Monday, February 13, 2012

Inside AMRL's Certification Program

I recently spoke with Bob Lutz, the manager of the AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory (AMRL) and got some insight into the AASHTO Accreditation Program for materials testing laboratories.

The AASHTO Accreditation Program (AAP) was founded in 1988 and is the largest program of its kind.  State DOTs from all over the country use it for their central laboratory accreditation. 

The process is as follows:
  • The lab receives an on-site assessment by an AMRL assessor.  The assessor performs a detailed review of the lab's quality management system and their testing equipment.  The assessor will also observe your technicians performing the test methods.  Most labs will have an assessor on site for 1-2 days.  A big change from the weeks of time with assessors in the Caltrans program.  
    •  The quality management system review includes reviewing the lab's documented policies, procedures, and records.  Your quality management system must meet the requirements of AASHTO R-18 which is for sale for $55 at the online AASHTO Bookstore here.
    • The assessors will check to see that you have the most current versions of the AASHTO and/or ASTM test methods that you have requested to be evaluated on. AASHTO standards are updated once a year in late summer or early fall.   ASTM standards are updated more frequently, and ASTM International offers a free service that allows you to receive email notifications each time one of the standards that you use is updated.  You can sign up for this service by clicking here.   
    • The assessors will physically check some of the lab's testing equipment to determine whether it conforms to the requirements/tolerances stated in the test methods.  This exercise also lets the assessor know whether a lab's quality management system is being effectively followed.
    • The testing procedure review involves the assessor observing technician(s) running the tests with real material.  This gives the assessor an indication of how well they follow the standard methods and their proficiency to perform the tests.  Unlike Caltrans's IA program, each technician does not have to prove that they can run each test.  The assessor will watch one person per test method although they do like to observe a good cross-section of the technicians throughout the time that they are on site to assure that all of them are competent.  
    • The assessor will provide a preliminary report to the laboratory on the last day of the assessment and a more formal report will be provided to the laboratory a few weeks after the assessment.       
  • Any findings in the final report labeled as "Nonconformities" must be addressed by the laboratory and the solution communicated to AMRL through their website within 90 days from the day the report was issued.  Some of the nonconformities may have to be addressed with a root-cause analysis to prevent recurrence.
  • Labs must enroll in the proficiency sample testing program (PSP).  This is equivalent to the Caltrans RSP sample program.  Most samples in the AMRL program are sent out once per year, although a few, such as asphalt binder, are sent twice a year.  The proficiency sample testing program is how AMRL gauges a lab's performance between assessments.
  • Once accredited, labs will continue to receive on-site assessments approximately every 24 months and will need to complete these assessments regularly along with the PSP samples in order to maintain their accreditation.  Laboratories will also be required to submit some basic information on an annual basis.    
Fees for the AASHTO accreditation will vary depending on the tests that you do at your lab.  A basic laboratory that runs gradation, SE, asphalt binder content, and moisture can be accredited for around $3500 every two years.  This includes an on-site assessment, annual fees for proficiency samples, and annual fees for accreditation maintenance.  You can find a full break down of the fees on the AMRL website here.

Bob and I also spoke about a concern that Caltrans has with the California test methods that do not have AASHTO or ASTM equivalents.  Caltrans had mentioned that they would probably keep part of their IA program open to certify labs in these test methods.  However, Bob let me know that AMRL is very open to adding Caltrans test methods to their accreditation program but only if there is no AASHTO or ASTM equivalent, so as to promote the use of national standards.  This is great news and hopefully will help to lean Caltrans towards this type of accreditation instead of their own IA program.  

If you're interested in learning more about the AASHTO Accreditation Program you can visit the AMRL website at  AMRL also has a great newsletter that they publish twice a year, in the spring and fall.  If you're interested in keeping up with AMRL updates you can email to have them add you to their subscription list and the newsletter can also be found on their website.  

In addition, Bob would be happy to answer any of your questions and can be reached at or 240-436-4801.  Good luck!

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