The Business of Running Lab Samples

Which Foot Is The Shoe On?

One of the exciting things about being in the business of manufacturing inspection penetrants occurs at the beginning of each month. That is when many penetrant users send in their samples for our Pen-Chek® evaluation, so that they meet the requirements of ASTM E-1417 or another relevant specification. You might wonder how this could be exciting, but there are things that you probably have not thought of.

OK, here we are receiving packages of the samples – – lots and lots of packages, from many different sources. Most of them contain the samples for analysis plus paper work that details which analyses are to be performed, and which specification governs the tests to be made. In addition, each sample is labeled with the identification of the material, the batch number, and
the date the sample was taken. This is the ideal situation, especially when the sample containers have not leaked, leaving all of the paperwork (and our hands) in a condition that glows in the dark, so to speak.

But inevitably, we open a package and it contains one or more sample containers of material, and there is no paperwork. When we read the label on the container, it reads “Penetrant”. There is no material identification, no batch number, and no date at which the sample was taken. Not only that, but there is no mention of which company has sent the samples. So we have to play detective. We retrieve the shipping box to see if there is a return address, so that we can identify the source of the sample. Once we know this, we can look into our invoice records to see what that company buys from us.

If we are lucky, the sample will have come from one of our customers. If we are not lucky, it will have come from a company that buys from one of our competitors. But if it has originated from one of our customers, we hope that they only buy one product. If they buy several different penetrants, and we then need to do some forensic analyses to tell what is what. Then, we are left with no information about either the batch number or the date at which the sample was taken. But we soldier on,
try to make reasonable assumptions, and make the analyses that we believe are required, and report our findings on our standard report form.

Aside from the necessity of playing detective, there are several things wrong with this situation. The first thing is that the company that sent the materials has relied upon us to decide what the material is, what batch it might be, and what analyses to perform. If we do our best to try to identify these things, and we are not correct, an auditor is liable to find this out and the company will get dinged. This responsibility should not be on our shoulders.

But the other thing that is wrong is that there are times when these same companies complain to us that our standard report form is not satisfactory, and that we have not provided them with the wording that they require. When we get into the details of this, it seems to inevitably be some minor or even trivial item, such as omitting the paragraph number of the analysis that was performed. For them, it seems OK to omit even the identification of the material being sent, but for us, we are held to a much higher standard, having to guess at the exact wording that their system requires. It just depends upon which foot the shoe is on. How exciting!