31 October 1997

Uniform grain testing begins to show its worth

Grain testing is due for a

shake-up under UKASTAs

new laboratory accreditation

scheme. But one company is

already reaping the benefits of

a more sophisticated approach

FIVE years ago Bedfordia Grain Services started working towards the National Measurement Accreditation Service lab standard.

The logic was simple – it would ease grain marketing. With systems adjusted and the qualification now in place the company is starting to reap the benefits.

"We handle a total of 50,000t of home-grown and traded grain each year and were experiencing discrepancies with other labs in some test results," explains Phil Moffat, BGS manager.

"While we were confident we were right, there was nothing formal to back us up."

NAMAS was not widely recognised in the agricultural industry at the time. But, unlike some ISO alternatives, its focus on laboratory protocols and stipulation of standards made it first choice.

The NAMAS quality manual lays down protocols for traceability, test methods, staff training and equipment maintenance, as well as security, environmental conditions and dealing with anomalies.

"Every morning we use traceable weights, thermometers and certified reference materials to check our machines. Each piece of equipment has to meet a specified level of accuracy before we can carry out commercial testing," explains Mr Moffat.

Industry ring-testing

External companies maintain and calibrate many items of equipment. NAMAS also requires participation in industry ring-testing.

"Unlike some schemes there is a specified procedure and defined corrective action to follow if an anomaly arises," says Mr Moffat.

"If we have a machinery failure, for example, we have to trace back to the last time the machine operated correctly and ensure all tests carried out since are accurate. If some results have already been reported, but incorrectly, then revised results must be issued to the customer."

A rolling programme of internal auditing operates to ensure quality manual specifications are adhered to. "We employ a part-time quality representative, totally independent of laboratory testing, whose sole responsibility is to ensure the quality manual is followed. Her work is complemented by regular external auditing by NAMAS representatives.

Lot of paperwork

"All this work needs to be documented, so there is a lot of paperwork," admits Mr Moffat. "There is probably an extra half man hour required daily to complete the record keeping and additional laboratory work involved in setting up, and a further 10 hours each week put in by the quality representative.

"But the result has been greater confidence and trust from all parties: Consumers, ourselves and staff," confirms Mr Moffat.

"All grain is tested through the lab several times – at intake, regularly during processing, and finally as it leaves the plant. So, when we send out a load of 1.65%NDB malting barley, we are confident it is what is intended and will meet the consumers specification."

"We also find that when it comes to disputing claims we are in a very strong position," Mr Moffat adds.

"Recently we had a claim for bushel weight on a load of Riband. None of the Riband had come into the store at less than 74kg/hl, so we knew the problem was in the testing at the other end. We disputed the claim and consequently were not penalised." &#42

NAMAS

&#8226 Designed for laboratories.

&#8226 Specifies standards.

&#8226 Traceable measurements used.

&#8226 About £5k to qualify, then £2k/yr to stay approved.

&#8226 Procedures clearly documented

&#8226 Consistently accurate results breed buyer confidence.

&#8226 Less disputes and stronger position if handling claims.