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2. Measurement Process Characterization
2.5. Uncertainty analysis



Issues for uncertainty analysis Evaluation of uncertainty is an ongoing process that can consume time and resources. It can also require the services of someone who is familiar with data analysis techniques, particularly statistical analysis. Therefore, it is important for laboratory personnel who are approaching uncertainty analysis for the first time to be aware of the resources required and to carefully lay out a plan for data collection and analysis.
Problem areas Some laboratories, such as test laboratories, may not have the resources to undertake detailed uncertainty analyses even though, increasingly, quality management standards such as the ISO 9000 series are requiring that all measurement results be accompanied by statements of uncertainty.

Other situations where uncertainty analyses are problematical are:

  • One-of-a-kind measurements
  • Dynamic measurements that depend strongly on the application for the measurement
Directions being pursued What can be done in these situations? There is no definitive answer at this time. Several organizations, such as the National Conference of Standards Laboratories (NCSL) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) are investigating methods for dealing with this problem, and there is a document in draft that will recommend a simplified approach to uncertainty analysis based on results of interlaboratory tests.
Relationship to interlaboratory test results Many laboratories or industries participate in interlaboratory studies where the test method itself is evaluated for:
  • repeatability within laboratories
  • reproducibility across laboratories
These evaluations do not lead to uncertainty statements because the purpose of the interlaboratory test is to evaluate, and then improve, the test method as it is applied across the industry. The purpose of uncertainty analysis is to evaluate the result of a particular measurement, in a particular laboratory, at a particular time. However, the two purposes are related.
Default recommendation for test laboratories If a test laboratory has been party to an interlaboratory test that follows the recommendations and analyses of an American Society for Testing Materials standard (ASTM E691) or an ISO standard (ISO 5725), the laboratory can, as a default, represent its standard uncertainty for a single measurement as the reproducibility standard deviation as defined in ASTM E691 and ISO 5725. This standard deviation includes components for within-laboratory repeatability common to all laboratories and between-laboratory variation.
Drawbacks of this procedure The standard deviation computed in this manner describes a future single measurement made at a laboratory randomly drawn from the group and leads to a prediction interval (Hahn & Meeker) rather than a confidence interval. It is not an ideal solution and may produce either an unrealistically small or unacceptably large uncertainty for a particular laboratory. The procedure can reward laboratories with poor performance or those that do not follow the test procedures to the letter and punish laboratories with good performance. Further, the procedure does not take into account sources of uncertainty other than those captured in the interlaboratory test. Because the interlaboratory test is a snapshot at one point in time, characteristics of the measurement process over time cannot be accurately evaluated. Therefore, it is a strategy to be used only where there is no possibility of conducting a realistic uncertainty investigation.
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