The Difference Between A2LA and NIST

As you know, Grand Rapids Metrology is A2LA accredited to ISO 17025 standards in numerous measurement calibrations such as temperature, humidity, mechanical metrology, dimensional metrology, and much more. In previous blog posts, we have discussed the basics of A2LA and why it is so important to us and to our customers. Likewise, we have discussed NIST and NIST traceable calibrations but never have we pinned these two organizations in the ring against one another. There’s a first time for everything, so here we go.

A2LA is an acronym for the American Associations for Laboratory Accreditation and it is a non-profit, non-governmental, third-party, public service, accreditation body. NIST, on the other hand, stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology and is a measurement agency that is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, also one of the nation’s oldest physical science laboratories. For any organization using an instrument that requires calibration, it is vastly important to understand the distinction between a NIST traceable calibration and an A2LA accredited calibration.

Being NIST traceable simply means that the equipment being used to calibrate customer’s equipment is traceable to NIST standards, but an A2LA accreditation means a bit more. A2LA is, as stated before, an accreditation body that accredits outside laboratories to numerous standards, specifically ISO 17020, 17043, 17065, and 17025. Grand Rapids Metrology is accredited by A2LA to ISO 17025 standards which means not only is GRM’s equipment NIST traceable, but also the methods we use comply with ISO 17025 standards. Thus, an A2LA accreditation is always NIST traceable, but NIST traceable calibrations are not always A2LA certified calibrations.

At this point, it may seem that A2LA has the upper hand on NIST, however these organizations do not perform or provide the exact same services; therefore, we must acknowledge their attributes individually. It is important to note that NIST equipment are traceable through a chain of preceding standards that ultimately lead to the original calibration, or the “gold standard.” The closer your standards are to the gold standard, the more accurate the calibration and vice versa. Likewise, NIST is only able to certify certain classes of weights the farther away from the gold standard the piece of equipment is, often the class options become fewer as the chain continues. Contrariwise, A2LA offers programs for the accreditation services and training for virtually any industry. After the accreditation certification has been approved, the organization is able to operate freely with these certifications during the time they are valid.

At the end of the day, measurement standards are essential to the constant flow and operation of our society. Having NIST traceable equipment makes for a positive attribute to your organization, however being accredited by A2LA is taking an extra step. Ultimately, A2LA allows for more precise measurements and calibration. GRM is proud to be A2LA in every aspect of our scope with the exception of electronic equipment, but not for long (our electronic accreditations will be here Fall 2016)!

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