Keeping your yardstick consistent

The demand for calibration from your CMMS product has increased dramatically in recent years, as competitive and regulatory pressures force manufacturers to become more vigilant about ensuring product quality.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

In searching for ways to differentiate their products, some CMMS vendors have enhanced their offerings to handle calibration of processes, equipment and instruments. The demand for this functionality has increased dramatically in recent years, as competitive and regulatory pressures force manufacturers to become more vigilant about ensuring product quality. In turn, product quality depends on maintaining a more consistent production process, as well as keeping the equipment used in the process working within an acceptable tolerance band.

Safety is another key driver that makes a calibration module desirable. For example, calibrating a process or asset used directly or indirectly in the process reduces the probability of accidents caused by asset failures, dangerous environmental conditions from processes or equipment drifting outside the normal range, and unsafe products being manufactured. This is especially important for industries such as nuclear power generation, mining, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, chemical and other highly-regulated industries, where consequences can range from lost productivity to serious accidents, loss of life, and heavy fines and jail time for those responsible.

Although many good standalone calibration software packages are available, all else being equal it’s preferable to have this functionality fully integrated into a CMMS. The additional CMMS features such as PM, condition monitoring, asset master, work order control, equipment history, mobile technology, analysis and reporting, and business intelligence features will then be seamlessly accessible. Because many CMMS calibration modules have functionality equal to or better than a standalone package, and because they can integrate with the CMMS, it’s not surprising that CMMS-based calibration modules have been warmly received by the user community within relevant industries.

There’s still a place, of course, for standalone calibration software. For example, industries where calibration isn’t as critical a requirement have no need to purchase a sophisticated CMMS-based calibration solution. Even if calibration is a key requirement, there might not be an integrated calibration module available for the CMMS package or version you’re running. Sometimes it’s cheaper simply to buy a standalone calibration package, or use an existing one instead of replacing your current CMMS with a new version that has calibration.

Calibration features

Some of the key features and functions in calibration software applications from a number of CMMS vendors are compared in the [i]Plant Services[i] 2006 CMMS/EAM Software Review. You can find this resource at http://www.plantservices.com/cmms_review. Calibration is the 27th of 30 “Software Aspects” and starts at Question #173a. When shopping around for calibration functionality, look for the following key features as compared in the review:

Asset Master is a master tabulation of assets or equipment specific to calibration instruments and loops, gauges, test equipment and tools, including instrument/loop hierarchy and location. The asset master should identify the owner as well as whether calibration is to be done in-house or by a contractor. Users must be able to enter a unique identifier (e.g., serial number), tombstone data, technical specifications and tolerance levels.

Supply chain management software should track parts, original equipment manufacturers and suppliers that are relevant to calibration instruments. In some cases, it might be important to have lot control for the parts, especially if there’s an expiration date or group warranty.

Test points are calibration points on the instrument’s span. Users should be able to enter and link test point specifications to calibration instruments. Usually, the OEM supplies test points. In some cases, the user must choose them. A guideline for some instruments is to take three test points — high, medium and low of scale. This typically corresponds to the common “10%, 50% and 90% of scale” rule. For example, a temperature indicator with a range of 0° to 100° will have test points at 10°, 50° and 90°.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be applied to calibration activities and assigned to the relevant calibration instrument(s). The SOP should identify standard or estimated labor, material, tools and outside services.

Preventive maintenance should drive calibration work orders. Users should be able to trigger PMs by date, meter reading, condition or event. The software should be able to calculate, schedule and track calibration due dates and cycles.

Kitting allows users to define the set of instruments needed to calibrate one or more assets or a process. The software should track kit issuances and handle batch calibration scheduling. A company may also require the software to handle charging out calibration instruments on an hourly basis.

Calibration results tracking, the heart of any calibration software application, is the ability to set up, enter, compare and track your calibration results, including calibration sequences, test point data, tolerances, process control limits, "as found" results, "as left" results, action taken and calibration status. Some packages also allow users to select a number of fields to record environmental conditions at the time of calibration, such as air pressure, humidity and temperature, that might affect the calibration results.

Status reporting should occur once calibration results are entered. Reporting should be based on tolerance/alert limits and the actual reading. Status examples include pass, fail and recalibrate.

Calibration standards are tools used to calibrate a given asset or process. Users should be able to record which standards were used during calibration. From time to time, calibration standards may need recalibration themselves, as recommended in the NBS Handbook 145, “Handbook for the Quality Assurance of Metrological Measurements.”

Mobile device technology can make it easier for some users to enter data and perform calibration inspections. Most modern calibration software applications accommodate this requirement, as well as providing remote access to work order attachments such as SOPs, drawings and MSDS literature.

Enhanced security can be important in highly regulated industries. Some calibration software vendors can enable electronic signatures for higher security levels.

Reporting is something that virtually every calibration software application can provide in numerous standard formats. Usually, these reports can be modified and saved as additional reports. As well, there’s usually a query function for extracting information on an [i]ad hoc[i] basis. The more popular standard reports include:

  • Calibration instrument inventory listing, which displays elements of the asset master such as type (instrument, loop or standard), test points, tombstone data and calibration requirements.
  • Calibration history for a given instrument/loop, which lists relevant work orders completed within a user-defined time frame.
  • Calibration backlog report, which shows outstanding calibration work orders that are overdue, currently scheduled and coming due.
  • Reverse traceability report showing work orders for assets calibrated by a given standard that was found to be out of tolerance, or where calibration test points deviate from the standard.
  • Traceability report providing the standards that were used to calibrate a given asset.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., at david@wmc.on.ca

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