Working with testing laboratories


lit matches This is a test: How to work with testing laboratories to build better, safer bed sets and help you meet federal flammability and other standards

Always a key part of the mattress industry,  product testing is becoming an even more critical element of product development and growth strategies as bedding producers strive to meet the increasing demands of federal and state regulations, as well as the changing needs of the marketplace.

“The regulatory landscape is constantly evolving,” says Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. “There’s a steady stream of new developments to keep up with, and testing—both in-house and third-party—plays a growing role in the industry’s product development and strategic planning process.”

The new realities of business require bedding manufacturers to manage a broad set of compliance challenges centering on safety, quality and environmental leadership.

Federal flammability standards in place since 2007 require manufacturers that sell mattresses in the United States to meet the federal cigarette standard (16 CFR 1632) and federal open-flame standard (16 CFR 1633). As a practical matter, most producers turn to qualified third-party facilities for their 1633 flammability tests of mattresses.

Ticking suppliers are responsible for most 1632 testing of mattress fabrics. Like most mattress producers, they also rely on third-party labs to test their products for flammability compliance as well as to conduct other testing relating to colorfastness, strength and wearability.

In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that all mattresses that qualify as children’s products—that is, products intended primarily for use by children 12 and under—be tested by labs that the CPSC has accredited. Manufacturers of children’s products also must use accredited labs to test their products for lead and phthalates. Nonchildren’s products are not subject to the lead and phthalates testing. (A complete list of CPSC-accredited testing sites for mattresses and other bedding products appears below.)

Moreover, a new voluntary safety standard (ASTM F2933) was issued for crib mattresses in 2013. The standard, which ISPA helped develop, sets a size requirement for crib mattresses and establishes a test method for use in measuring the size.

Chemical disclosures

mattress rollator durability testing

Rolling around This hex roller at the Element Materials Technology facility in St. Paul, Minnesota, is used to measure the durability of mattresses and foundations.

In the chemical arena, international and regional emissions and materials requirements, such as California Proposition 65, call for strict vigilance in chemical content and emissions. Under Prop 65, California’s Environmental Protection Agency publishes a continuously updated list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. This proposition was voted into state law to inform citizens about potentially hazardous chemicals in the products they use.

Manufacturers that make consumer products containing one of the more than 800 chemicals included on the list must provide a warning that a product contains such a chemical if exposures are high enough to pose a significant risk—described as exceeding the so-called Safe Harbor Level. Selling products in the state with chemicals that exceed those levels without a warning exposes a company to potential lawsuits.

To date, Prop 65 has been a bigger issue for upholstery manufacturers than mattress makers because a key chemical of concern—TDCPP, a flame retardant—was never required for use in bedding, Trainer says.

“Most bedding foams do not contain fire retardants, and the barrier materials our industry typically uses do a very good job of passing 1633,” says Bobby Bush, senior vice president of foam technology for HSM in Hickory, North Carolina.

In addition to meeting Prop 65 for their own components and products, suppliers and manufacturers must work closely with other vendors to make sure that Prop 65 chemicals contained in anything added to products—including packaging and adhesives—are included in the Prop 65 analysis.

“Our duty then is to inform our original equipment manufacturer customers; the manufacturers and their retailers are the ones that then have to alert the consumer by using a specific warning label,” Bush says. “Everyone has to do their homework so they don’t get blindsided.”

HSM is a founding member of CertiPUR-US, a Dacula, Georgia-based national certification program that provides assurance that polyurethane foam has been tested by an independent laboratory to meet specific criteria for indoor emissions and chemical content. Approved foams are certified to have been made without PBDE flame retardants, formaldehyde and prohibited phthalates, among other requirements.

Durability and performance 

Mattress and component producers also conduct a wide range of voluntary tests to assess the durability and performance of components and finished beds, as well as those of competing brands, using standards such as ASTM F1566, which measures firmness, firmness retention, durability, effect of impact and height change. Major manufacturers such as Serta, Simmons and Tempur Sealy have internal testing labs for these, but a number of medium and smaller companies—including Kingsdown and the Original Mattress Factory—also have programs. Typical in-house testing equipment includes Cornell machines, which use buttocks-shaped platens to simulate the impact of a human body on mattress firmness and surface deformation, and hexagonal rollers, which simulate the impact of sleep movements to measure compression and other factors.

volatile organic compounds test

Know your VOCs Northbrook, Illinois-based UL conducts a test for volatile organic compounds being emitted from a mattress.

In addition, foam suppliers put their products through a battery of tests to measure firmness retention, recovery time, durability and airflow, using voluntary standards such as ASTM D3574. And innerspring producers do the same, deploying Instron machines and other equipment to evaluate coil compression of springs.

And when beds incorporate electronics such as lighting or adjustable bases, those components also must be tested and certified to standards developed by Northbrook, Illinois-based UL (Underwriters Laboratories), in addition to finished product FR testing.

More attention also is being paid to the role testing

can play in creating and delivering successful sleep products. To stay competitive, manufacturers and suppliers are teaming up at an earlier stage on product development and deepening their relationships with testing facilities. In turn, many testing facilities are expanding the range of services they offer as new requirements and concerns emerge.

Temperature control heating up

Element Materials Technology, which has offices throughout the United States and Europe, offers a broad range of third-party testing services, evaluating bedding and mattresses for durability, safety and performance. The company has worked with the industry for more than 50 years and operates a CPSC-certified, fully equipped laboratory, serving the needs of home, commercial, medical and industrial furnishings. Services include hexagonal roller testing; firmness/load deflection testing; pressure imaging/mapping, which gauges a mattress’ ability to promote or deter blood circulation; Cornell-type tests, which subject mattresses to 100,000 vertical strokes and simulate 10 years of use to assess durability; and flammability testing, both CPSC 1632/1633 as well as for state and local requirements.

“We’ve been involved with mattress testing since the 1960s and have a vast level of experience to draw on when it comes to flammability, durability and performance,” says Brent Larson, project manager of sleep system evaluation for Element in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We also have a full metallurgy lab, so we can conduct in-depth tests of metal components to help our customers determine weak spots when innerspring performance or durability problems surface.”

Element also has chemical-testing capabilities, although Larson said that hasn’t been a particularly active area for the mattress industry. “Many of the foamers have been jumping on board with the CertiPUR program. Others have worked hard to make sure the chemicals they use are safe. As a result, complying with California’s Prop 65 and other states’ requirements hasn’t been as much an issue for bedding as it has for the furniture industry.”

Intertek 3-stage testing

Soup to nuts Intertek’s approach to California Proposition 65 chemical testing has three key stages: product assessment and risk analysis, product screening and testing, and exposure assessment. The company has test labs throughout the United States.

One new area of testing where Element sees a great opportunity to be of service to the industry involves thermal dynamics. Drawing on its experience in the medical community, the company has developed a new testing protocol that measures a mattress’ ability to pull heat and moisture away from the body. It conducted a pilot of the new test this summer and is now ready to roll out the program to manufacturers of residential mattresses, toppers and pillows.

“Producers are eager for a test that can help them establish the actual performance of their cooling products,” Larson says. “There’s a lot of competing claims in the marketplace, and that’s made it difficult for consumers to understand which products work—and which don’t. We’ve developed a tool that will enable producers to quantify the cooling effect that their gels and other techniques deliver.”

Kneibel, national sales lead. “Our tests enable manufacturers to objectively measure the cooling effect of their technologies so that they can back up their claims with hard data.”

Electronics testing also is getting more active. “A number of producers have begun incorporating electronics into their bedding—lighting, sound, adjustable foundations and sensors for measuring sleep quality,” he says. “All of those electronics have to be certified for safety.”

Testing for hazardous chemicals and volatile organic compound emissions is another emerging area of interest. Intertek opened a state-of-the-art lab in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2013, and it also has a new chemical testing “supercenter” in Chicago, where it conducts additional value-added tests.

“During the past year, we’ve worked with several large foam suppliers to conduct a risk analysis review of chemicals listed under Prop 65,” Kneibel says. “It’s a three-step process that results in declaration letters that document that products meet the Safe Harbor Levels for chemicals of concern. We expect this area of testing will grow exponentially as more states adopt similar requirements and additional chemicals come under scrutiny.”

A new focus on furnishings

UL, a global provider of third-party testing, certification, audit, inspection and quality-assurance programs, recently created a new business division dedicated to furniture and bedding. Previously, those services had fallen under the umbrella of several different divisions of the company, says Alberto Uggetti, vice president and general manager of UL’s Furniture & Furnishings Division.

“Now, we have a team of people focused specifically on the needs of this market,” Uggetti says. “With more than 130 laboratories in 39 countries throughout North America, Asia and Europe, we can help suppliers, manufacturers and retailers at every stage of the supply chain on a global basis. Our goal is to be a one-stop shop for the entire industry.”

As part of this new initiative, UL plans to build a new, centrally located U.S. facility to house all of its home furnishings testing.

According to Uggetti, UL currently focuses on four main areas of testing for the bedding industry: flammability; VOC emissions, through its Greenguard certification program; chemicals; and electronics, testing to UL standards for household appliances, lighting and other devices.

At its headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois, UL has fire labs where it conducts burns every day to certify that producers’ mattresses meet 1632/1633 requirements. In addition, it also has a robust quality-assurance program in which manufacturers conduct additional FR testing to make sure their products meet their internal performance standards.

“These requirements often are even more stringent than the federal rules, because the producers have a specific spec or set of specs that they want to make sure their models satisfy.”

As for chemical testing, Uggetti says the issue is switching from being an environmental concern to a human health concern. As a result, it’s likely to become a much more active area of regulation.

“Every week we read something about chemical safety,” Uggetti says. “It’s already a big issue in chil

dren’s furniture, with a national standard already in place, and is becoming more of an issue at the state level, too—not just in California, but also in places like Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Our facilities can perform any testing that is required for chemical content to meet local requirements, and we’re getting more and more requests to do this.”

An ongoing resource

QAI Laboratory’s entry into FR testing and certification for the mattress industry was a natural offshoot of its long involvement in building-products certification. “FR testing of mattresses has been a vital part of our business since 2007, when FR 1633 went into effect,” says Brian McDonald, operations manager of the company’s facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which it acquired from SGS North America in 2011.

QAI works with a wide range of companies in the bedding industry, from local producers to major national players. The range of its involvement also varies—from occasional tests to long-standing programs.

“Some companies will only test the required three prototypes and, once they get the pass report, they’re done,” McDonald says. “Other companies, however, take the process much more seriously and work with us on an ongoing basis to make sure that all their mattresses stay in compliance—not just the models that were tested on a particular day.”

Savvy manufacturers extend their testing beyond the required number of prototypes and new models, he adds. Even after a line has been certified as compliant, they will pull samples from ongoing production on a regular basis to make sure they still meet the requirements of the law.

“These companies make testing part of their quality-assurance effort and use it as a tool to make sure their products meet their established goals,” McDonald says.

For these types of producers, failing an FR test is an opportunity to learn. “Failures happen. But the data is a tool that enables you to address the problem and avoid bigger issues down the road. They see testing as one more facet of quality control.”

Like other labs, QAI recommends that customers send a team member to watch FR tests being conducted. In the lab, the company has an infrared camera available that enables producers to see charring and other internal burning not visible to the naked eye.

“Our role as a third party is to establish compliance to a regulatory standard,” McDonald says. “We don’t get in a position of judging why a product failed, but since we’ve seen thousands of these tests, we often can pick out an area of weakness, such a zipper failure or other significant event, that’s worthy of further investigation. While we always make videos available, seeing the burns gives you a much better picture of what happened.” ■

Dealing with FR failures

Failures during mattress-burn tests rarely occur these days, since bedding producers have years of good data to draw on to help them build safe products. But when they do happen, the breakdown often occurs due to a small gap or other design or production flaw that gives fire a place to take hold and spread.

Trial by fire This video montage shows four stages of a mattress burn during a 16 CFR Part 1633 test conducted by UL in Northbrook, Illinois.

Trial by fire This video montage shows four stages of a mattress burn during a 16 CFR Part 1633 test conducted by UL in Northbrook, Illinois.

“Fire always finds the weak points,” says Brent Larson, project manager of sleep system evaluation for Element Materials Technology in St. Paul, Minnesota. “The first suspect is the FR material, whether it’s a nonwoven or knit barrier. Other times, a glitch may occur during assembly where a component gets pulled too tight in one area, or someone leaves off a few stitches by mistake. Fire will enter that gap and cause a failure.”

Zippers, Velcro closures and tapes are additional points of vulnerability.

“Closures in general aren’t as fire resistant, so if a flame takes hold, it often will travel around the closure and spread, causing other issues,” says Mike Chlebowski, a test engineer with TouchStone Systems & Services, an independent testing lab in Wyoming, Michigan. “Stitching also can be a problem. If someone doesn’t use flame-resistant stitching, you can have the best barrier in the world but still have a failure if the stitching burns and opens the seams.”

Having a prototype fail an FR test can be a major source of frustration for bedding producers. Determining the cause of the failure can be a tough challenge that requires both the testing lab and factory to put on their detective caps.

“To figure out what went wrong, we have to work together,” Larson says. “We combine our experience with testing and their experience with manufacturing so that we get a complete picture.”

Element encourages its clients to observe burn tests onsite if possible. But if executives can’t be on-hand—and since the recession of 2008 cut budgets, fewer are—the company also offers live viewing via the Web. In the near future, it hopes to expand that capability so viewers can control a camera remotely and zoom in on areas of concern.

“There’s nothing like seeing the burns in person, but the Web is a good alternative, and the zoom feature will make the process even more interactive,” Larson says.

pencil and checklist

Checklist for testing

To make the most out of third-party testing programs, lab executives recommend partners follow a number of best practices. They include:

Set goals. Before initiating any tests, producers and testing labs need to come to a mutual understanding of program goals. In addition to making sure objectives align with possible outcomes, this approach enables engineers to eliminate test methods that don’t meet objectives and to document results in a form most useful to the manufacturer.

“What do you want to accomplish?” asks Brian Kneibel, national sales lead for Intertek Testing Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Having a clear idea of what a producer is seeking to achieve helps a lab develop the best testing solution for their needs.”

Establish timelines. Lead times for testing can vary greatly, depending on lab size and work volume. In too many cases, labs are brought in at the 11th hour and asked to conduct tests on a too-tight timetable. Proper planning is the best strategy for avoiding delays in product development and launch.

“Testing certification isn’t always top-of-mind in the research-and-development cycle,” Kneibel says. “In fact, it’s often the last step before bringing a product to market. That puts immense pressure on the labs to conduct tests and deliver results as quickly as possible.”

Producers should let their labs know what’s coming down the pike, testers recommend. “The sooner you call us, the better,” says Alberto Uggetti, vice president and general manager of UL’s Furniture & Furnishings Division in Northbrook, Illinois. “Everything goes smoother if you don’t wait to the last minute. You want to leave yourself enough time to make the proper adjustments rather than scrambling for a fix.”

Prepare and inspect samples. Sample requirements for fire tests can vary from a small section of material to an entire bed and base assembly. To reduce delays, ask the testing lab to define the required size, construction and quantity of samples prior to manufacturing and shipping them.

Also, make sure to carefully examine materials being tested for cuts, tears and other flaws before shipping them to a third-party lab. Pre-shipment inspection often prevents common errors or defects that can lead to testing failure.

“Make sure there is no loose stitching or open seams—one missed stitch could mean the difference between compliance and noncompliance in an FR test,” says Mike Chlebowski, a test engineer with TouchStone Systems & Services in Wyoming, Michigan.

Label test products. Manufacturers need to make sure that products being tested are clearly tagged and numbered. In addition, the manufacturer should confirm that the components used to make the samples for testing are exactly the same as the components listed on the bill of materials for that mattress model.

“Manufacturers need to make sure they have a robust numbering system and that they maintain it,” Chlebowski says. “These numbers tie everything together, and they’re important at every stage, from the very first test on through to a potential audit years later by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Having as much information as possible at the front end saves time and money later.”

Relay potential trouble spots. Identify and communicate to the lab any concerns about the product before testing begins. If a particular stitch area or seam structure is known to be problematic, disclose this information to the lab. That information enables test engineers to focus on those areas during testing.

Communicate. “At Element (Materials Technology), we have an open-door policy,” says Brent Larson, project manager of sleep system evaluation in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We encourage clients to call us with questions and ideas any time. If they have a test coming up, we can talk through potential issues and testing scenarios. We try to make the whole process as simple as we can.”

Assign a point person. Producers should assign a specific person to be the point of contact for their testing program—or, if their program is multifaceted, a specific person for each key program component.

“This is helpful for them and for us,” TouchStone’s Chlebowski says. “If you have a different person working with the lab each time, it’s difficult to build a relationship, and you lose the insights of what works and what doesn’t that come with working together over a period of time.”

To help bedding producers and suppliers comply with the 1633 standard, Lilly Management Group in St. Charles, Illinois, offers FR/PRO, a program in which it manages the third-party FR testing process, serving as a bridge between the lab and the client.

Visit sites. “We encourage all our customers to come in and watch our burns,” Chlebowski says. “You can only learn so much from a video. Seeing the burns in person provides an additional level of detail. And if something is going wrong, you can stop things right at that point and have more clues to work with than if you wait until the end of the test, after the mattress has failed.”

Bedding major Serta never conducts an FR burn without a person on-site at one of its partner labs, says Al Klancnik, group vice president of the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company. “We test every week, and we always have a person who’s in the lab watching. It’s not just a matter of seeing whether the mattress passes or not—you’ll also see little things happen that are clues about how to improve your product. A photo or video of the burn isn’t enough.”

Maintain data. Managing FR and other testing data can be a big challenge for producers. They need to make sure they have a consistent system for determining what to test, when to test and what to record. They also need to keep this data readily accessible in the event of a CPSC audit.

To help producers manage the growing number of regulations tied to chemicals in the supply chain, UL has developed its new WERCSmart (Supply-Chain Management and Reporting Technology) program, which provides clients with quick access to the regulatory compliance data needed to conduct business. The technology leverages a confidential third-party system to provide producers, suppliers and retailers with full visibility to relevant compli-ance data in real time.

“If you have a complex supply chain, you need to make sure you collect the necessary data from each supplier and that you have conformity at every level,” Uggetti says.

Ohm Systems Inc., based in Horsham, Pennsylvania, offers a robust quality-assurance software solution that helps mattress producers integrate FR test data relating to raw materials, prototypes and finished products. The software includes the ability to see all products inspected for a data range and list all products that use a particular flammability prototype ID as well as those that have not been assigned a prototype. The program also automatically prints a Certificate of Compliance at the time of shipping.

CPSC-accredited testing labs

The following is a list of labs that have been accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as qualified to conduct 16 CFR 1632 and/or 16 CFR 1633 flammability testing for children’s and adult mattresses and bedding. Also highlighted are those companies within this group that are qualified to conduct lead and phthalates testing—an additional requirement for products sold for use by children ages 12 and younger.

Bureau Veritas Consumer Products Services
Phone: 716-505-3641
16 CFR 1632 tests, plus lead & phthalates testing

Consumer Testing
Laboratories Inc.

Phone: 479-636-8782
16 CFR 1632 tests, plus lead & phthalates testing

Diversified Testing Laboratories
Phone: 336-227-7710
16 CFR 1632 tests

Element Materials Technology
Phone: 651-659-7521
16 CFR 1632 & 1633 tests, plus lead testing

Govmark Organization
Phone: 631-293-8944
16 CFR 1632 & 1633 tests

Intertek Testing Services
Phone: 616-656-1347
16 CFR 1632 & 1633 tests, plus lead & phthalates testing

Milliken Pyroanalytical Center
Phone: 888-723-2876
16 CFR 1633 tests

QAI Laboratories
Phone: 918-437-8333
16 CFR 1632 & 1633 tests

SGS Life Science Services
Phone: 973-575-5252
16 CFR 1632 tests, plus lead & phthalates testing

TouchStone Systems & Services Phone: 616-532-0060
16 CFR 1632 and 1633 tests

Phone: 847-664-3281
16 CFR 1632 & 1633 tests, plus lead & phthalates testing


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