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Calibration for Nondestructive Testing by Stuart Kleven*,

Israel Vasquez† and David Atkins‡ Often,

technicians are required to verify a current calibration sticker on an instrument and then to perform the NDT

Technicians are exposed to the calibration process or specification requirements only as they reference documents,

and most training materials do not adequately address calibration requirements and the effects of out of calibration conditions

This article will provide technicians with a closer look at the history,

standards and requirements behind the calibration sticker

Bruce Crouse Contributing Editor INTRODUCTION

Standards are as old as human society itself

During the era of the pharaohs,

calibration standards were used for measurement during the construction of the great pyramids at Giza

The Royal Cubit was the length from the back of the pharaoh's elbow to the tip of his middle finger

This was established in a stable material such as granite

Then working standards were made and compared to the master

These were issued to workers,

and they were required to return the working standards for comparison against the Royal Cubit master every full moon

Failure to submit the working standard for verification was punishable by death

The accuracy obtained by the use of the working standards was phenomenal

In a structure measuring approximately 230

the Egyptian builders were accurate to within 115 mm (4

This is about a 0

Weights (Figure 1) from most ancient societies have been discovered and are accurate within tenths or hundredths of a gram when compared to the required standard weight

Like us,

ancient people were very concerned with maintaining accuracy

Even within the Bible,

it was stated that "the Lord detests differing weights,

and dishonest scales do not please him" (Proverbs 20:23)

Over the years,

a number of calibration documents have been specified for use

the calibration of testing equipment would appear to be a subject that is unimportant or secondary to their immediate purpose

Many companies merely send out equipment and indicate on purchasing documents that a calibration certification is required

This ignores the question of what a proper calibration is

One complicating factor is the profusion of different types of equipment and equipment manufacturers,

which can also add confusion to the situation

For instance,

some units are analog and others are digital

What rules apply

? Can one type be used to verify the other

most governing specifications in nondestructive testing only give the frequency that is expected for the calibration of certain items,

but rarely give any limits or tolerances

This can cause quite a quandary for the inexperienced and even the experienced quality professional

This paper will attempt to address many of the issues that have caused problems and make possible suggestions for standardizing some calibrations


a number of calibration documents have been specified for use in NDT

The old standby for many years was MIL-C-45662A

This was later converted to MILSTD-45662 and eventually revised to MIL-STD-45662A

This stood for quite a number of years as the only guideline for calibration

Many auditors and customers simply said that it was up to the calibration lab to establish a system and then follow it based on the guidance of MIL-STD-45662A

In 1984,

MIL-HDBK-52A was issued to provide guidance in applying MIL-STD-45662A

In 1989,

MIL-HDBK-52B was released to further clarify the application of the military standard

Recent developments in the calibration area have produced a number of documents and schemes addressing calibration,

both for the calibrating laboratory and for the company specifying calibration

These include ANSI Z540-1 (the US equivalent to ISO Guide 25),

ISO 10012-1,

and ISO 17025 (formerly ISO Guide 25)

Figure 1 — Ancient stone weights

ISO 17025,

General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories,

is the main document used today

It consists of the following components or characteristics:  scope  normative references  terms and definitions  management requirements

(includes ISO 9000 components)

QA reports,

CALIBRATION SOURCES The first step in calibration is to find a dependable calibration source for performing the work

The typical approach is to determine who can supply the calibration at the lowest price

Taking this course could,

The first step to finding a dependable source is to look for some sort of nationally recognized acceptance (like accreditation)

This means that someone from an independent,

thirdparty source has assessed the calibration source and found it compliant to the standard or specification

While this does not necessarily ensure perfection,

it removes quite a few factors that can affect the calibration,

such as the use of adequate quality procedures,

calibrated equipment with traceability to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),

an understanding of the accuracy and uncertainty limits,

and proper personnel training and qualification

Laboratories with accreditation to the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP),

the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA),

the Laboratory Accreditation Bureau (LAB) or other accredited registrars are preferred

Each of these accrediting bodies maintains a listing of the calibration laboratories that have been assessed

Assessment may be performed by the company requiring the calibration as well

This may be achieved by a desk audit (filling out a checklist),

an onsite audit or by inspecting and reviewing the calibration certificate and the instrument upon receipt

Other factors can affect the selection of calibration laboratories as well

If a delicate or bulky equipment requires calibration,

shipment across the country can cause problems

The length of time a piece of equipment is out for calibration may necessitate the acquisition of two units to maintain calibrated status

In addition,

the handling in shipping can cause inherent troubles,

possibly by damaging the unit during transit or by affecting the newly calibrated condition

The lack of personal contact and confidence is missing when the calibrating laboratory cannot be readily visited

Onsite audits are less likely to be performed when the laboratory is not in close proximity to the company using their services

DEFINITIONS It would be helpful to define terms with regard to calibration

The following definitions were obtained from the documents previously cited in this paper

Calibration The set of operations which establish,

the relationship between values indicated by a measuring instrument or measuring system,

and the corresponding standard or known values derived from the standard

In simple terms,

comparing a known against an unknown

(Not the same as standardization,

For example,

radiographic film densitometers are standardized with a "working" step tablet,

and calibrated with an NIST traceable "master" step tablet

) Calibration can refer to several different types of actions taken by a company: outside calibration of master equipment directly traceable to NIST

in-house calibration of equipment to an in-house master directly calibrated to NIST

in-house calibration of equipment by an outside source with master equipment traceable to NIST

Accuracy Conformity to a certified or approved standard

A measure of closeness of agreement between a measured result and the true value

Accuracy is a qualitative concept

Uncertainty The result of the evaluation aimed at characterizing the range within which the true value of a measurand is estimated to lie,

generally within a given likelihood

Under MIL-STD-45662,

collective uncertainty shall not exceed 25% of the acceptable tolerance for the characteristic being calibrated

This is commonly called the 4:1 test accuracy ratio

Sources contributing to uncertainty include the reference standard or materials used,

the method and equipment used,

the condition of the item being calibrated,

and the technician performing the calibration

For ISO 17025,

the uncertainty must be developed and justified based on analysis and consideration of the conditions listed above

Some customer specifications have listed uncertainty requirements ranging from 4:1 to 10:1

Care should be exercised in agreeing to these limits,

since they may be unattainable under certain situations

Tolerance The set of values for a measurand for which the error of a measuring instrument is intended to lie within specified limits (allowable deviation from a certified or approved standard,

Stability The ability of a measuring instrument to constantly maintain its metrological characteristics

Drift The slow variation with time of a metrological characteristic of a measuring instrument (especially applicable to electronic instrumentation)


The ability to relate individual measurement results through an unbroken chain of calibrations to one of the following:  US

National Standard maintained by NIST,

or other country standard correlated to the US National Standard  fundamental or physical constants with values assigned or accepted by NIST  ratio type calibrations  comparison to consensus standards

Adequacy of the Measurement Standard The measurement standard shall be traceable and have the accuracy,

range and resolution required for the intended use

Precision This is the closeness of multiple readings to each other

Bias This is the accuracy of the closeness of multiple readings to the true value

STANDARDS Calibration standards are normally established in the US by NIST,

formerly known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS)

Each country has their own respective agency

For a complete listing,

Traceablility to these known standards is the normal method used for calibration

At times,

NIST has established physical constants that are used for calibration,

such as the speed of light in a vacuum,

the Josephson frequency voltage ratio,

Consensus standards may be established where no national standards exist

These are standards that everyone agrees on as a standardized means for calibration

If none of the above exists,

original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standards may be used

FREQUENCY OF CALIBRATION While some specifications or standards do establish a calibration frequency,

The natural inclination is to set the frequency as long as possible to reduce calibration costs

This of course may increase the likelihood that,

should the instrument be received by the calibration source with a "significant out-of-tolerance" condition,

all products affected by this instrument over the extended period of use is now suspect

The proper way to establish the correct frequency is to examine the literature from the equipment manufacturer to determine the stability of the unit

The next step is to set a shorter frequency based on the stability,

purpose and usage of the equipment


electronic instruments tend to drift or get out of calibration sooner

than fixed gages or measuring tools such as microthickness gages

To give an example,

an electronic ohmmeter may be set at a quarterly frequency if it is used fairly often

after four cycles where documentation demonstrates that the equipment has maintained its accuracy throughout the calibration intervals,

the frequency could be extended to six months

This could be repeated for three or four cycles and again,

a slightly longer frequency could be established,

If an instrument comes back from calibration with an out-of-tolerance condition,

it may be advisable to shorten the frequency for at least one cycle to determine whether or not the condition is due to inherent problems with the instrument or if it was an isolated incident

(See "Out-of-Tolerance Conditions," below,

) Several newer standards have determined ways to set the frequency

The following guidelines for the determination of confirmation intervals for measuring equipment are described in detail in ISO 10012-1,

Annex A:  automatic or staircase method  control chart method  calendar time method  "in-use" time method  "in-service," or black box method

UNCERTAINTY Uncertainty is the amount of deviation allowed within the tolerance

Based on the current ISO 17025,

the uncertainty must be stated by the calibration laboratory

Each laboratory shall have and apply a procedure to estimate the uncertainty of measurement for all types of calibrations

They are required to develop an uncertainty budget based on internal factors,

such as identifying all the components of uncertainty and making the best possible estimation,

and ensuring that the form of reporting does not give an exaggerated impression of accuracy

These factors include environment,

the metrologist or technician,

the actual measuring equipment,

Once each factor is identified as providing uncertainty,

the amount must be determined to the best possible degree

All these factors must then be added to determine the total uncertainty

The process is further refined by determining which factors add the most uncertainty and which add cost that may be unreasonable when attempting to perform a calibration

As mentioned above,

it is usually 25% of the tolerance and is commonly called the 4:1 test accuracy ratio

While this is the goal,

sometimes it is difficult to find anyone who can hold the 25%,

and it may be necessary to accept lower ratios

In addition,

the accuracy of the calibration can be affected by the number of times the instrument under calibration is removed from the NIST-traceable master

For instance,

if a company sends their light meter out to a company that had sent their meter out and their source is three or four times removed from NIST,

the uncertainty may be larger than the allowable tolerance

The uncertainty for each time removed from NIST must be

This is where many companies make the mistake of thinking that they are getting a valid NIST-traceable calibration,

when in fact many calibration sources do not check the number of times removed or the uncertainty involved

This must be specified,

since multiple sources may be involved

The use of analog meters or instruments to calibrate digital equipment should not be permitted

Analog equipment requires interpolation in between lines to attempt to obtain a reading

This is not accurate enough to calibrate digital equipment

The reverse,

The readout of digital equipment is three or four decimal places

This would allow for an accurate observation of units on an analog unit that cannot be read with digital accuracy

WRITING PURCHASE ORDERS FOR CALIBRATION SERVICES A written purchase order communicates all the requirements for calibration to the calibration source

Verbal purchase orders should be avoided entirely since they can leave too much open for interpretation and can cause problems later on if an instrument does not function within a specific range as expected

Written purchase orders should include the following items:  the

standard or controlling document (for example,

ANSI Z540-1,

ISO-17025 or MIL-STD-45662A)  the piece of equipment,

type and serial number  the required tolerance and requirement to record uncertainty  the required frequency for calibration  the requirement to indicate the "as- received" and "as-left" condition  any environmental conditions that must be recorded (such as temperature or humidity)  any traceability requirements,

and date of calibration of master equipment,

model number and serial number  a requirement for the signature of the person performing the calibration,

date of calibration and date due  a requirement for recording the procedure number used for performing the calibration,

as applicable  a requirement for a label or sticker to be applied,

giving the name of the person performing the calibration,

date performed and date due (also a requirement for the application of a tamper-proof seal to prevent readjustment of equipment,

A blanket purchase order is an acceptable means of conveying this information

This way,

the company does not have to develop a purchase order each time instruments are sent out

The blanket purchase order should have an expiration date,

and also a review date (at least annually) for compliance

The company sending items out for calibration should provide a complete list of all nondestructive testing equipment or instruments to the calibration laboratory (ether internal or external),

serial number or asset number,

and the specification and/or manufacturer's tolerances

This will prevent noncompliances during subsequent audits

VERIFYING STATUS OF EQUIPMENT AFTER CALIBRATION After a piece of equipment is returned,

the status of the calibration must be verified

This is basically a receiving inspection that is performed

All of the purchase order requirements listed above should be checked to make sure the calibration source recorded all the information requested

Experience gained by the authors over a number of years dictates that the test results should be reviewed,

even though the calibration source has indicated acceptability

It is easy for a decimal point to be misplaced or information recorded that is out of tolerance and was missed during completion and final review of the certificate of calibration

This will prevent acceptance of data that is out of tolerance and that could possibly be discovered by an auditor later

If the instrument was actually sent back out of tolerance,

then all hardware accepted during nondestructive tests using that instrument could be in question and could cause severe problems and expense,

Review of the dates of calibration of master equipment traceable to NIST is also important

It is not uncommon to find calibration sources that do not send their master equipment out on a frequent basis

For example,

one calibration source listed the NIST number for their master equipment

When asked for the date of calibration,

! So just having a NIST number is not enough

There are also other methods for checking incoming calibrated equipment

If the instrument has a battery,

turn the instrument on to see if the unit works

Sometimes placing the unit in a box or container for shipping after calibration can accidentally activate the "on" button

The unit would then be dead "as-received

" Another easy check is to examine the box as received to see if any physical damage had occurred during shipping

If a delicate instrument was inside,

the calibration could be affected

If a similar or like piece of equipment is available,

For instance,

if the ambient light in a penetrant testing booth is zero on one calibrated light meter and 32 lux (3 ftc) on another,

there is a problem with one of the two meters,

possibly the one just received from calibration

Another easy check for light meters is to turn on the unit and cover the sensor

It should read zero if all light is excluded

A calibration review checklist encompassing the ten items listed under "Writing Purchase Orders," above,

is a viable way to assure that the certificates of calibration are complete and provide the correct information

This checklist can then be attached to the certificate as documented evidence of review

See Table 1 for an example of a checklist

Table 1 — Sample calibration certification review record

OUT-OF-TOLERANCE CONDITIONS When an instrument is received with an out-of-tolerance condition by the calibration source,

a determination must be made concerning items that were accepted using equipment that was checked using the out-of-tolerance instrument

An impact assessment must be performed to determine if the out-of-tolerance condition is significant and adversely affects product quality,

measurement integrity and/or safety

For example,

let's say an ultrasonic light meter was sent out for calibration at +/- 5% of a standard,

and it was reported that it was out of calibration by +1%

If the light reading is 20 µW/mm2 (12

9 mW/in

If a further reading was taken after a few days and it was 15 µW/mm2 (9

7 mW/in

9 mW/in

This is still above a 12 µW/mm2 (7

7 mW/in

That would mean that the out-of-tolerance condition did not have a significant effect on quality

This analysis would need to be written up and placed with the calibration data to demonstrate an acceptable condition despite the fact that the instrument was received in an out-oftolerance condition


While calibration may seem to be of minor importance,

it can make or break the validity of a test or test system

Proper attention to the requirements for calibration can help reduce the possibility that this would contribute to poor or improper NDT

Of course,

normal operations could also affect test equipment at any time during operation

Other factors such as age,

misuse or amount of use could cause premature drift or out-oftolerance conditions

Correct application of the specifications will facilitate better control of the calibration system and related equipment

Proper training of personnel to recognize problems and take preventative action (as opposed to having to take corrective action) is another part of the equation for a successful calibration system

REFERENCES ANSI Z540-1: General Requirements for Calibration Laboratories and Measuring and Test Equipment,


American National Standards Institute,

ISO 9000: Quality Management Systems — Fundamentals and Vocabulary,


International Organization for Standardization,

ISO 10012-1: Measurement Management Systems — Requirements for Measurement Processes and Measuring Equipment,


International Organization for Standardization,

ISO 17025,

General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories,


International Organization for Standardization,

ISO Guide 25: General Requirements for the Competence of Calibration and Testing Laboratories,


International Organization for Standardization,

MIL-C-45662A: Calibration Systems Requirements,


US Department of Defense,

MIL-HDBK-52A: Evaluation of Contractor's Calibration System,


US Department of Defense,

MIL-HDBK-52B: Evaluation of Contractor's Calibration System,


US Department of Defense,

MIL-STD-45662: Calibration Systems Requirements,


US Department of Defense,

MIL-STD-45662A: Calibration Systems Requirements,


US Department of Defense,

National Council of Standards Laboratories,

"Papyrus Story," NCSL Web site,