Trustworthiness can make or break a lab. It can cost you clients. It can cost you your business. So, how can you be sure your lab is trustworthy? It depends on where that trust comes from.
In the last decade, mistakes, fake data and falsified tests have damaged trust in the CMT industry. Labs and testing organizations can claim technical competence. They can pass accreditation assessments. But it’s not enough. The industry needs a better way to reassure stakeholders.
This means understanding where trust comes from in a lab setting. What is it based on? How can labs verify it? But before we start digging, let’s first examine what makes a lab untrustworthy.
What Makes a CMT Lab Untrustworthy?
CMT labs work in a controlled environment. They follow ASTM standards. They abide by various local government regulations. But despite these guide rails, things like errors and variance still occur.
Improper curing. Incorrect tool usage. Subpar testing conditions. Poor record keeping. Whatever the cause, when it happens, labs must make a quick decision. Re-do the test? Or ignore it and toss out the outlier?
Believe it or not, many labs choose the second option.
But why take the risk?
Several reasons. Humans aren’t perfect. Abnormal variance is a pain to verify and correct. And construction projects have tight deadlines and costs. These conditions create pressure, and pressure makes people cut corners.
Besides, even when people are honest, they still make mistakes. Errors can happen at any point in a CMT workflow. And many slip through unnoticed.
So, what can anybody do about it?
Change Where Trust Comes From
It comes down to what a lab’s trustworthiness is based on. In most labs, trust relies on people. We trust people to conduct tests with competence. We trust them to record results with accuracy. We trust that they won’t falsify data or mislead us.
The problem is we know what happens when we put all our trust on people. We’ve seen the consequences it brings. So, if not people, then what?
For a lab to be seen as trustworthy, trust must be based on process. Here’s how to know if your lab qualifies.
6 Factors that Make a Lab Trustworthy
There are six factors that help you determine if your lab is trustworthy. Let’s take a look at each.
#1. How the Specimen is Assured
The CMT workflow begins as soon as a technician pulls a sample of material, like concrete, from a batch. The technician must then label the specimen and store it for curing. These are critical steps. Any mistakes made can snowball into bigger issues later.
The problem is many technicians still do this by hand, with a Sharpie. This can lead to smudging or misread labels. And that can lead to specimens tested on the wrong day or results recorded in the wrong place.
A lab that builds trust on process uses barcodes instead of handwritten labels. Barcodes tie specimen information (like cast date, test date and expected strength) to a unique ID. This allows the lab to store the info an unalterable database.
The resulting method is more reliable, secure and transparent. And thus, more trustworthy.
#2. How the Test is Prepared
When it comes to test preparation, two factors impact results, and thus trustworthiness, the most. (1) The tools you use to prepare the specimen for testing. And (2) the calibration of the machine ahead of the test.
Trustworthy labs have “smart” machines. These machines connect to a database that stores the barcode information discussed above. As a result, the test protocols, settings and unique specimen data can be downloaded to the machine ahead of the test. So, your machine “knows” what it’s testing. This ensures an accurate preload of test parameters and can even prevent you from testing a specimen on the wrong date.
#3. How the Test is Run
For many labs, especially those with manual testing machines, a test’s trustworthiness depends entirely on who actually runs the test. You may have five certified technicians but only two that you trust to do an important job.
But what happens if the technicians you trust quit? If they leave, your lab’s trustworthiness goes with them.
In trustworthy labs, the machine does all the heavy lifting. Automatic compression, flexural, tension or specialty machines can be preloaded and run at the push of a button. The lab is more trustworthy because tests can be replicated without variance.
#4. How the Data is Secured
Many labs still copy break data by hand from a machine to a clipboard. They’ll then enter it into a spreadsheet or laboratory information management system (LIMS). This is what we call “data going dark.”
The broken link between the testing machine and the recording of results creates a lack of transparency. There’s no way to verify that data wasn’t biased at some point during transfer.
Trustworthy labs secure test data by connecting their machines to a cloud database. In this scenario, results are secure, unalterable and, most importantly, not recorded by hand. This creates an unbreakable link between sample, machine, test and database.
#5. How the Data is Analyzed
Determining the quality of a material comes down to the way a collection of test results is analyzed.
This is more difficult with a manual, paper and pen-based workflow. There’s no nothing to stop technicians from throwing away any outliers in a variance analysis. People can change results as they analyze them or make a mistake in calculations. There’s no way to go back to the analysis and verify if a concrete sample was under expected strength or not.
Labs that use an integrated platform can produce more transparent, and trustworthy, reports. This is because they can demonstrate to stakeholders that tests were conducted properly. The data is always available. But it’s only available through read-only access – so it can’t be changed.
#6. How the Analysis is Supported
How easy can your lab view test results over a period of time? Long-term data analysis, or viewing trends over time, is critical to trustworthiness. But it’s a painstaking process if you’re still using pen and paper. Searches must be conducted manually.
The problem is when clients and regulators want to see this information. Do you have access to the original XY graph from any given test? In most labs, the answer is no.
To add trust, you need an unbreakable, permanent record of detailed test results. All the way back to original specimen data.
Trustworthiness comes from process, not people. A process that’s reliable and transparent. But it’s not just about removing potential for error. It’s about providing a window into the workflow. It’s about having a provable, unalterable record, forever, so you can stand behind your results.
Want to build trust based on process, not people? We can help. Get in touch today or request a demo to see ForneyVault® in action.