Lab closer to international accreditation of proficiency testing

NHLANHLA MAMBA Qotho's imminent accreditation is vitally important

CRUCIAL CREDIBILTY Laboratories subscribing to an International Orgnaisation for Standardisation-accredited profinciency scheme service provider are more likely to attract business

4th August 2017

By: Nadine James

Features Deputy Editor


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Laboratory service provider Qotho is one step closer to receiving ISO 17043 accreditation for its proficiency testing scheme, having been audited by national accreditation authority the South African National Accreditation System (Sanas), says Qotho director and proficiency testing (PT) scheme manager Nhlanhla Mamba.

ISO 17043 specifies the general requirements and competences of laboratories that provide and develop PT schemes. Mamba notes that the Sanas audit was conducted in mid-July and, based on the outcome of the audit, Qotho was granted a recommendation to obtain the ISO accreditation.

Mamba commends his staff on their “brilliance”, citing their professionalism and confidence throughout the intensive two-day audit, adding that Qotho is “fervently anticipating” the date when its accredited status is published on the Sanas website.

He stresses that this recognition is vitally important to Qotho and the Southern Africa mining industry because there are no International Organisation for Standardisation- (ISO-) accredited PT scheme providers within the mineralogical and chemical testing fields in the region.

“Foreign-based service providers have been taking advantage of this gap in the market, forcing Southern African laboratories to spend large amounts of revenue to participate in an internationally recognised and accredited PT scheme, ultimately, disadvantaging the region’s laboratories, mining houses and economies.”

Mamba notes that the region’s smaller laboratories had to resort to round robin (RR) PT schemes, which were not internationally recognised and perceived to be less credible.

“With this ISO accreditation, a regional service that is internationally recognised will be made available.”

Laboratories subscribing to an ISO-accredited PT service provider are more likely to attract business, as they can provide customers with objective evidence that they have satisfied ISO 17025 requirements.

ISO 17025 standards specify the general requirements and competences of all testing and calibration laboratories, one such requirement being that laboratories frequently participate in accredited PT schemes.

“This accreditation is an important milestone at Qotho and for our loyal customers who have been supporting us during trial stages. The board of directors would like to take this opportunity to extend their appreciation and thanks to all staff members and our customers,” states Mamba.

He adds that, pending the granting of the Sanas certificate, Qotho customers can “rest assured” that the service they receive from Qotho is by no means different from international PT schemes.

New PT Schemes
Mamba notes that Qotho has also introduced new reductant PT schemes to assist participating laboratories in demonstrating their competence in the analysis of reductant samples. “Using analytical techniques of their choice, the schemes help labs identify problems with their techniques and provide an opportunity for self-improvement.”

He explains that various smelters worldwide produce high-, medium- and low-carbon alloys by smelting minerals such as chromite and manganese in arc furnaces. “The smelting reactions involve the reduction of metal oxides, assisted by the addition of reductants to the metallic state to form slag. In most metallurgical processes, char, coal and coke are the main source of carbon for reduction.

Mamba states that factors including costs, grade and the availability of natural resources, have forced most smelters to choose alternative sources of carbon or reductants. “The analytical information obtained from the laboratories performing reductants testing is, therefore, critical for making informed decisions on the suitable grade of reductants to be used in metallurgical processes.”

He emphasises that using an inappropriate reductant grade will result in an unsuitable final product or alloy, leading to a product that is not accepted in the market, with possible knock-on effects in terms of production loss, job cuts and high production costs.

“Therefore, the smelter reductants PT scheme – launched in December last year – is highly significant for all smelters in this industry,” affirms Mamba.

He states that, the scheme includes the laboratory analysis of ash content, inherent moisture, volatile matter, total sulphur and other relevant chemical compositions. “Currently, there are ten South Africa-based companies that have shown interest in this particular scheme, with more smelters expected to join soon.”

Mamba adds that registration for the two remaining reductant rounds for 2017 is still open. “The remaining rounds are scheduled for the sample dispatch on September 11 for rounds five and six, as well as in November for round six. Information on these schedules are on our website.”

Mamba says Qotho is hopeful that, by round one in 2018 – scheduled for January – it will have attracted more local and international laboratories. “We always aim for ten laboratories, as that is the minimum number of participants needed to produce meaningful statistics for evaluation. However, there is no limit with regard to the maximum number of labs that may take part.”

Qotho’s operational PT schemes include chrome, manganese, nickel, iron-ore, reductants, platinum, gold, copper, copper cathode impurities and cobalt. “We will add to schemes as and when requirements are identified by the interested parties in the industry,” concludes Mamba.

Qotho is a Level 2 broad-based black economic-empowerment company. It opened in January 2013 and generates a yearly turnover of about R2-million.

Edited by Tracy Hancock
Creamer Media Contributing Editor



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