As a leading testing facility in the cement and construction materials sector, AfriSam’s Centre of Product Excellence (CPE) laboratory has been recertified in terms of the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS). CPE Manager Mike McDonald says this affirms the laboratory’s standards of work as world class.
The laboratory conducts in-depth testing and investigation across a range of processes and materials. The critical role of concrete in the safety and sustainability of structures highlights the importance of the regular SANAS certification.
“Remaining certified within stringent SANAS requirements – which in turn align to international ISO/IEC 17025 management system standards – ensures that AfriSam’s laboratory is world class,” says McDonald. “Our quality processes mean that our customers can rely on us for the performance of their concrete, and we can continue to take forward AfriSam’s exciting product development innovations.”
He notes that the demanding recertification process is conducted every five years, ensuring that the latest international best practice is incorporated into the laboratory’s quality systems. A recent enhancement of the global standards – and applied in turn by SANAS – is its risk-based approach. The latest certification therefore has required AfriSam’s laboratory to consider and mitigate a range of risks factors.
Among these is the risk of bias during the testing process, which is addressed by strictly protecting the anonymity of the test work, he explains. The laboratory uses a numbering system to ensure that analysts are not aware of the names of companies that submit samples for testing.
“The recertification is by no means easy or simple, requiring extensive internal and external training of all our 22 laboratory personnel,” he says. “In maintaining these high standards, it is clear that our highly skilled staff are committed to our quality mission.”
The laboratory’s instruments, technology and skills complement make it one of the country’s most specialised facilities for testing cement and construction materials. Equipment includes a microcalorimeter for measuring heat from concrete samples, and instruments for thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) for measuring material weight during heating.
“The laboratory gives AfriSam enviable capability on various levels – from proving up our theoretical concrete mix designs for customers to investigating any challenges that contractors might be facing with their concrete on site,” says McDonald. “Our research and testing also provides innovative solutions for customers, such as reducing or removing the need for costly steam generation for curing concrete products.”
Being able to conduct laboratory-scale testing of new mixes is a significant advantage for customers like concrete product manufacturers, he points out. If they tested unproven mix designs in their production process, there could be considerable trial and error. This invariably produced wastage of material and labour time, whereas the laboratory could accurately predict results while not disrupting on-site production.
He emphasises that cement testing remains a central focus of the laboratory’s work, including oxide analysis and testing for gypsum content as well as fineness and strength of cement. AfriSam relied heavily on the laboratory for its ongoing drive to reduce the carbon footprint of cement, allowing the development of a product with 40% less carbon impact than pure cement.
“The SANAS recertification of our laboratory is an important foundation for the accuracy and reliability of all our testing and research work,” he says. “This assures customers and the broader industry of AfriSam’s ongoing commitment to quality standards that match the world’s best.”