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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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Merriam-Webster defines “proficient” as “good at doing something” or “well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge”. These all sound like good attributes to look for when selecting a lab to do textile testing. But how does one know if a lab is good at doing something—specifically the tests one wants to be performed? How can one tells if technicians have advanced knowledge of the tests?

Proficiency Programs

One way labs can measure their performance is by participating in proficiency programs. Proficiency programs allow labs to anonymously compare their results to those of tens, or even hundreds,  of other labs.

Each participant performs the same test on specimens of the same fabrics. Results are compiled and reported back to the participants.

For instance, in the case of AATCC Proficiency Testing Programs, each participant is assigned a number, known only to themselves. Tables and graphs are distributed so each lab can see how its results compare to those of others and determine whether additional training is needed on particular test methods.

Example of test method results graph given in Figure 1:

Proficiency testing comparison of different Labs
Figure 1: Proficiency testing comparison of different Labs

Participants in AATCC Proficiency Testing Programs receive a certificate each year. The certificate doesn’t guarantee that the lab did the tests correctly, but it does show an effort to monitor and improve performance.

Certificates from these and other proficiency programs may be on display in the lab. If not, one can ask if the lab participates in such programs, how frequently, how recently, and for which test methods.

Examples AATCC Proficiency Testing Programs are given below

Program Test Method(s)
Antibacterial TM100, Antibacterial Finishes on Textile Materials: Assessment of

TM147, Antibacterial Activity Assessment of Textile Materials: Parallel Streak Method

Appearance & Physical Properties TM88B, Smoothness of Seams in Fabrics after Repeated Home Laundering

TM88C, Retention of Creases in Fabrics after Repeated Home Laundering

TM124, Smoothness Appearance of Fabrics after Repeated Home Laundering

TM135, Dimensional Changes of Fabrics after Home Laundering

Colourfastness TM8, Colorfastness to Crocking: Crockmeter Method

TM15, Colorfastness to Perspiration

TM16.3 Option 3, colorfastness to Light: Xenon-Arc

TM61, Colorfastness to Laundering: Accelerated

TM107, Colorfastness to Water

Fibre Identification & Analysis TM20A, Fiber Analysis: Quantitative

Visual Gray Scale for Color Change Evaluation

Evaluation Procedure 1, Gray Scale for Color Change

Water Resistance/Repellency TM22, Water Repellency: Spray Test

TM35, Water Resistance: Rain Test

TM42, Water Resistance: Impact Penetration Test

TM127, Water Resistance: Hydrostatic Pressure Test

Verification of Fabrics

Formal proficiency programs aren’t the only way for a lab to stay on track. Purchased or in-house verification, or control, fabrics also help “verify” proper testing. These fabrics have a known value for a specific test. If the operator gets that value, he or she has probably performed the test correctly and can proceed with the evaluation of test specimens.

Examples of verification fabrics include AATCC Blue Wool Lightfastness Standards for Test Methods 16.1, 16.2, and 16.3, Colorfastness to Light;

Chlorine Test Control Fabric for Test Method 162, Colorfastness to Water: Chlorinated Pool; and The Nylon Sleeve for Test Method 129, Colorfastness to Ozone in the Atmosphere under High Humidities.

Other Factors

One “right” answer doesn’t necessarily make a lab, or even that technician, proficient. And one “wrong” answer doesn’t mean one shouldn’t use the lab. With regular use of proficiency programs and verification fabrics, a lab is alert to potential problems before they affect customers’ results. Proficiency programs and verification fabrics are not used in isolation.

Calibration of the apparatus and training of staff are also part of the equation.

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