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Understanding the Differences between Validation and Calibration

The rapid advancements in the life sciences industry necessitate stricter quality and compliance procedures to align with regulatory standards, ensuring product safety and reliability. Regulatory authorities, such as those in the United States and the European Union (EU), have shifted their emphasis from solely relying on testing for quality assurance to a more design-centric approach. This approach considers the potential risks to product quality and patient safety. As such, companies must follow these rules and regulations within their operations, including design, testing, and data security. Among the fundamental concepts within this regulated space are “validation” and “calibration.” Although many professionals in the field recognize these terms, not everyone understands the differences between them.

Good manufacturing practice (GMP) regulators in the United States the European Union (EU) and other internationally recognized GMP regulators have sharpened their focus on quality and compliance practices. Driving this trend is a shift in regulatory thinking from quality-by-test to quality-by-design systems/processes with emphasis on the level of risk to product quality and patient safety.

There’s an increased emphasis by regulators in the Healthcare and Life Sciences (HLS) industry to comply with rules and regulations across all aspects of their business, such as development, design, equipment operation, processes, test methods, standard operating procedures, computerized systems, and data security amongst other things. Realizing there is an urgency for growth, leadership, and knowledge that can serve and grow with our ever-changing industry, I wanted to share some basic insights from within my profession that seem to come up more often as people enter the regulated space of the life sciences industry.  Validation, calibration, and qualification are extremely critical in Healthcare and Life Sciences processes. Understanding them is necessary in order to meet GMP guidelines.

I’m often asked; “What is the difference between calibration vs. validation – are they the same? Is one a subset of the other?”

“I am still struggling to separate the two from each other – Can you provide me with a definition of Calibration vs. Validation and how the two differ.”

At the most basic level, calibration indicates the error of an instrument and measurers for any lack of trueness by comparison against a reference standard and validation stands for a process of testing and documenting.

Many people in the Healthcare and Life Sciences industry know the terms, but not everyone is aware of the differences.

Just a little insight will help you understand the differences between them.

Validation is the documented act of demonstrating that a procedure, process, and activity will consistently produce results meeting predetermined acceptance criteria. Pharma & Biotech’s most common way of establishing evidence or documenting test results is through the implementation of Protocols. Protocols, such as Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ) and Performance Qualification (PQ), along with essential design and planning documents such as User Requirement Specification (URS) and Validation Master Plan (VMP) are the building blocks of the validation framework.

Why is this essential? ‘If it’s not written down, then it didn’t happen!’

The FDA requires establishing documented evidence that a specific process will consistently produce results meeting specifications and quality attributes. Without supporting documentation, one runs the risk of being out of compliance.

Calibration on the other hand specifically refers to measurement devices, instruments and tools that record, monitor, and control environmental conditions or parameters. Calibration can also be defined as a process that demonstrates a particular instrument or device to produce results within specified limits with reference to a traceable standard over a range of parameters. This process also includes the adjustment of an instrument to realign with the acceptable standard.

Taking measurements involving any GxP process requires calibration to ensure the accuracy of the measurement. Instruments that record, monitor, control critical environmental variables require calibration. Instrument calibration must be enforced on a regular basis to ensure reproducible results. GMPs require written procedures for calibrating, inspecting, and checking automated, mechanical, and electronic equipment.

Understanding these generally basic concepts are an integral step to understanding quality assurance and the many different aspects of compliance in the Life Sciences industry. It all might seem like a long, drawn-out process, but there’s a good reason for it. If you can ensure your products perform consistently and meet all the requirements of the industry, the value of both the product and patient safety increases. Along with this increased value comes a greater need to understand that the work we do matters, and that helping Life Science organizations ensure compliance and consistency with current regulations when carrying out commissioning, validation and qualification projects in a safe and efficient manner ultimately leads to saving lives.

Originally published by Network Magazine.


  1. GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice): A set of regulations ensuring products are produced and controlled according to quality standards.
  2. Quality-by-Design: A systematic approach to product development that emphasizes product and process understanding and controls.
  3. Validation: The documented evidence that a specific process, method, or system will consistently produce outcomes that meet predetermined specifications and quality criteria.
  4. Calibration: The process of comparing the readings of an instrument to a known standard to verify its accuracy, followed by adjustments if necessary.
  5. Protocols: Defined procedures or sets of instructions for conducting a specific activity or test.
  6. Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ), Performance Qualification (PQ): Standardized tests to validate that equipment and processes operate correctly and yield the expected outcomes.
  7. User Requirement Specification (URS): A document that describes how a system should perform.
  8. Validation Master Plan (VMP): A document outlining the principles involved in the qualification of a facility, defining the areas and systems to be validated.
  9. GxP: A collection of quality guidelines and regulations which ensure that products are safe and fit for their intended use.

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About Genesis AEC

Genesis AEC – an award-winning consulting, architecture, engineering, and construction management firm – has partnered with life sciences companies for more than 25 years to complement the scientific expertise of our clients as they usher in the next generation of life-saving therapies, treatments, and technologies. Whether it’s providing AE support for existing sites; commissioning, validation, and qualification (CQV) for specific processes or equipment; or turnkey design-build solutions, our team blends sound science and technical expertise with quality assurance and safety measures to deliver unparalleled results.