NATA is the world's first and most experienced laboratory accreditation body. Since its creation in 1947, it was and continues to be the model for many similar organisations around the world. It is a founding member of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC), and provides both of their secretariats.
As such, NATA is the authority in the assurance of technical standards in Australia, and a leading authority on the world stage.
NATA was born of necessity in the Second World War when Australia was cut off from any means of ensuring the munitions it was manufacturing were of a sufficiently high standard. The notion of ensuring that testing standards were themselves subject to examination was then a novel one.
In late 1945, a conference on the coordination of testing services attended by representatives of all State and Federal governments led to the formation of the National Association of Testing Authorities a little more than a year later. The new association was to provide a national testing service to Australia and would span all technical, industrial and geographical areas of the country.
Not only was such a scheme a world first but its means of operation - relying on a vast pool of volunteers who would provide a 'peer-review' basis of accreditation - remains to this day a key part of the NATA structure.
This approach, combined with the use of technical advisory committees and industry-derived evaluation criteria, helped ensure the future success and continued relevance of NATA to the present day.
During the 1950s, NATA's Council expanded to include representation from key industry and professional bodies including the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, the Institute of Physics, the Institution of Engineers Australia and the Associated Chamber of Manufactures Australia. By 1957, the Council membership had stabilised and the decision was taken to incorporate NATA.
Celebrating 25 years of service in 1972, NATA had received 1234 applications and had granted 1000 registrations. During this period, the introduction of annual membership fees saw NATA start to take financial responsibility for its future, with government funding dropping from 100% of NATA income, to about 70 per cent by 1972. The figure now stands at little more than five per cent.
In 1972, Telarc was established in New Zealand as only the second national laboratory accreditation system in the world. The following year, Denmark became the next country to establish a national scheme. Very soon after this, NATA began to receive inquiries and visitors from several national measurement bodies in the United States and Europe who were keen to understand the role and operation of NATA in Australia. This eventually led to the first International Laboratory Accreditation Conference (ILAC) held in Copenhagen in 1977.
In 1979, NATA hosted the third ILAC conference in Australia. This involvement with ILAC was reinforced by the establishment of a series of bilateral mutual recognition agreements with national bodies in Australia's overseas markets.
The first agreement was with New Zealand (Telarc) in 1981, followed by the USA (NVLAP) in 1983, the UK (NAMAS) in 1986 and Hong Kong (HOKLAS) in 1989. Agreements were later established with A2LA in the United States as well as several European accreditation bodies and regional cooperations. These agreements were central to the acceptance of Australian test results overseas, and were further supported throughout the 1980s by NATA consultancies to assist the development of national accreditation systems in Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Brazil and other economies.
NATA training courses were also conducted in many Asian and European countries as well as in the USA during this period. Training of overseas personnel was also conducted by NATA in Australia.
In 1988, NATA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Government, which formally recognised NATA as Australia's national provider of laboratory accreditation services.
Other landmarks in NATA's growth during the 1980s included the establishment of branch offices in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide to better service the needs of clients and the community.
NATA also started comprehensive training programs for its assessors, laboratory managers and quality practitioners These courses were created to cater for training needs not satisfied by other courses then available. NATA's training courses were immensely popular both domestically and internationally and have since been further expanded to meet demand.
In the early 1990s, mutual recognition agreements were established with the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden and what is now the European Cooperation for Accreditation (EA), which includes national bodies from an ever-increasing number of major European nations. This emerging international profile continued to grow strongly throughout the 90s and into the next decade, spurred on by NATA's active involvement in ILAC and the continuing use of NATA's training courses by overseas organisations.
Also helping to develop this international recognition were developments in 1992 that gave rise to APLAC, which includes many of Australia's principal trading partners in South East Asia, America and the Pacific. NATA actively contributes both support and resources to help develop this regional forum which, like ILAC, does much to assist with the elimination of trade barriers related to testing in the region.
In 1997, NCS International Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary was created to provide certification services.
In 2013 NATA sold its total shareholding in NCS International (NCSI) to British Standards Institution (BSI).
Significant features of NATA's activities and profile in the years from 2000 to the present include:
- Maturation of the global ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) which was completed in 2000.
- The creation of wholly owned subsidiary Proficiency Testing Australia in 2006.
- Investment by NATA in significant enhancement of its own technical staff resources to address growth in demand.
- Development of closer links with State and Territory governments to mirror NATA's relationship with the Commonwealth and to recognise their roles and needs as major stakeholders in NATA's activities.
- Renewal of the MoU with the Commonwealth and various State governments.
- The development of a corporate strategy 2007-2012 and a significant cultural change necessary to meet the demands of a changing marketplace.