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Setting the standards for a world class fuels laboratory

Setting the standards for a world class fuels laboratory
What is quality? The Oxford dictionary defines quality as “The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something”.

For a fuel testing laboratory there are many aspects to the quality of the lab and the results that it produces. Most of us will be familiar to some degree with the ISO management certificates, such as ISO 9000 quality management system, ISO 14000 environmental management system and OHSAS 18001 health and safety management system.

These certifications should be and have become standard for any well run testing laboratory in as much they are a basic ticket to trade in a global setting. For testing laboratories however there is an additional laboratory specific standard; ISO 17025 which outlines the general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

In order to meet the requirements for ISO 17025 it is not good enough just to do what you say you do. A lab must demonstrate technical competence and be running the appropriate method for the appropriate material or substance being tested. Within ISO 17025 a lab can elect to only accredit one test parameter or many parameters in order to obtain accreditation. However, it would be expected that a lab should at least accredit the methods in relation to the ISO 8217 fuel standard.

A thorough training program should be in place for technicians, chemists and management alike to ensure adequate familiarity with the test methodology, instrumentation and calibration, and routine maintenance requirements. Knowledge of industry best practices will be kept up-to-date with continuing further education. In addition, in a world-class lab it would be expected that the implications of the results and any deviations, from the standards such as ISO 8217, for the end user would be well understood. The close-knit relationship between laboratory and technical departments marry the best of both chemists and marine engineers.

For a lab to meet the requirements, a robust quality control system needs to be in place. Ideally this should consist of a mix of random and routine checks on both instrumentation and technicians. In addition, a lab should be part of a proficiency testing program such as American Society Testing and Materials (ASTM) or Institute for Inter-laboratory Studies (IIS) which will allow the lab to benchmark its test results against the other labs in the industry.

The desire of the quality system to demonstrate continuous improvement in quality should also relate to investment in the latest technology, testing techniques and methods such as GC/MS and FTIR and research into to test method improvement in combination with the testing instrument manufacturers.

Active participation in the industry bodies involved in method development should be a given. Organizations such as ASTM, IP and ISO are all actively involved in method development and hold regular meetings where the opportunity is given to propose amendments and change to methods and further support improvements using the latest technology or techniques. These platforms and others such as the International Association for the Stability and Handling of Liquid Fuels (IASH) allow the lab to stay up-to-date and current with testing methods and fuel issues.

Investment in R&D will also be expected, this can relate to method development and also technical trouble shooting i.e. supporting clients when problems with fuels arise that cannot be explained by the routine ISO 8217 parameters. Over the years this has meant new methods such as screening for polymeric material or using FTIR and GCMS for chemical contamination have had to be developed and enhanced as new issues have arisen.

As far as the labs go the ISO 14000 certification, albeit not the only means, will demonstrate that a lab is committed to the environment and will treat and dispose of its emissions/waste in an environmentally safe and sustainable manner to the best of its abilities whilst remaining in compliance with any local regulations or requirements. OSHAS 18001 will ensure that the labs operate in safe manner and provide their employees with the necessary personal protection equipment training on the risks and that the lab is safe place to work.

In summary then a world-class lab should be ISO certified and accredited and demonstrate an active commitment to improvement to its technical competence.

Contributed by Martin Verle is service director, testing at Veritas Petroleum Services