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NIST Traceability: Ensuring Precision in Measurements

As the legally established National Standards Laboratory, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)'s responsibility extends to developing, maintaining, and safeguarding national standards of measurement. This ensures that measurements made in the United States are consistent with these standards, as well as with those of other nations through a meticulous documentation of the measurement process that connects various calibrations back to a specified reference standard.
Here's a breakdown of key points about NIST traceability:
  • NIST's Role: NIST maintains national standards for the seven base units of the International System of Units (SI), governed by standards such as ISO/IEC 17025.
  • Traceability in Calibrations: A NIST traceable calibration involves maintaining a comprehensive record of the measurement process, connecting a series of calibrations back to the specified reference standard in accordance with NIST Special Publication 250.
  • Tektronix Calibrations: Calibrations performed by Tektronix within the United States are NIST traceable, in compliance with ISO 9001 and ISO/IEC 17025. These calibrations are conducted in accordance with NIST standards to ensure precision in measurements.
  • International Calibrations: Calibrations completed outside the United States are traceable to the relevant national metrology institute, adhering to international standards such as ISO/IEC 17025.

Read more about the NIST Policy on Traceability

Metrological Traceability

Metrological traceability refers to the measurement result which can be related through an unbroken chain of calibrations, including measurement uncertainty determination, to specified references. It is a basic assurance that a relationship exists between the measurement results of a measurement instrument and the value of a measurement standard. Tektronix standards are traceable directly to the SI Units | NIST, which is the most widely used international system of measurement responsible for defining the meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, mole, and candela.

NIST Calibration

How Traceability Impacts Global Markets

Traceability of measurement results to the SI makes it possible to achieve the accuracy, precision and interchangeability required for global trade markets. To deliver truly standardized components, industry depends upon reliable and consistent measurements that are traceable to a recognized measurement system such as the International System of Units.

ISO Compliance

Traceability is particularly important to companies that must comply with or follow the requirements of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard(s). ISO requirements often require that test, measurement and control equipment be traceable to recognized national or international standards. Other organizations may voluntarily follow the requirements of ISO so that they can claim ISO compliance for their product. This compliance is normally an indication of an organization’s commitment to service and/or quality.

FAQs for NIST Traceable Calibration

What are NIST traceable standards?

NIST traceable calibration certifies that the lab or manufacturer in question is equipped and able to calibrate equipment to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards and that products by that manufacturer match NIST-maintained measurement standards.

Why is NIST traceable calibration important?

NIST traceable calibration ensures that any measurements taken with a certified instrument have an unbroken chain of measurement leading back to NIST-maintained standards with known and documented uncertainties for each step in the chain and a quality assurance program in place to address them.

What does NIST stand for?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a federal agency within the Department of Commerce that develops and maintains the national standards of measurement and documents the traceability of its reference standards.

What types of lab equipment need calibration?

  1. Digital Multimeters (DMMs): Engineers often use multimeters to measure voltage, current, and resistance. Calibrating them ensures the accuracy of electrical measurements.

  2. Oscilloscopes: Oscilloscopes are vital for analyzing electrical signals. Calibration is necessary to maintain the fidelity of waveforms.

  3. Pressure Gauges: In engineering labs, pressure measurements are common. Pressure gauges, whether analog or digital, require periodic calibration.

  4. Temperature Sensors and Thermometers: Calibrating temperature sensors and thermometers is crucial for maintaining accurate temperature measurements, especially in research and quality control labs.

  5. Flow Meters: Flow meters are used in various applications, such as fluid dynamics experiments. Regular calibration is essential to ensure precise flow measurements.

  6. Mass Balances and Weighing Scales: Engineers often work with precise measurements of mass. Balances and scales need calibration to provide accurate weight readings.

  7. Force and Torque Sensors: In mechanical and materials testing labs, force and torque sensors are used. Calibration ensures accurate force and torque measurements.

  8. Gas Analyzers: Labs dealing with gas analysis, such as environmental monitoring or chemical analysis, use gas analyzers that require calibration for accurate gas concentration readings.

  9. pH Meters: In chemistry and biology labs, pH meters are calibrated to ensure accurate pH measurements for various solutions.

  10. Dimensional Measuring Tools: This includes tools like calipers, micrometers, and height gauges used for precision measurements in manufacturing and engineering.

  11. Spectrophotometers: Labs involved in chemical analysis and material characterization use spectrophotometers, which need calibration for accurate absorption and transmission measurements.

  12. Environmental Monitoring Equipment: Instruments used for monitoring parameters like humidity, air quality, and radiation levels require periodic calibration to maintain data accuracy.

  13. Vibration Analyzers: In mechanical and structural engineering, vibration analyzers are used to assess machinery and structures. Calibrating them ensures reliable vibration data.

  14. Power Analyzers: For electrical engineering and energy monitoring, power analyzers need calibration to provide accurate power quality and energy consumption data.

  15. Gas Chromatographs: In chemistry and chemical engineering labs, gas chromatographs are calibrated to ensure precise separation and analysis of chemical compounds.

  16. Microscopes: In biological and materials science labs, microscopes used for research and analysis need calibration to maintain image clarity and accuracy.

What is the difference between accredited and traceable calibration?

Accredited calibration means that the calibration lab has been accredited by a third-party organization and has the capability to provide calibration services as specified in its scope. A traceable calibration means that the measurement results of your calibration can be traced back to NIST standards.

How long is calibration good for?

The length of time that calibration is good for depends on the item being calibrated. For most equipment — including oscilloscopes, DMMs, and spectrum analyzers — the recommended calibration interval is around 12 months. Determine the best calibration interval for electrical equipment by combining statistical analysis, historical data, industry standards, and considering factors like equipment criticality, measurement accuracy, and cost-effectiveness to strike a balance between precision and cost. Learn more about how to calculate your calibration interval with Weibull analysis.