The ISO-17025-accredited CPL facility is used to test cabs, rollover protection systems (ROPS) and falling object protection systems (FOPS) for off-highway vehicles and equipment.
Gaining Competitive Advantage Through Industry AccreditationCUSTOMER CHALLENGE
Founded in 1959, Minnesota-based Custom Products of Litchfield specializes in the design and manufacture of OEM cabs, rollover protection systems (ROPS) and falling object protection systems (FOPS) for off-highway vehicles. The company also provides contract-testing services to other manufacturers.
Accurate mechanical testing and superior test data fidelity are integral to Custom Products’ work, because the structures the company designs must withstand high forces to ensure operator safety in the field. “People’s lives are at stake with these products, so inaccurate or incomplete testing is unacceptable during development,” said Jim Schmitt, Director or Engineering and Regulatory Compliance.
Schmitt has supervised every test that Custom Products has performed — a total of 765 at the time of this writing. Over the years, it became increasingly clear to Schmitt and his fellow decision-makers that providing top-quality, full-service testing is not merely an operational necessity, but a strategic imperative. “Our test lab allows our contracting customers to experience our quality firsthand, and many of these customers also end up purchasing products directly from us,” he said.
In October 2009, Custom Products officially decided to pursue the next plateau of excellence by becoming an ISO 17025 accredited test lab. “We recognized that our existing test system would not meet ISO requirements for consistency, traceability and uncertainty, and that we needed a customized, scalable, fully integrated testing solution to get us there,” Schmitt said.
The company’s leaders knew that developing the test system required for accreditation would not be easy. Success would be realized by asking the right questions, adopting the proper technology, and finding a partner with the testing and calibration expertise required to achieve and maintain accreditation. “I was impressed with MTS after a field trip when I was in school thirty years ago, and I have been looking for a reason to work with MTS ever since. Fortunately, that opportunity came when we decided to pursue accreditation.”
The Custom Products leadership team met with MTS in 2009, and was pleased to discover that this single vendor excelled in providing integrated digital software and hardware test solutions, including a particular strength in developing custom software methods. Equally important, MTS provided extensive calibration expertise and a full-service Metrology Laboratory — two mandatory competencies for helping the Custom Products test lab to become ISO 17025 accredited.
Custom Products initially purchased an MTS ReNew™ hardware upgrade, which adds state-of-the-art digital controls and TestWorks® software to Custom Products’ existing test setup. The company also purchased MTS load cells and displacement transducers.
“With respect to just having the ReNew upgrade, load cells and displacement transducer, we did not yet have a complete system,” Schmitt said. “It was the customized test methods that allowed us to integrate all of this, so that when we applied the displacement transducers, we would get outputs to monitor the key performance components of the industry standards required.
“Accreditation also requires us to buy calibration services from an existing 17025 accredited lab, which is what the MTS Metrology Laboratory provides,” Schmitt added. “So over the course of time, MTS successfully provided the hardware, software with custom test methods, and calibration and metrology consultation. It was the fully integrated hardware and software solution we needed to go confidently in the direction of ISO 17025 accreditation.”
Much of the preparation for accreditation was a process of discovery, for which MTS’ deep testing expertise proved essential. For example, MTS determined upon further analysis that certain transducers initially selected would increase errors beyond ISO 17025 requirements. MTS investigated and proposed alternate transducers that would operate within Custom Products’ broad temperature range while not introducing significant additional errors. A detailed temperature compensation spreadsheet was provided for each transducer, as means of further minimizing and quantifying temperature components that would have been an issue with the original transducers and measurement processes.
In February 2011, Custom Products of Litchfield officially became an ISO 17025 accredited test lab — an industry first for ROPS/FOPS equipment manufacturers.
Today, Custom Products enjoys a thriving business and test lab, due in part to its clear competitive differentiation as an ISO 17025 accredited program. According to Schmitt, being accredited is fast becoming a requirement for contract testing customers. He is certain his company made the right decision at the right time.
“I just spoke with a major OEM for whom we have proposed some testing services for a piece of forestry equipment, I reminded him that we are an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory,” Schmitt said. “His response was that they wouldn’t consider using anybody who was not. In addition, many of our customers sell their products in Europe, which requires an E-mark certification before vehicles can be sold there. Our accreditation greatly simplifies this certification process for customers, saving them time and money.”
Custom Products continues to rely on MTS for the ongoing calibration and metrology consultation required to remain an IS0 17025 accredited test lab. Unlike other vendors the company has used in the past, MTS provides a complete set of the values needed to calculate measurement uncertainty and satisfy ISO auditors.
“I knew it from the moment we issued the purchase order that we were partnering with people who would not allow us to fail,” Schmitt said. “MTS offers the complete solution and is fully committed to our success. People drool in envy over the integrated system that we have in use at Custom Products.
“It has been quite a learning experience, but a very positive one as well,” Schmitt added. “I have every confidence that whatever goal we set for ourselves, MTS will help us get there as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.”
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