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Essential elements of selection of a third party testing lab in apparel export

A definitive guide on selecting a third party laboratory for garment companies

Apparel testing is essential before shipment to foreign countries like the US and EU. Selection of a suitable testing lab is required to get the right result. In order to achieve this, the lab has to equip themselves with equipment, calibration, proficiency testing, training etc. Such aspects have been critically reviewed in this paper.

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One of the most frequent questions in the apparel industry is where to get a fabric tested. There is no “right” answer, but there are some key factors to consider.

  • Lab Affiliation: Does the lab have any vested interest in the results?
  • Proficiency: Does the lab participate in inter-laboratory proficiency programs to ensure accurate results?
  • Specialized Services: Does the lab specialize in a particular type of testing?
  • Calibration: Is all lab equipment calibrated?
  • Test Method Development: Does the lab participate in test method development?
  • Continuing Education: Do lab staff participate in continuing education programs?
  • Customer Service: Can you get everything you need from the lab in a timely and meaningful manner?
  • Certification: What certification(s) has the lab received?

Understanding these factors and determining priorities can help to find a suitable laboratory for testing one needs.

Lab Affiliation

As with any business transaction, it is important to understand the partner. There is no good or bad affiliation for a lab, but one should know how that affiliation may affect testing.

In-house Lab

There are pros and cons to using a lab within the organization. An important advantage is the opportunity to observe a test. One can often learn much more from seeing the results first hand than from a single number on a written report. One can quickly retest or make adjustments based on those results. It is better to control confidentiality if the product never leaves the organization.

The most obvious downside to an in-house lab is the possibility of bias—or the perception of bias. Even if every test is done “by the book,” some customers may prefer confirmation from a third party.

Manufacturing Labs

The in-house lab may be one of the manufacturing labs in the textile supply chain. However, if one is the customer in another organization’s in-house lab, there are a few other things to consider.

Often, manufacturers are the best resource for solving a problem. If the sample fails to test, the manufacturer may know exactly how to improve it. (One may also have learned something about the products in use that could be helpful to the manufacturer!)

Relationship with the lab will probably be a key factor in how much detail one can get about the results and how much one trusts those results. As with in-house labs, be aware of the potential for bias—we all want to see our own products perform well. For a variety of reasons, it is generally not a good practice to have a manufacturing lab test its competitor’s product.

Independent Labs

They are Independent; contract; third-party; commercial. These are labs whose primary business is to perform testing for other organizations. They generally do not benefit from giving good or bad results. Testing is a business for these labs. This means they may be more likely to guarantee turnaround time or other services in an effort to earn and keep your business. It also means you will pay for these services.

Academic Labs

Many colleges and universities offer testing services. These are often run as independent for-profit labs, but there may also be less formal arrangements in which students or faculty will perform testing on an ad hoc basis or as part of a research project.

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