The Evolution of Pipette Calibration Services

Part Two

In part 1 of this blog, I described the landscape of the pipette market, and the developing pipette service market, from the 1960s through the 1990s. In the 30+ years of biology, clinical and metrology lab experience I have accumulated, I recognized two significant events during the past 14 years that have significantly impacted and shaped the pipette calibration service market today. In Part 2, I will describe these events and what impacts they had.

Post 9/11
Through the 90s and well past the millennium, pipette calibration service opportunities continued to grow. Just as traveling pipette service providers were multiplying, standards-based pipette calibration laboratories were taking advantage of increases in regulation and stiffening competition. Accreditation was on the rise.

The significance and impact of 9/11 on industries, businesses and the process of how laboratory service supply would meet demand changed forever. New security regulation led to locked doors, access restrictions and phone screening policies at businesses everywhere. For traveling pipette service providers, where access to labs, staff and pipettes was a prior requirement, access to business opportunities would now require authorization, appointments and facility escorts.

Publication of the Piston Pipette Standard
In 2002, ISO 8655 was published to provide standardization of pipette calibration procedures and controls. Included were requirements for acceptable pipette calibration test equipment, environment conditions and reporting.  Pipette calibration competency now took on a new meaning. Traveling onsite providers, who simply cannot meet these requirements, were no longer considered for regulated laboratories. Conversely, pipette calibration laboratories that were ISO 17025 accredited and ISO 8655 compliant, were now in demand from these labs.

Between 2007-2009, as markets and economies plunged, corporate downsizing became prominent and budgets were slashed. The effect on pipette calibration services was evident, as labs extended calibration intervals and looked for lower cost providers. Standard-based providers were being squeezed; as customers were switching to ISO 17025 accredited onsite providers, despite their lack of ISO 8655 compliant capability.

Pipette Calibration Today
The economy has recovered today, but the pipette calibration paradigm continues. Regulated labs have required standards, but for unregulated labs, the decision of Quality vs. Convenience vs. Price remains a choice of value.

Onsite pipette service providers will claim that pipettes should be calibrated where they are used, a representation of the pipette user’s work environment. Although that may appear logical on the surface, consider this situation. An onlooker hurries onto a thinly frozen lake to rescue a person who has fallen through. The ice is no safer for the rescuer, than it was for the initial victim and the rescuer subsequently falls through.

Laboratories and conference rooms, in particular (often the room of choice for onsite pipette calibration) both provide poor environments for pipetting. Dry conditions and high air flow increase evaporation, which greatly reduces measurement accuracy for both the scientists and for an onsite calibration provider. When a pipette is used for laboratory science and also calibrated in this poor environment, measurement accuracy of both is impacted. For example, the lack of these environmental controls reduces the accuracy and repeatability of the scientists, but it also reduces measurement performance of a pipette calibration tech. When these impacts are combined, the risk of pipetting errors and inaccuracies increases.  One might consider that two wrongs don’t make a right, when describing onsite pipette calibration services.

In contrast, pipette calibration from a controlled laboratory environment significantly reduces contributors to measurement inaccuracy, instead providing the scientist with a trustworthy, standard-based pipette calibration and pipette measurement improvement. Isn’t this the objective of pipette calibration?  Lab managers today must consider that pipetting errors are neither cost effective, nor convenient and the choice of pipette calibration will determine if the objective is met.