Jim Murphy, CEO, STRATA, Inc. and Bob Tuttle, CEO of Agile Frameworks presented at the GBA 2019 Fall Conference. This post is an excerpt from Jim Murphy’s portion of the session titled “Delivering Real-Time Results—The Future of Laboratory Operations.”
Lab accreditation is a key challenge for construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET) firms. The audit process can be a time consuming process with a lot of complexity. Murphy outlines the methods and tools his firm uses to manage the complexity. In a previous blog, Murphy described how STRATA uses MetaField for their Quality Management System manual.
When we implemented the MetaField software platform in our firm, I looked at it and knew that there were other avenues within the business that we could leverage this technology to help us. I knew that we could take that technology and adapt it so that it conformed to STRATA’s needs. We are able to input data the way we want to do the input. We are able to have a report look the way that we want it to look. It is not just putting our logo on upper left hand corner and looking like everybody else other than the logo.
I asked myself, how can we leverage this technology to help us to streamline company operations that go beyond just the field and laboratory, but are integral to us being a good field and laboratory geotechnical firm? One example I found was to leverage MetaField for our lab accreditation process.
If you’re in touch with lab accreditation you realize that in 2017 the R-18 guidance document for AMRL/CCRL grew by 300%. With 10 offices in multiple states, we are faced with the complexity of trying to maintain and keep up with the standards. Whether they’re ASTM or AASHTO standards or for the myriad DOTs that gets to be quite a challenge.
For those of us who’ve been accredited for a while, audits used to be a one-off. Audits are no longer a one-off. If you’re not doing the things that you have to do on a day-to-day basis—training records for instance—the auditors catch that and it becomes a problem. You need to have processes. We use MetaField to help us do that on a day-to-day basis.
We use the MetaField platform to store our training documents. We built all of our training documents in the tool. Training has become critical for lab accreditation. If you don’t have the documents, you don’t have record to show that the training occurred—it didn’t happen. It’s the way the auditors look at it.
We had training documents across 10 offices and three time zones—and we had various versions of those many documents. With MetaField, we were able to build a training document for every test for which we were accredited—that’s where we started. We can access those documents from any location where we can get access the internet.
For personnel training, we have to do both initial and competency verification. We’ve developed a form in MetaField that you access for each one of the tests. If there is a change to that test or to that standard, then we make one change. And we don’t have to worry about copies and copies of copies at other offices.
Each of the forms built in MetaField generates an output. For the performance exam for making concrete cylinders, for example, we created a stepped procedure so we can open it up on a phone or a tablet or a laptop. Whether you are in a laboratory or out in the field training somebody. The examiner goes into MetaField and checks off each one of the steps as required by the standard to indicate a pass or fail, and the tester gets two tries. At the end of the performance exam, MetaField issues a report with the pass/fail results.
With this process we can control the veracity of the exam with password-protected digital signatures. The signature indicates that the examiner in fact did conduct the test because only the examiner can affix their digital signature on that document.
Another key element of a lab accreditation is your ability to track equipment inventory and maintenance. Maintaining inventory in a software database like MetaField is far better than trying to do it in an Excel spreadsheet or in a handwritten or typed up list. Because equipment calibration is important, we built all of our in-house calibration forms in MetaField. The forms have step-by-step guidelines for our staff that indicate what they’re supposed to look for.
If there is a change to the standard regarding how a mold is to be measured we only have to make one change. When you do an audit now, you have to have maintenance records for all of your pieces of equipment. We did the same thing for maintenance—we built the forms in MetaField.
We need the ability to understand what happened to a sample from the time it darkened our doorstep to when we issued a report and generated an invoice for it. What’s becoming really important is chain of custody in terms of what piece of equipment was used for this sample, for this test and by whom. You have to be able to track that. We’re washing dirt and counting rocks, but the reality is that these are the requirements to maintain accreditation. We have to be able to know when a piece of equipment was used. We want to verify whether it’s calibrated properly, and verify that the person running it was trained properly or certified.
Now when I have an AMRL or CCRL auditor come in, and they want to see the training that we’ve done, I can show the auditor which of our employees have been trained to make concrete cylinders. More specifically, I can show all of the employees in the Boise office who are trained to make concrete cylinders.
Now that I’ve got the training, equipment and chain of custody data required for lab accreditation in MetaField, I can pull it out in any kind of format that I want. And that’s the beauty of it. When we’ve had auditors from AMRL come to check on us in the last couple of years, they say our quality management system is the best they’ve ever seen. We get the auditors in and out a lot quicker, and now that they’re charging us on a half-day basis that’s important.
In addition to helping you track your employees’ completed training records, MetaField can assist you with managing their technical certifications. The field scheduling system allows you to see who has the appropriate certifications for various sampling, testing and inspection work. It also ensures you are sending out the best-fit personnel for each assignment.