Certified Testing of floor coverings and related materials is becoming a bigger part of our business. Most of the testing we do is in conjunction with our associated NVLAP certified testing lab. There are ASTM and AATCC tests we normally conduct but very often the tests conducted, after seeing the concern issues at the installation site, are hybrids of certified tests as we attempt to duplicate conditions being experienced in the field by clients complaining of product failures of varying kinds. In addition we conduct testing for coefficient of friction and slip resistance in the field. We also have the ability to conduct materials analysis tests which are often used to determine, for example, why an adhesive may have failed or a topping for a substrate is ineffective or creating a problem. Recently, because of the formaldehyde concerns in wood flooring products, testing equipment has been installed and technicians trained to conduct these tests. Much of this work resembles that done by CSI’s you’ve seen on television or even the TV show Bones, as it requires very sophisticated and elaborate testing equipment performed by very skilled technicians.
What sets us apart in the testing field is that we qualify the client and their issues to determine what the problem being experienced is, question the concerns and situation, actually make a site visit when and if necessary, determine what tests should be conducted, what conditions may need to be replicated based on the evidence exhibited at the job site to conduct a “real life” test and then interpret the lab test results. No one anywhere does anything like this, especially interpreting the tests. In addition we can very often determine as a result of what failed conditions exist at the job site and the test results, the resolution and corrective action necessary to resolve the problem
The interpretation of the test results is perhaps the most important component of this process. When products are submitted for testing the lab furnishes the results but normally the recipient has no way of knowing what they mean. Did the product submitted and tested pass or fail; if there is a pass or fail. What do the results mean? And if you don’t understand the products or the tests, it may be possible the sample submitted passed but the problem may be more complex. Let me give you an example. A carpet installed in a commercial space is exhibiting yarns protruding from the surface. In addition the carpet surface is fuzzy. The end user complains about the condition, contacts the flooring contractor or whoever sold them the product and the decision is made to send the product in for testing. Often the product is sent to the manufacturer to determine what’s wrong. They may conduct a test for tuft bind, the test that should be conducted on yarns sprouting or popping out of the carpet, only to get results that indicate the carpet meets industry tuft bind test standards. Still, the condition continues to proliferate; something must be wrong! Sending in a sample blind for a concern condition without any other information will get you an answer but it may not be the right answer or the test conducted was just a standard test and not implemented to determine why the problem with the product exists in the field. In reality someone has to see, at least in photos, the condition at the installation site- what is happening. Then an appropriate sample must be supplied sufficient for conducting the test according to protocol. Next, information on the carpet construction must be furnished and then information and photos of the space in which the carpet is installed with whatever may influence it to possibly be causing the problems. Finally, a history of events or chronology of the failure of the carpet to perform should be provided; these are forensic investigations to find answers not just tests. It’s the construction of the carpet that’s of interest here. Certain styles and construction of textile floor covering material overlap the yarn on the primary backing. When the carpet goes through finishing, after tufting, it normally gets two coats of latex on the primary backing. The first coat of latex is applied to lock in the tufts and penetrate the yarn – this results in tuft bind and fiber lock. The second coat of latex is applied to laminate the secondary backing to the carpet. The first coat of latex may not be able to get to a yarn that is overlapped by its neighbor therefore the integrity of the buried yarns anchoring strength and fiber lock may not be sufficient. When subjected to traffic these yarns, which would be throughout the carpet, not having high bind strength will easily come out. In testing this type of carpet, based on the conditions evidenced, you would look for the weaker yarns which would expose the problem in the carpet and therefore indicate the reason for the yarns popping out. If this analysis of the carpet, compared to the problem condition, is not taken into consideration the test results, which would be on yarns across a 12 foot width of material subjected to 15 pulls, would be averaged and result in a passing number, would be erroneous. Not having the information necessary would indicate you have no problem when, in fact, you do have a manufacturing defect that would necessitate the carpet being replaced. Don’t think of this as a witch hunt because it certainly isn’t. Our job is to figure out what went wrong and why and who is responsible for the problem. The facts lead you to the conclusion and the evidence never lies. And manufacturers who legitimately make mistakes from time to time, regardless of the product they make, from cars to computers, understand this and respond to the claim.
We used the example of the carpet because it is actually easier to understand and the photos show you what I’m talking about. But we conduct tests on all types of flooring material, adhesives, components and ancillary items. From Luxury Vinyl Planks to wood, sheet vinyl, tiles, cork, you name it we can test it.
Testing products when there are problems is one side of the pendulum; the other is testing products prior to them being used. We find that this is increasingly important based on the number of failures we see in the market of products not living up to expectations. You’ve certainly heard me say many times in this newsletter that the biggest problem in the flooring industry is the wrong product being used in the wrong place. This is a problem that can be avoided with some foresight. The first line of defense is to read the manufacturers specifications for the product, which aren’t all that informative if you don’t know what they mean and for installation. If the spec isn’t understood and the sometimes subtleties not gleaned, you can get sucked into a problem. The same is true of installation instructions that may say you can’t install the product if an abatement chemical has been used but it gets installed anyway. Having said this we’re talking about the flooring product itself being tested to qualify it for use in whatever the application is. This is actually a very easy process and one that will certainly keep you out of trouble. So let me give you a few examples of this. First the issue of a carpet tile product being specified for an airport that is supposed to be constructed with a type 6,6 nylon. The client submitted a bunch of samples to be analyzed and tested to determine if they were in fact type 6,6 nylon as they were represented to be. What we found in many of the carpet tile samples submitted was a mixture or blend of type 6 and type 6,6 nylon. Now this is something you can’t tell by looking at the carpet, it can only be done by examining the carpet fibers at very high magnification and taking cross sections of the fibers. Those samples that had a mix or blend of both types of nylon were eliminated from the running. Had the end user not elected to test the material they may have selected a product that didn’t comply with the spec, therefore not getting what they paid for and possibly a difference in performance cheating them in that area as well.
With hard surface products such as sheet vinyl’s we can perform tests to determine if the wear layer is as thick as it’s supposed to be and whether the product will perform, as well as determine if the product is dimensionally stable or will remain flat.
The point is that whether the testing is done after there’s a problem or before a product is used, we can tell you what went wrong and why or if what you’ve selected will actually do what you expect it to and what might have to be changed so you do get what you want. We are the only firm who offer this service in the industry. Every flooring failure we see could have been avoided – without exception. Whether a problem or failure is due to installation conditions not being controlled, installation procedures not being followed, an inherent defect in a product or a product being unsuitable for use; testing, analysis, evaluation, examination and qualification of the conditions or the product before the project begins can prevent flooring failures. And, implementing this practice of prevention, though it will certainly be an investment, by comparison to the cost of a failure, is like comparing a molecule to a mountain. At the very least the product you select, if there are any questions or concerns about whether or not it will work, should be tested. If there’s anything like insurance against a flooring accident, this is it. On the other hand, if the flooring fails you’ll want and need a definitive answer as to what went wrong and why, who is at fault and how the failure can be resolved. If you don’t get help and answers you may very well get stuck in a quagmire.