Are Testing Laboratories Reliable?

Chusid Associates recently supervised a comprehensive testing program to determine the physical performance characteristics of a client's building product. We retained a testing company with a good reputation and an international network of laboratories. Unfortunately, the lab's work was riddled with errors. And even when the errors were pointed out to them, their revised reports still contained errors.

Errors made by the laboratory included:
- inaccurate measurements or uncalibrated equipment.
- failing to observe specified test procedures.
- writing incomplete reports and reports with spelling and grammatical errors.

Two examples indicate how poorly the laboratory performed. In one test, measurements were taken in degrees F, then reported in degrees C without making the necessary conversions. In another case, they reported that that the product, a quartz surfacing, had a Mohs hardness of 9, an impossibility since quartz is the reference standard for Mohs hardness of 7.

What this illustrates is that product testing programs must be carefully managed by a building product manufacturer, either with their own technical staff or a qualified consultant.

Here are a few guidelines for testing building products:

1. Select the Right Tests: Consider what tests may be necessary for certification or approvals, your internal quality assurance and quality control programs, to respond to data from competitors, and to protect your company from liability. Oh, and try to find tests that realistically predict product performance in the field or offer meaningful comparison to other products.

2. Understand the Tests: It is not enough to simply order a test according to an ASTM standard number, as an example. Many test standards contain several procedures or variables that must be specified. Preliminary testing may be required to know which protocol makes sense for your product.

3. Read the Test Reports: They may be dull technical writing, but you need to read the reports carefully before sharing them with customers. Most labs will make reasonable modifications to a report to clarify its meaning or offer data most useful to your marketing situation, so long as the modifications do not distort the findings of the test.

4. Understand the Test Results: Understanding what the results mean will help catch potential errors in the testing. More, it helps to understand the results in order to be able to explain your product's performance. For example, salt spray testing is commonly used to compare the corrosion resistance of products, but the results do not corrolate well with real world exposure.

5. When Possible, Witness the Tests: This can often enable you to catch a mistake that would otherwise damage the credibility of the test. It will also help you to understand the results.

To see one example of how test data can be used in marketing communications, see the article we wrote for our client.