Q: Firstly, congratulations! We’ve previously discussed our quality system and how our state-of-the-art laboratory sits at the heart of our operations in Saint-Eustache, but what does the ISO 17025 accreditation mean for our customers?
Frédéric Marion: Indeed, it’s a great accomplishment many years in the making. This certification is one of the objectives we had set for the laboratory when we built our Saint-Eustache plant. We are still one of only a very few laboratories in Canada with this accreditation. We’re very proud of this additional milestone in AP&C’s journey; it is yet another proof point to demonstrate our team’s commitment to quality.
This added accreditation is greatly appreciated by our customers. First, at the core of an ISO 17025 accreditation is the assurance that the methods used—and therefore the results attained—are benchmarked against industry standards and consistent over time. Second, the laboratory’s independence from outside influence is reinforced within ISO 17025. This is reassuring for customers who buy our products.
Also, as AP&C’S core markets include highly regulated industries, such as medical and aerospace, testing in a certified ISO 17025 laboratory is often required. This accreditation for our internal lab allows us to have more control over testing costs and lead times and overall quality controls over our products. It will also help customers to use our powder testing service to analyze used powder and perform investigations or R&D work.
We believe that AP&C’s quality-driven attitude is a big part of our success. For us, quality is not only about complying with requirements but also about improving processes and sharing best practices. And this accreditation is only one block on our already strong quality foundation.
Q: What does the accreditation process entail with the Standards Council of Canada, or The Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation? And how does having ISO 17025 accreditation complement our other certifications, namely ISO 9001, AS9100 for the aerospace customers and ISO 13485 for the medical market?
Rachel Riendeau: AP&C actively prepared for this accreditation for a more than a year. Although ISO 17025 accreditation includes management requirements—like other quality certifications—and process requirements that are specific to laboratory activities, accreditation is applicable only to the tests specified in the scope. In the case of AP&C, since titanium alloys are our core products, we decided that the chemical analysis of titanium alloys would be part of our accreditation scope, as well as particle size distribution testing, by sieving and light scattering.
In preparation for this accreditation, we performed a complete gap analysis of our testing management process as well as our quality system to identify what needed to be updated to be compliant to the ISO 17025 standard. Even though AP&C’s laboratory is already managed under the umbrella of AP&C’s multiple quality management system certifications (ISO 9001, ISO 13485 [medical devices] and AS9100 [aerospace]), this accreditation puts an emphasis on robustness of controls to ensure AP&C’s laboratory operates competently and can generate valid results. It also promotes impartiality and independence from production, which is crucial to maintain the credibility and integrity of a captive laboratory. To ensure compliance to these additional requirements, procedures and instructions were reviewed or created, risk analyses of laboratory activities were conducted, and all teams involved in the laboratory processes were thoroughly trained.
Regarding the accredited testing methods, round robin (testing of a sample by multiple laboratories to determine reproducibility) and statistical analysis of our testing results were used to validate our methods and confirm the high accuracy of our testing process.
Q: Is this ISO standard primarily concerned with testing and calibration and ensuring labs consistently produce valid test results?
Frédéric: Yes. Calibration and method control through statistical analysis is a big part of this certification, but it is also important to point out that the certification is based on pre-established ASTM standards and based on the laboratory capability to reproduce results from other laboratories.
This might look simple enough; you have a method, you follow it, you make sure you get the same result as others. That’s all!
Well, not exactly. For reactive materials, like titanium, and in an industry like additive manufacturing—which has stringent requirements—we need precise control of the material properties and often need to push the understanding of the method to another level to obtain accurate results with little deviation. As an example, sometimes the availability of the proper certified reference material (CRM) can be a challenge for certain narrow chemical compositions requirements.
AP&C’s team strives to better understand and control products, and this is pushing us to improve our analysis tools. As leader in the market, we also want the full industry to gain from our knowledge. That is why we continuously share our experiences by participating in ASTM committees that review methods. This is something that we also do with additive powder specifications from ASTM and AMS. We are also involved in the creation of the upcoming NAPCAP certification for metal powder production for additive manufacturing.
Q: What does the accreditation mean from a product management perspective?
Frédéric: In short, it helps us drive better process controls. The biggest benefit is probably on the product management point of view as we can gather more reliable data on our products and then tighten the product requirements. Again, this helps our customer get consistent products that meet their production needs.
Q: How does team feel about getting the accreditation?
Rachel: The AP&C laboratory team is very proud of all the hard work accomplished to achieve this accreditation. They have always strived toward high quality and customer satisfaction, maintaining a high level of control in their everyday activities. This accreditation recognizes their efforts and confirms that their dedication is worth it. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank and congratulate everyone involved in this project, a great achievement for AP&C and another step on our journey towards quality excellence.
(From left to right: AP&C laboratory team. Jean-François Archambault, Valérie Cloutier, Catherine Lavoie, Josée Hamel and Eric Beaudin)
Q: What’s next?
Frédéric: Chemical composition and particle size distribution were only the first step. Next in line will be the other powder physical properties (flow rate, apparent density, tap density, humidity, etc.). But obviously we continue to invest in our testing capabilities at AP&C and throughout our GE Additive network. From CT-scan to SEM to powder rheology, we always keep our eyes open for methods that will help our customers understand what product property drives their process performance. We also try to develop new ways to understand our great products.
To find out more about AP&C get in touch with the team here.