Nowadays, the construction industry of Russia is facing the task to restore and strengthen the experiment direction both in scientific institutions and in construction companies. In this interview, our editor-in-chief discusses this problem with Denis Mezentsev,the testing laboratories accreditation expert of the National Accreditation Institute of the Federal Service for Accreditation.
—Denis Vladimirovich, please tell us about your institute.
— The National Accreditation Institute was founded in 2015 within the Federal Accreditation Service, i.e. four years after the creation of the service itself. Initially, it was considered as an expert organization; then it got the function of methodical support of accreditation. And the number of tasks is still growing: now they include scientific research and development, organization of topical seminars, information and methodology support, cooperation with foreign accreditation agencies.
The institute is meant to promote international recognition of the Russian accreditation system, the use of the cutting-edge approaches and techniques by the participants of the Federal Service for Accreditation in accordance with international standards and best practices. For example, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the UK’s National Accreditation Body (UKAS).
— And how many accredited laboratories are there in Russia today, which can work in the field of construction?
— At present, the accredited entities register, publicly available on the official website of the Federal Service for Accreditation, contains information about more than 300 laboratories involved in testing and measurement in the field of construction.
In recent years, the number of laboratories aiming at obtaining accreditation, has been constantly growing. We link this tendency with the decisions of Russia’s Government aimed at significant extension of the lists of construction materials subject to mandatory certification.
— And for how long is the accreditation valid?
— Accreditation in the National System has no expiration date, but it doesn’t mean that having obtained it, laboratories work without any control and supervision. According to accreditation rules, they must confirm their competence during the first year upon the day of obtaining accreditation, at least every other year since the latest competence confirmation procedure, and each five years since obtaining accreditation.
For competence confirmation, the following factors are assessed: management system documentation completeness and the compliance with its rules, experience and skill set of the personnel, and material and technical resources. Testing and measurement procedures are also supervised. Besides, the Federal Service for Accreditation controls the work of accredited entities.
— How can you classify construction laboratories?
— Construction labs accredited in the Federal Service for Accreditation are divided into two major groups: testing laboratories which test and measure construction materials, and production laboratories. The work of the first ones consists merely in sampling and measuring, while those from the second group ensure construction materials quality control during the production cycle from incoming control to commissioning, and participate in studying and launching of new manufacturing technologies. Labs specialize in various construction activities: testing of soil, metal, construction materials (nonmetallic minerals, cement, concrete, dry mixtures, bricks, etc.) and constructs, non-destructive testing, chemical testing, etc.
The laboratory scope depends on financing and tasks in line with the legislation, particularly the Federal Law No 412, and the Order of the Ministry of Economic Development of May 30, 2014 No 326.
I’d notice that accreditation in the National System is voluntary. Accreditation per se means government’s confidence. Construction companies’ management, business owners and CEOs, as well as the clients of testing centers, realize it. That’s why accredited construction labs have great opportunities, especially for foreign economic activity, and enjoy customers’ confidence.
But the willingness to obtain accreditation is not enough. Prior to applying, one should assess their potential and resources, and analyze whether the personnel is qualified and experienced enough or not. Many labs want to be accredited but don’t observe the accreditation requirements. For example, don’t declare rendering of services to third parties. In such cases we need to explain that accreditation is not possible. And often, after several months and proper preparation, laboratories apply for accreditation again.
— In recent decades, the laboratory direction of the construction industry has suffered losses: reduction of staff, obsolescence of equipment. Some construction forms shut down their labs. Today we’re hearing about the resurrection of the laboratory direction. How can you estimate the current condition of testing centres?
— I’d say that the situation is generally improving. In the 1990s, the construction industry fell out of the scope of government regulation, but experience has shown that this practice wasn’t successful. Willing to earn more, many construction companies save on construction materials, workers’ skills, testing laboratories financing, and the quality and reliability of experiments. For economics, the construction industry should be considered as a vital one, as a driver of heavy engineering, metallurgical industry, etc., which promotes scientific research and ensures employment. However, development is impossible without large investment and long-term credits.
Since its creation in 2011, the Federal Service for Accreditation has started straightening things out in compliance assessment, particularly in the sphere of testing laboratories (centres). Most malevolent players left the market in 2015 - 2016. However, I must say that there are sectors that have managed not only to maintain their testing labs, but also to successfully develop them. Primarily, it is true of bridge construction and the nuclear power industry. As you know, over the last years, the State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” has been building many nuclear power industry objects abroad: in Finland, Turkey, Iran, Eastern Europe, Belarus, etc.
Russian projects attract customers with the possibilities of unification and sustainability. On average, an atomic reactor of an atomic power plant should operate for 25 years in a routine mode with a projected load, which imposes more responsibility on testing laboratories. Besides, the sector uses a vast variety of products including the unique and patented ones, and involves a lot of suppliers. It is one of the science-driven sectors, therefore product certification plays a significant role. In the case of nuclear power industry objects construction, primary contractors have their own manufacturing testing laboratories which are usually able to conduct the total complex of tests according to the project.
Accredited testing laboratories in the field of bridge construction are equally conscientious. They perform acceptance tests of construction materials and inspect the quality of final constructs. They issue a testing protocol for each construction unit, and a compliance certificate if necessary. Only after that a construct is sent to the site where the primary contractor’s testing laboratory performs acceptance tests.
When the bridge is raised, the same laboratory controls the quality of the final object using non-destructive testing methods specified in the project. Protocols issued by the testing laboratory are included into the register and kept during the standard life cycle of the bridge.
— The Russian Government has entrusted the construction materials manufacturers with the task to not only supply the internal market with innovative materials, but also become export-oriented. What is the role of accredited laboratories in this process?