As a scientist, a large part of your job is to minimize variability. The process of calibration—which is adjusting and validating the accuracy of measuring instruments and/or equipment to ensure they provide accurate and reliable results—is crucial to achieving this. Data integrity relies on careful calibration to achieve accurate measurements.
How to make calibrations work for you
Calibration oftentimes gets pegged as an endless endeavor of investigation, growing more complex as you add more parameters. One of the most important decisions is whether to perform it offsite or onsite. The choice depends on various factors, including the type of instruments, the industry requirements, the availability of resources, and the level of accuracy. These are some of the pros and cons of onsite and offsite calibration to consider.
Pros and cons of offsite calibration
1. Used for exceptional cases
Sending probes out for calibration is necessary for special cases where it may be unsafe to bring the calibration equipment to the probe’s operating environment, such as with radioactive or biohazardous materials that can pose risks to personnel, the environment, and the public. By sending probes to a specialized external facility for calibration, the risks associated with handling such hazardous materials in-house are minimized.
Continuous particle counters form another case benefiting from offsite calibration. They measure the concentration of airborne particles in an environment, such as dust, smoke, pollen, and other particulates, by drawing air through a sampling inlet and detection chamber. Owning and maintaining this equipment is expensive and requires expertise that only a few people at a calibration site possess. For this reason, most particle counters need to be calibrated in a special facility.
2. Ideal for sending large volumes of equipment
If you have many sensors to calibrate, sending them to larger facilities with the capacity to expedite high-volume requests saves you valuable time and resources. Documentation is also provided that show the results, any adjustments made, and standards used. These documents can be used to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements, quality standards, and customer specifications.
1. Potential for damage during transit
Probes can be damaged during transit, which can lead to inaccurate calibration and costly repairs. It can result in:
- Calibration drift
- Additional costs for insurance and liability
- Downtime and delay
- Lack of immediate feedback
- Reduced control over the process
It is important to carefully consider these factors and take appropriate measures to mitigate the risks associated with shipping probes or instruments for calibration.
2. Inaccurate calibration due to environmental differences
Environmental differences between the calibration facility and the Onsite location can reduce the effectiveness of the calibration. Changes in altitude or atmospheric pressure can also impact instrument performance, and calibrations not performed under similar pressure conditions may not be accurate within their typical operating environment.
Calibration is to be as accurate as possible in the situation the equipment and/or sensors are used.
3. Risk of delays
There is always a risk of delays during transit, which can result in equipment downtime and lost productivity. Delays in send-off and shipping can significantly deter the arrival of your properly calibrated probes. Processing times at calibration facilities vary. Internal and external communication can also present challenges causing delays in operation, especially on a global scale.
4. Logistical challenges
Offsite calibration requires the probe or instrument to be removed from its installed location and shipped to a calibration facility. This process involves uninstalling, packing, shipping, and then re-installing the probe or instrument once it has been calibrated and returned. Depending on the size and complexity of the instrument, this may require additional time, effort, and resources, increasing downtime for the instrument. Essentially, offsite calibration involves hands-on work that can backlog other more pressing tasks for your team.
Replacement probes will be needed for probes sent offsite, resulting in double the probes and double the upfront costs.
Another aspect to consider is administrative:
- If you remove sensor 1 from device A, and you install sensor 2 to device A, how will you accurately track this?
- Another potential source of manual error can occur when sensor 1 returns from calibration and is installed in device B.
- Multiplying this by all sensors and devices in the lab emphasizes the logistical challenges of adding a second sensor to the calibration process.
Summary: Offsite calibration presents costly challenges
Offsite calibration requires the customer to manage the shipping and logistics of their equipment, which can add time and cost. There is also a risk of damage or loss of equipment during shipping, which can result in further delays and expenses. Offsite calibration can also create uncertainty about the accuracy of calibration. In short, offsite calibration is difficult to manage and potentially more costly.
Pros and cons of calibrating onsite
1. Calibration is done in context, increasing real-life accuracy
Onsite calibration allows for calibration to be performed in the exact environment where the sensor is used. This means that the calibration is done in the same temperature, humidity, pressure, and other environmental conditions that the equipment will be exposed to during its normal operation. This contextual accuracy can lead to more accurate calibration results, minimizing potential discrepancies between calibration and actual usage conditions.
2. Reacts in real time
Onsite calibration allows for real-time values or discrepancies found during calibration. With Onsite calibration, any deviations or inaccuracies in equipment measurements or readings can be quickly detected and corrected or documented in real-time. This allows for immediate feedback on the accuracy and reliability of the equipment, and adjustments can be made promptly to ensure accurate results. This is especially important in critical applications where accurate measurements are essential for maintaining quality, safety, or compliance.
3. Better control over the calibration process
Onsite calibration allows for better control over the administrative calibration process, such as using the "four-eye principle" and uploading real-time offset data into environmental monitoring systems (EMS) or the customer quality system. The four-eye principle in the administrative process for calibration involves at least two individuals independently reviewing and verifying the calibration process and results. It contributes to increased accuracy, improved quality control, enhanced accountability, reduced bias and fraud, and compliance with standards. However, it's important to ensure that the individuals involved are properly trained, qualified, and follow established procedures and standards to ensure effectiveness. With XiltriX, the SafetyNet team will log offsets in the EMS to help you keep an eye on your critical lab assets.
1. Onsite calibration isn’t possible for all sensor types
Onsite calibration may not be possible for certain types of sensors requiring specialized calibration equipment or facilities. Some sensors may have technical limitations that do not allow for onsite set up or require very specific certifications to be deemed properly calibrated by industry standards.
2. Equipment must be made available for the calibration specialist
Onsite calibration requires the equipment to be made available to the calibration specialist, which could result in equipment downtime and lost productivity. A calibration specialist will prepare upfront any information about the equipment, assist with equipment setup or disassembly, and address any questions or concerns that may arise during the calibration process. It’s important to be proactive with the calibration process and loop in all affected parties early in the process. This ensures the team is aligned on daily tasks and scientists are prepared for the calibration process.
3. Delays are still possible
Calibration is out of your hands, so factors such as availability of the calibration specialist, and logistical and operational delays can all play a part in extending the process of proper calibration.
Summary: Onsite calibration results in better accuracy
Onsite calibration can increase accuracy because it allows for the calibration process to be performed in the equipment's actual operating environment. Onsite calibration can also be more efficient, as it eliminates the need for shipping and reduces downtime for the equipment. With the XiltriX SafetyNet team helping to manage the process, it takes stress off the lab manager's shoulders, allowing them to focus on other tasks. Onsite calibration also allows for the "four-eye principle," where two qualified technicians are present to ensure that the calibration is performed accurately and consistently.
Calibration on- and offsite both have their pros and cons. Sending out probes is ideal for special cases, but can result in inaccurate calibration, delays, and logistical challenges. Onsite calibration increases real-life accuracy, allows for real-time changes, and ensures more consistency. However, this may not be possible for all types of sensors and can result in equipment downtime and longer calibration times.
Organizations need to make an informed decision based on their specific needs and circumstances while ensuring accurate and reliable calibration results. Proper evaluation and careful consideration of factors including cost, accuracy, equipment accessibility, time considerations, regulatory compliance, and organizational capabilities can help organizations choose the most suitable calibration option that aligns with their requirements, resources, and quality standards.
Ultimately, calibrating onsite is often a better option for cost-effectiveness, time-saving, and resources, as well as ensuring your calibration process complies with your SOPs. As a scientist, the most important factor in your decision-making is achieving accuracy. Onsite calibration ensures more accurate measurements for improved data integrity and reduced variability.
Choose XiltriX and get high-quality sensors
XiltriX offers Monitoring-as-a-Service, which means they source, install, and maintain all the sensors needed to keep a pulse on your lab operations. In every situation, XiltriX provides built-to-purpose sensors that can be calibrated onsite ensuring higher accuracy. The XiltriX SafetyNet team works as an extension of your own team and coordinates directly with your staff to help manage the calibration process, log offsets, and make calibrating the EMS a breeze.