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August 8, 2016

Choosing a Third-Party Testing Laboratory

There are many laboratories to choose from when testing FR and AR clothing and components. Which laboratory will work best for you? Well, that depends. Below we’ve provided a short list of considerations when searching for the best laboratory to partner with.

Cost and Time

Cost is always a factor and all businesses have different budgets and priorities.  If you plan to send a large volume of work at once or regularly, ask about volume discounts/offers. Keep in mind that cheapest or most expensive isn’t always best, and use the cost analysis in conjunction with other factors to choose a laboratory that will work best for you and your company.

You’ll want to work with a laboratory that can help support you in meeting your deadlines; communicate these deadlines and ask for estimated turnaround times. Most will work with you within reason and technical feasability, and some offer increased pricing for expedited work if you find yourself in a pinch.

Accreditation

Determine if you need accredited data for compliance with the standard, your internal procedures, or your customer. ISO 17025 is the accreditation to look for when choosing a test laboratory– this is similar to ISO 9001 (for quality management systems) but has an additional component for technical competence. Some standards require testing by an ISO 17025 laboratory (like NFPA 2112 for industrial flash fire and ANSI 107 for background materials). Ask to see the lab’s scope of accreditation, which should be readily available either on the laboratory’s website or by request. There are 8 accreditation bodies in the US that are signatories to the ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (A2LA, for example); and using a lab accredited by one of those bodies means your data is widely accepted.

Some standards, like NFPA 2112, go a step further and require third-party certification by an ISO 17065 accredited certification body– in these instances, you will want to work with a laboratory that is set up to handle certification testing (some have in-house accreditation to ISO 17065, and some partner with ISO 17065 bodies as approved laboratories to issue your certificates).

Equipment Calibrations and Proficiency Test Programs are two things we suggest customers to look for when choosing a laboratory. These are both required for accredited laboratories.

Proficiency Testing

Ask the labs you are vetting if they participate in proficiency testing. This is a means of quality control labs use by submitting data to a third-party and reviewing where their results fall compared to other participating laboratories. ASTM and AATCC both offer proficiency testing programs, and all laboratories are invited to participate at a relatively low cost. Participation in such programs is required by accredited laboratories, and it is one way for a lab to validate their measurement process and it also demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement.

Technical Competence and Expertise

It may be important to you to work with a laboratory that stays up-to-date on technical information.  A laboratory that understands the industry and the requirements of the standards can offer you guidance with your testing and requirement questions. Some even offer to consult if you aren’t sure what you need or if you need non-standard testing. This can also be a cost-advantage to you, as experienced labs can develop tailored test plans that catch failures early.

Attendance and participation in technical committee meetings for standards development is one way a lab can keep up with the industry. Such participation allows laboratory staff to be part of the conversation with manufacturers, other labs and end users as standards develop. Those participating in standards meetings are volunteering their expertise for the good of the committee and industry (sometimes in addition to their day jobs), and it means they are likely familiar with the intent behind changes and interpretations of current language.

Research and development work is another way some laboratories contribute. If this is valuable for your company, check out laboratory websites for publications and research projects.

Responsiveness

Is the staff easy to reach and quick to respond? Will the employees go above and beyond to give you technical information and work with your needs? You may have questions along the way, so you want to work with a laboratory that you feel is available and on your side to help as soon as you need it.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, there are many qualities to consider when choosing a testing house, and we encourage you to explore your options. Consider your priorities and research various test houses to determine the partnership that will best fit your needs.

Visit ArcWear’s Website to learn about our team and our services, and meet members of the ArcWear staff in person at the AATCC Flammability Symposium next month, and also at Booth 2278 at National Safety Council (NSC) in October!

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