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Testing Lab Validation - Frequently Asked Questions

Please click the questions below for more information.
What is a laboratory validation?

A laboratory validation is a process by which the Materials Testing Center (located at the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, MS) insures that a commercial laboratory is equipped, staffed, and qualified to perform material testing for the US Army Corps of Engineers in whatever ASTM test methods the lab requests for validation. The next FAQ discusses the TYPICAL pathways to validate a testing lab.

The MTC and the MTC Director have full authority to modify, combine, or change the process by which a lab is validated to be certain the requirements and standards of the USACE, the MTC, and the project or program of concern are met.

How is a laboratory validation performed?

A laboratory can be validated in typically one of several ways. If the lab is AASHTO accredited in the methods requested for validation, the most recent AASHTO accreditation and inspection reports can be used to apply for the validation. This is called an abbreviated audit. For laboratories that do not possess current AASHTO accreditations but only require the validation of 7 or less ASTM methods, the process involves submittals (usually by email) of quality system documentation, digital photographs of equipment and facilities, current calibration certificates, personnel qualification documentation, brief and concise written description of procedures, completed data sheets, and final test reports. This is referred to as a desk audit. Finally, for laboratories that do not possess current AASHTO accreditations and who require the validation of more than 7 ASTM methods, an onsite inspection, typically requiring up to two full working days to complete, including review of the quality system, inspection of equipment and facilities, and interviews with technicians performing the tests on procedures, calculations, and reporting must be performed.

The MTC and the MTC Director have full authority to modify, combine, or change the process by which a lab is validated to be certain the requirements and standards of the USACE, the MTC, and the project or program of concern are met.

What is the process to request a laboratory validation?

To request a laboratory validation, you must first go to "Lab Validation +" at the top of the page and select "Request a Validation" from the dropdown menu. Once on this page, you have three options.

Register a lab not previously validated (new lab): Option 1 is to register a lab that has not been previously validated (a new lab). This link will take you to a fillable page – all items are required except the fax number. Once complete, you press "Generate Request Form" – an Excel spreadsheet link will generate at the bottom of the screen. Open it, check your information and if correct, email it to the address shown. You have now "registered" your lab in our system. Once the lab is entered in the system, you will receive an automated email directing you to pick the test methods you want to be validated to perform. Once this second form is emailed to the MTC, a Testing Services Agreement (TSA) will be generated and sent to you from the MTC for execution and payment. This validation request is complete and the onsite inspection, submittal of data for review, or other will follow.

Revalidate a currently or previously validated lab (existing lab) or add additional methods to an existing validated lab: Option 2, to revalidate a current or previously validated lab (existing lab) takes you to a different form. You must find your lab in our database files using the drop-down window on the lab box. Once you find your lab and click on it, all the information the MTC has will populate the form – all items are required except the fax number. Check this data and make any corrections needed. Now it is time to select the test methods for which you need validation. Once complete, generate your form and email to the MTC. This validation request is complete and the onsite inspection, submittal of data for review, or other will follow.

Register a satellite lab of a validated lab: Option 3 is to register a new satellite lab (working under a parent lab that is already validated with the USACE). All items are required except the fax number. Provide a validated parent lab and its information. Once complete, press "Generate Request Form" – an Excel spreadsheet link will generate at the bottom of the screen. Open it, check your information and if correct, email it to the address shown. You have now "registered" your satellite lab in our system. Once the satellite lab is entered in the system, you will receive an automated email directing you to pick the test methods you want the satellite lab to be validated to perform. Once this second form is emailed to the MTC, a Testing Services Agreement (TSA) will be generated and sent to you from the MTC for execution and payment. This validation request is complete and the onsite inspection, submittal of data for review, or other will follow.

Can a laboratory be validated based on A2LA, CMEC, or other industry accreditation?

No. The MTC and the USACE only recognize AASHTO accreditation for the validation process. If your lab is not AASHTO accredited, then a desk audit or onsite inspection is required, based on the number of methods requested and other circumstances, depending on your lab's particular circumstances.

What test methods can be validated for a laboratory?

The validation of a laboratory is based on ASTM test methods. The methods typically validated include those in the categories of aggregates, bituminous asphalt, concrete, masonry, rock, soils, and sprayed fire-resistant materials. Other areas of testing can be added for validation on an as-needed and required basis.

You will find in the validation request form section that there are many test methods listed as choices for validation. However, if your lab is being validated under a desk audit (electronic submittals to the MTC) or onsite inspection scenario, you can only be validated on ASTM methods. If your lab is being validated using your AASHTO accreditation, you can be validated on any methods for which you are AASHTO accredited, and in good standing for with AASHTO, with the exception of some standards, which are not listed in the test methods selection section.

What does the Materials Testing Center check in the validation process?

For a lab with AASHTO accreditation, the process will examine your latest accreditation status, as posted by AASHTO, as well as a copy of your most recent AMRL and/or CCRL onsite inspection reports, as well as any documentation to resolve any inspection findings. For a desk audit (7 or less methods), the process will be to submit by email, for each test method, quality system documentation, digital photographs of equipment and facilities, current calibration certificates, personnel qualification documentation, brief and concise written description of procedures, completed data sheets, and final test reports. Finally, for an onsite inspection, the process will require examination of the lab’s quality manual, personnel biographies and training records, calibration certificates, proficiency sampling program records (if participating), facilities, equipment, interviews on test procedures with those personnel performing the tests, and examination of test worksheets and completed and final test reports for each test method.

What is the general process and timeline to have a laboratory validation performed?

The process starts by filling out and submitting the laboratory validation request form. Once received and after determining all the information is in order, an estimate of the validation process cost is sent to the laboratory. If the laboratory agrees to the cost, a testing services agreement (TSA) is assembled and sent to the point of contact that submitted the request. The TSA is a mechanism that allows the Materials Testing Center (MTC) to accept funds from sources outside the Federal Government. The TSA is signed by an officer of the laboratory company and sent back to the (MTC) along with a check for the validation cost for routing through our internal approval and processing system. The MTC routes this check for funds acceptance. Once accepted, the funds are loaded into the financial tracking system where the MTC can then access the funds and perform the work. Under most circumstances, the time required to route the TSA and process the funds takes between 30-60 days. It is recommended that a laboratory plan on the entire process for validation taking at least 90 days, especially in the case of an onsite inspection validation.

What if my current validation is expiring and my re-validation will not occur in time to prevent validation loss?

Because the process to validate a laboratory is funded by the validation fees collected, no validation can be expedited until the payment is received. If your laboratory has a current validation that is going to expire prior to the completion of the re-validation process, an extension of your current validation can be issued by the Director of the MTC once payment for the re-validation is received. Extension are at the discretion of the Director of the MTC only.

How do I prepare for our laboratory validation?

If your validation is based on AASHTO accreditation or a desk audit, just be prepared to send all of your records and required documentation as requested by email for review. These will include quality manuals, written test methods, calibration certificates, personnel bios and qualifications, pictures of facilities and equipment, etc. If your validation requires an onsite inspection, first, make sure you schedule your validation to allow at least 2 full working days to perform the validation, and that those who supervise the lab and perform the test methods will be in the lab and available for those two days. Make sure your quality system documents are up to date, in order, and ready for review. Pull final test reports (those that are sent out to clients) for all the test methods for which you are being validated, and make sure you have recent calibration sheets and data for all instruments and equipment that require regular calibration. Make sure your testing procedures are documented and up to date (using the standards as your procedures is acceptable, as long as they are easily available to the testing personnel and the latest editions of each method). The MTC will usually send copies of inspection checklists prior to arrival so the laboratory will have some ideas of what will be examined.

Above all, DON’T PANIC THE DAY OF THE INSPECTION! Our inspectors are not out to fail your laboratory on issues your lab may have, but to help you understand your issues and make your lab better!

What documentation will I receive to show my lab is validated?

The MTC does not send your lab a validation letter or certificate. Instead, we provide a validation listed on our website in our validated laboratory database. Once your lab is validated, you can go to our website and find your lab’s validation page, and if a hardcopy of your validation is required, you can click on the "print a certificate of validation" button. This will provide a certificate of validation listing all the test methods that your lab is validated to perform as of that day and time of the certificate request.

If my lab’s validation is based on AASHTO accreditation, and that accreditation changes, how does that affect my USACE validation?

When you lab is validated based on AASHTO accreditation, your lab is add to our AASHTO Specifier monitoring list. If your accreditation changes (methods are suspended, revoked, or withdrawn), the MTC is provided a notice from AASHTO. When the MTC is aware of this change, we will change your validation in the system to reflect those changes, and issue an email to the email you listed for your lab informing you of this change. The USACE District that your lab resides in will also be informed. Once you clear the issues with AASHTO, the MTC will again be notified, at which time we will make the changes to your validation accordingly. The MTC WILL NOT automatically add methods to your validation if added to your accreditation – if you add methods to your AASHTO accreditation and wish those to be added to your USACE validation, you must contact the MTC and send a request for validation form with the methods you wish to add. A validation fee will apply.

How do I maintain my laboratory validation, and what can cause a lab to lose its validation?

ALL LABORATORY VALIDATIONS, REGARDLESS OF THE METHOD OR BASIS OF VALIDATION, ARE VALID FOR 2 YEARS. In the case of an AASHTO accredited laboratory, you must maintain your accreditation to keep your validation. If your accreditation is changed, your lab relocates, or you lose part or all of your accreditation, you are required to notify the Materials Testing Center IMMEDIATELY on a resolution plan for the accreditation issue(s), otherwise, the validation can be revoked.

Regardless of the method of validation, your laboratory's validation can be revoked due to repeated poor performance, failure to respond to requests of the MTC or the USACE District for whom you are performing the testing, or any number of other reasons. At any time, a USACE District can request a review of a laboratory's validation, and if credible evidence exists that the laboratory is not performing according to ASTM standards, their validation can be revoked. The final decision to revoke a laboratory's validation rests with the Director of the MTC. Once revoked, the path to reinstatement of a laboratory's validation is at the discretion of the Director of the MTC, including a full price revalidation process.

I don't see the answer to my question. May I ask a new question?

Yes, please click on the New MTC Validation Question link to send an email to Chad Gartrell and Brittany Hopkins.