January 25, 2019
Measure for Measure: What is Calibration and Why Is It Important for Your Lab?
The word “calibrate” dates back only a couple hundred years, but the concept of calibration is actually far older. Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia had their own systems of calibration that they used in construction.
Today, calibration is often used in research labs to ensure accurate data. But what is calibration, how does it work, and why does it matter? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you run a better, more accurate lab.
Ready to understand calibration on a whole new level? Whether you’re new to research or have been researching for years, read on to learn more about this common tool.
First, let’s understand the word “calibrate” itself a bit better. The word has a few different meanings, depending on its context.
In the context of lab research, it typically means adjusting or standardizing your equipment so it can be more precise. This can include marking the graduations on a measuring device, or figuring out how much an instrument deviates from the standard and adjusting for that difference.
What is Calibration?
So, we know that calibration has to do with getting more accurate measurements. But what does calibration look like in your lab?
Basically, calibration compares a standard measurement to the measurement taken using your instrument. The accuracy of your instrument will be somewhat different from the accuracy of the standard. Standards organizations set acceptable accuracy ratios, and your instrument will need to measure up to the requirements.
Most of the time, calibration also includes adjusting your instrument as needed to meet the standards. Technically, though, you could separate the processes into “calibration” and “adjustment.”
Calibrations work differently for different instruments. For example, calibrating a thermometer works differently from calibrating a sensor.
To calibrate your instruments, you’ll need to send them away from the lab to get looked at by calibration experts. They can also make the necessary adjustments to your research tools. They’ll send the device back with a report to show you the measurement errors they found, and the reduced errors after calibration.
Why Calibration Matters
Why is calibration so important? Let’s take a closer look at the importance of calibration.
1. Saves Money
Calibration reduces errors that can get costly in the long run.
Those errors can happen whether your facility is a research lab or a manufacturer or goods. For example, manufacturers who don’t calibrate equipment will end up with errors that create unusable parts. Research labs that don’t calibrate can end up with meaningless results because they were based on inaccurate measurements.
When you don’t calibrate, you’ll often have to halt and restart processes when inaccuracies are discovered. The longer it takes for those inaccuracies to get noticed, the more costly the mistake will be. But if you always calibrate, you won’t have these problems.
2. Improves Safety
Safety becomes very important in certain labs. You might be working with potentially dangerous materials, or creating solutions for medical purposes. In these cases, small inaccuracies can have large consequences.
Maybe you’re measuring electric currents, or mixing volatile chemicals. Small changes to the numbers can quickly put your staff in danger. Calibration allows you to get reliable numbers for improved safety.
3. Gets You Certified
You’ll need calibration to get certified in a lot of industries. You might need certification from regulatory bodies in order to do certain tasks, for example.
Even if you don’t need certification, calibration is still important for the reliable results it gives. Your reputation for research or results will quickly suffer if you work with equipment that’s not calibrated.
4. Keeps Instruments Working Longer
Over time, the accuracy of any measuring device goes down. Some instruments degrade more quickly than others. The environment where you use the equipment can also affect how quickly it degrades.
When you calibrate your equipment, you set it back to the original standard, so you can keep using it. The device that’s giving inaccurate readings probably doesn’t need to be replaced – it just needs calibration.
Types of Calibration
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most common types of calibration you might have to use.
1. Humidity and Temperature
If you work with thermal cameras, thermometers, humidity generators, weather stations, and other devices that work with temperature and humidity, you’ll need to get them calibrated.
This type of calibration needs to happen in a controlled environment, so outside changes can’t affect the results.
Transmitters, test gauges, and barometers may all need pressure calibration. In this process, the spectrum of hydraulic and gas pressure gets measured. The equipment usually needs to get calibrated to a national or international standard.
Mechanical calibration calibrates for factors like force, mass, vibration, or torque. For example, you might need to get a scale calibrated to measure weight accurately. Torque wrenches, micrometers, and balances can also need this kind of calibration.
Devices that measure frequency, voltage, or resistance will need electrical calibration. The equipment that might need electrical calibration can include clamp meters, data loggers, and insulation testers.
In addition to these common calibration types, you might need to get many different implements calibrated in different ways. Each calibration type involves using different methods to get results.
When Should You Calibrate Your Equipment?
You should set up a regular calibration interval for your equipment. The length of time between calibration can depend on how the equipment gets used, and how quickly its accuracy degrades.
If there’s a major event that can affect accuracy, like an electric shock, you should always calibrate your equipment. Don’t forget to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for calibration, too.
Finding the Best Calibration Services
Now that you know how to answer “What is calibration?” you’ll need to find the right calibration services for your needs.
Where you get your equipment calibrated matters. You need accuracy and results that meet proper standards.
Not sure where to start? Check out our calibration services here!