy – we do things correctly because we have pride in our work, because it is important and because, ultimately lives could depend on the test we perform and the results we supply. Accreditation provides a framework that we, as a team, can hang our own personal and corporate philosophies on. For us, it is not just about the yearly visit; it has prompted us to set up processes and procedures to guarantee that whatever we are testing throughout the year, it is done so to the highest quality requirements that our auditors would expect to see when they come for assessment.”