SAIMC Pretoria branch talks technical infrastructure

May 7th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Petrus Klopper (right), chairman of the SAIMC Tshwane branch, thanks Steve Sidney, director of the NLA.

Technical infrastructure (TI) is a terminology which is unique to South Africa and refers to a number of institutions that drive standards and ensure support for technical regulations. At the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SAIMC) Pretoria branch May technical evening, hosted at the National Laboratory Association (NLA), NLA director Steve Sidney said the concept of technical infrastructure was coined by the Department of Trade and Industry around 2006 and includes departments and organisations that focus on standards, accreditation, measurement traceability and technical barriers to trade (TBT).

Sidney said that perhaps the most important part of TI are standards, which are made up of physical standards and paper standards. Standards also assist with assurance of quality: assuring you that 1 V really is 1 V, for example.

The National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA) is responsible for the physical standards, which are used in daily life. It started in France in 1870 when the metre convention was adopted and, from there, all seven systems of physical units (SI units) came about. Today, this is controlled by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). South Africa is a member of the BIPM through NMISA. South Africa’s physical standards are comparable to all seven SI units. NMISA is also responsible for the maintenance and dissemination of physical standards. The institute also provides reference analysis in the case of a measurement dispute, and maintains and develops primary methods for chemical analysis to certify reference materials for SA and the African region.

Paper standards are managed by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). Standards are developed by technical committees made up of experts representing the industry requiring a new standards. These standards are given a South African National Standard (SANS) reference number. There are many standards bodies in the world developing their own standards. Of South African interest is the European National Standard (EN). In many instances, South Africa does not have to re-invent the wheel, but will review and take over an EN standard and change the prefix from EN to SANS, keeping the same reference number. There are instances where the technical committee may recommend changes to an EN standard to take a care of a particular condition prevailing in South Africa, for example a higher ambient operating temperature.

In his presentation, Sidney also addressed accreditation, which is carried out by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and the role of the NLA. The NLA evolved from the National Calibration Laboratory which was part of the Counsel for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). When the need presented itself that accreditation was not only required for laboratories but also had to be extended to inspection and certification, SABS was established. This created the need for an independent body to represent the interest of laboratories. The NLA is active in technical training for laboratory personnel, professional recognition, workshops and conferences.