Other Dimensions: Cut Calibration Costs

In a previous column I railed against corporate cost cutting strategies where the only element taken into consideration was the money involved. The fallout from decisions made in such isolated circumstances will not be immediately evident, while the savings will be. But when the chickens come home to roost, the costs to put things right often exceed the savings many times over.

It never seems to enter the minds of those who think exclusively in monetary terms that they may not be comparing apples to apples-probably because they wouldn’t know how. An example of this is comparing Lab A prices to Lab B prices for certain work. The fact that one may be better equipped than the other or has proper accreditation where the other has none also won’t enter into the calculations. And when the measurement uncertainty of one compared to the other is significantly different, the subject becomes too complicated for the uninitiated.

Some industries take the approach that everyone has fat that can be trimmed to reduce costs, and 5% or even 10% price reductions in each subsequent year of a contact are built in. This saves the purchaser some money and continues until the supplier goes into bankruptcy or realizes that working for nothing is something even accountants will advise is not worth doing.

Despite these issues, there are some ways you can reduce costs when it comes to calibration without putting quality at risk.

One method of reducing costs for gage and instrument calibration is to reduce the amount that is done. A review of the history for each item may reveal that it hasn’t changed significantly over the past few cycles and is well within your acceptable criteria range. Instead of repeating the same cycle time over and over, you have justification for extending the cycle-all other factors being equal.

Many fixed-limit gages are dimensionally stable over long periods of time, and that means if they haven’t been used between cycles, they don’t need to be calibrated as frequently. You can set up a system to take advantage of this quite cheaply. Place a calibration sticker around the plug gage members so they have to be removed to use the gage. When the calendar says it’s time for calibration, you don’t calibrate those with intact stickers. Since this application of stickers is merely to indicate whether the gage has been used or not, they don’t need to be filled out in the usual way. You may wish to have an inspection stamp or signature on them if the stickers are readily available in your facility. Some companies use plastic dip to not only protect the gages in storage but as an indicator of the gages being used, as it must be peeled off to do so.

Using this system, when a gage comes up for calibration but hasn’t been used, a simple entry on the gage record indicates this and a new date is put on the calibration sticker for that item.

You may have a number of gages or instruments that you realize will probably not be used for some time. Reduce your costs by taking them out of the normal calibration cycle and quarantine them.

If you don’t have a secure place to physically do so, you can achieve the same end by attaching

“calibrate before use” stickers on them. As an added precaution, remove any stickers from their last calibration so if they end up being used, the absence of the usual sticker will indicate what has happened. For this to work, all employees who may use such equipment have to be reminded that no sticker means the item can’t be used.

If stickers don’t turn you on for this process, coat part of the critical surfaces with nail polish, the wilder the better (yes, you can use nail polish with the sparkly bits in it to jazz things up). Using this method, it’s easy to spot a shocking pink gage when it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Nail polish remover will clean the gage up when it has to be calibrated.

I don’t think the old saying about being “penny wise and pound foolish” only referred to money. Some of the pounds involved may be what you’ll be stuck in if you are penny foolish with some cost cutting measures.

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Charles J. Hellier has been active in the technology of nondestructive testing and related quality and inspection fields since 1957. Here he talks with Quality's managing editor, Michelle Bangert, about the importance of training.
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