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April 19, 2016

When Product Tests Fail: Tips from a Laboratory

Failures are a common, almost inevitable experience in product development. While it’s always disappointing, read on to learn three tips from a testing lab on how to mitigate risk and ease the painful effects of a product failure in testing.

1) Be actively involved in the process

Our goal is to make sure you get the tests you need in the most cost-effective manner, and we do this by creating a strategic test plan.  You can help us by being proactive–tell us your concerns, ask questions and share your objectives for the testing, especially when testing something new.  This allows us to determine which tests to perform first; for example, “preliminary” tests can catch potential failures early on, saving you time, money and frustration.  After 20 years of working with manufacturers and end users and consulting on product research and development, we have learned that a customized test plan, as opposed to testing that follows a predetermined formula, is most beneficial for our customers.

Another way to maximize efficiency in arc testing is to take advantage of our vertical flame and “scouting” services. When testing something you’re unsure will pass, or if you want to achieve a particular rating, let us know. Our lab has extensive arc flash testing experience. If you send us something we know will fail, we will notify you and advise you not to test. If you perform vertical flame testing with us, this can serve as a preliminary test before arc testing to help weed out failures.  In arc testing of materials and products, we can “scout, rate if >X”, meaning that we will perform a rating only if the scouting process indicates it may achieve “X”.  (For example, you may want to achieve a rating of 8 cal/cm2, so X = 8.)  In scouting, we perform 1-3 “shots” on the sample to estimate the arc rating and check for failures.  If we do not observe any problems, we will proceed to full testing, but if we do see problems or the rating is estimated to be below your goal, the testing will be stopped and you will only be charged for the shot(s) instead of full testing (a significant cost savings).

2) Practice quality control.

Failures don’t just happen with “new” products– they can also happen during QC checks (whether performed in-house or by a third party). Sometimes it’s as simple as the wrong sample being sent in, or maybe there was a QC issue somewhere down the line (for example, your supplier made a change and forgot to notify you). Testing sheds light on such problems and provides an opportunity to solve them early.

Including a testing program in your Quality Management System helps mitigate risk and minimize damage. The frequency of testing is sometimes dictated by standards (for example, ASTM F1506 or NFPA 1971), but beyond that manufacturers can choose how often to pull materials for evaluation (for example, you may choose to test each new batch or lot, or according to a certain time interval such as every three months). Keep in mind, if you perform a QC check of a product on the market and it fails, you will need to assess the situation immediately to determine the scope and impact, and possibly recall products.  Regular QC checks and clear documentation allow you to trace your products from the market all the way back to test results and manufacturing information. Having this data can mean the difference between recalling a years’ worth of products and determining that only one lot of material was affected by an issue.

3) Use your testing lab as a resource.

Remember that testing labs are here to help you.  Our staff wants to see your products succeed and help you keep unsafe products from going to market. If we see a failure, we want to notify you promptly and give you information that will help you design a solution. Performing testing is vital for quality control, as it provides objective evidence that your products and supplies meet the appropriate specifications and show consistent manufacturing. In research and development, don’t forget to budget for failures, but use these testing outcomes as a learning experience to improve future product quality.

We want to hear from you! Use the comments section to share your tips for lessening effects of failures in the laboratory. For questions, contact us.

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