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Streamlining standards

Feature | June 29, 2016 | By:

Compromise and collaboration are key to revising standards that improve textile product safety.

The road to revised standards can be bumpy, fraught with lively discussions and detailed (some might say “picky”) decisions. The standards, some enforceable and some voluntary, guide material and product manufacturers through the complex world of creating safe and functional products.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of standards affect the specialty textiles industry, and keeping up with them is time consuming and expensive—not to mention confusing. As representatives from the industry work to revise existing standards they also share a second goal: to create a more streamlined approach.

“As a test lab scientist, I have to deal with numerous standards for products,” says Rob Kinsler, chief of technical operations for HP White Laboratory Inc. in Street, Md. “Each one is slightly different. It gets expensive for me to have to keep purchasing a new standard every time it gets updated just to change a numbering scheme or some other typo.” Kinsler is a physical scientist for the laboratory that conducts independent ballistics testing for articles including body armor, helmets, vehicle armor and structural armor. He also works on an ASTM (American Society of the International Association for Testing and Materials) committee: ASTM D13 on Textiles.

“From a standards developer viewpoint, I understand the issue with writing a standard where one already exists,” Kinsler says. “In several ASTM meetings I’ve been at recently, the groups have voted to just point to currently existing standards rather than drafting new ones. Several of us are also aware that without ‘teeth’ standards are being written for no reason. If no one has a requirement that a standard be followed, most people don’t pay attention to it.”

Seeing double

For years, the issue of duplicate standards has been a hot topic in the standards community. ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) serves as coordinator of the U.S. private sector voluntary standardization system, and has for more than 90 years. For the more than 220 ANSI-accredited standards developers—including ASTM International, Underwriters Laboratories Inc., NFPA International, ASME International, ASHRAE, CSA America Inc. and NSF International—duplicate standards continue to be a problem.

To help address the issues, in 2012 ANSI launched an initiative to redevelop NSSN, its search engine for standards. With support from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) ANSI reworked NSSN to make it easier for stakeholders and standards developing organizations (SDOs) to have access to information that may help to avoid the creation of conflicting or duplicative standards, according to ANSI’s July 2012 workshop summary report.

While the updated search engine is a step in the right direction, standards committee members are still left to hammer out the details of new and revised standards—
and to move in the direction of collaboration.

One product, multiple standards

One element of collaboration has to do with working with different manufacturers of the materials that make up the final product. In the case of protective clothing and equipment, that means making sure the performance standards are well coordinated so that all pieces of the end product perform in concert “because a lot of the standards tend to only address one component of the end product,” says Don Thompson, associate director of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.

Thompson also works on the Correlating Committee for the clothing department for NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). According to NFPA website information, the Correlating Committee reviews the standards related to protective clothing and equipment for the association that “develops, publishes, and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks.”

Thompson says a big part of the committee’s work right now focuses on harmonizing between the different standards for equipment and clothing that are used together.

“For example, the face piece of a respirator is made from entirely different materials than the garment itself,” he says. “We’re trying to get those to work together to make sure the protection is consistent between them—so the face piece doesn’t fail before the garment does. The truth is, it’s a complicated thing because the plastic materials available for face pieces don’t have the same characteristics as Kevlar® and Nomex®.”

Raw materials vs. end products

Testing can occur at two levels: at the raw materials level as well as the end product level. Some manufacturers test both raw materials and end products; others test only the final product. There are pros and cons for both, says Seemanta Mitra, senior director, global account management and global softlines for Intertek, a global company that provides quality assurance for multiple industries.

“In the first case, the testing cost is higher as two-stage testing is performed: development stage testing and final product testing. However, it provides a higher degree of assurance on the quality of the product,” Mitra says. “In the second case, the testing cost is lower because only the final product testing is performed, but the manufacturer or retailer runs the risk of discovering any testing failure(s) very late in the process.”

“We’ve begun to move from only testing materials toward creating ensemble level specs,” Thompson says. “Because what really counts is how [the end products] work for the human. That would mean a test of a material may be a prerequisite but it may not be adequate to address how the product performs on the human.”

Thompson points out that it’s vital to include a significant number of end users on standards committees, because they will be most affected by how well the product(s) perform.


Streamlining existing standards is challenge enough, but with new products and materials being developed, there is often the need for new standards as well. Because it takes time to develop new standards, often innovations are ready to be rolled out before the appropriate standard is created.

“On more than one occasion I have had to deal with an innovation that doesn’t fit neatly into the standard,” Kinsler says. “At those times, we have followed the intent of the standard and documented any subtle changes that were needed. Generally, when sitting on standards committees,

I try to think outside the box—to write the standard for future innovations. Fortunately, most standards organizations have mechanisms in place to allow for standards to be updated when new innovations appear.”

Mitra points out that another option is for testing laboratories to assist manufacturers to create an “in-house” test standard for innovations when there is no existing standard that applies.

“Some of those in-house test standards may eventually become national test standards adopted by organizations such as ASTM,” Mitra says.

Reaching consensus

The bottom line is that streamlining standards will likely be an ongoing challenge, because it is the nature of this industry to change and innovate. So the need for new standards and standards committees will persist as well.

“It all comes through consensus,” Thompson says. “And believe me, there are some battles over things, because sometimes requirement cuts against somebody’s technologies or equipment they’ve already got, or practices they already have. But I think everybody involved has their heart in the right place and is trying to develop the best standards possible.”

Sigrid Tornquist is a St. Paul, Minn.-based freelance writer and editor and regular contributor to the Review.

Learning opportunity

IFAI will be offering a three-part testing program at IFAI Expo in Charlotte, N.C., Oct. 18–21, 2016.

Textile Testing Essentials Certificate

Earn a certificate from North Carolina State University (NCSU), which can be used as credit toward NCSU’s Textile Technology Certificate Program. Improve your decision-making based on textile properties and better understand the methodology and interpretation of standard test procedures.

Introduction to Testing Certificate

Learn the basics of textile testing, including textile test methods, standard and non-standard testing, performance specifications and the best resources for your textile testing questions.


Testing Demo Zone

Interact with testing experts through live and video demonstrations on the show floor. Among the participants will be NCSU College of Textiles; Advanced Testing Instruments; FITI Testing and Research Institute; Hohenstein Institute; Instron; Manufacturing Solutions Center; Netzach; Product Investigations; Textile Technology Center/Gaston College; and Thermetrics, Weber & Leucht.

Visit IFAI's Advanced Textiles web page for more information on the testing program at IFAI Expo.

Code revisions for tents

Negotiations and compromise at the ICC’s Committee Action Hearing result in safety-centered proposals for the tent industry.

With debate and voting at the April Committee Action Hearing, the International Code Council (ICC) took its first step in code revision as part of the Group B I-Code Development Cycle for the 2018 Model Code.

Topping the tent-related proposals as the most significant for the tent industry is a code proposal governing site-specific engineering. Proposal F300-16 was submitted by the Special Event Work Group, a working group of code officials, industry members and other stakeholders created by the Fire Code Action Committee (FCAC). The proposal called for full site-specific engineering for an installation with 300 person occupancy or 4,000 square feet, whichever comes first. Although IFAI’s Tent Rental Division (TRD) participates in the work group, it submitted its own proposal (F301-16) with a different set of triggers for site-specific engineering.

“The code committee and industry members who provided feedback felt that 4,000 square feet was too much to bear,” says Tom Markel, TRD Code Committee chair. “That’s in the bread and butter end of what most companies do.”

Through negotiations, F300-16 was modified to 1,000 person occupancy and 7,500 square feet. TRD agreed to pull its own proposal in return. “Both sides made big concessions to get this done,” Markel says. “With this compromise we have something we can live with, and we’ve planted the seed for the next code cycle. These things take time and communication.”

The following additional tent-related code proposals were approved at the hearing and are up for public comment (visit and click on “cdpACCESS” for information) through July 22, 2016:

F298-16: Umbrella structures
Affecting three IFAI divisions [TRD, Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA) and Fabric Structures Association (FSA)], this proposal, approved with modifications, expands the definition of “tent” in the code to include umbrella structures. “The proposal would clarify the ability of code officials to regulate umbrella structures like tents and canopies of more than 400 square feet, either single or aggregate, in places of assembly,” Markel says.

F299-16: Special amusement buildings
This proposal requires that a tent used as special amusement buildings (such as a haunted house) install an automatic sprinkler system.

F303-16 and F304-16: Flame propagation and labeling
These proposals would clarify the appropriate test for flame propagation performance criteria. As approved, NFPA 701 Test Method 1 is allowed for some fabrics under 21oz/y2; NFPA 701 already requires Method 2 for sides, tops and fabric over 21oz/y2.

F306-16: Portable propane
This proposal was approved with modifications. “The original proposal would have banned the use of small propane tanks in contact with the ground, which is impractical for the event industry using them in short-term applications,” Markel says.

F307-16, F308-16, and F309-16: Special Events Work Group proposals
F307 affects the staging industry and is minor and editorial in nature. F308 changes the term “stage canopy” to “temporary special event structure,” an important distinction, as “stage canopy” created confusion between tents and stage structures, Markel says. F309 reorganizes Chapter 31 but makes no change in text.

Standards and beyond

There are many organizations and agencies dealing with standards and testing that affect textile businesses. In some cases, the organization deals with a multitude of products and performance capabilities; others address more limited criteria. Here are some of the most universally recognized.

American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC, “the Association of Textile, Apparel & Materials Professionals”) is a nonprofit that provides test method development, quality control materials, and professional networking for its members in 60 countries.
ASTM International has created textile standards that provide the specifications and test methods for the physical, mechanical and chemical properties of textiles, and the natural and artificial fibers that constitute them.

British Standards Institute (BSI) is also the U.K.’s National Standards Body (NSB), representing U.K. economic and social interests across European and international standards organizations.
European Committee for Standardization (CEN) brings together standardization bodies of 33 European countries and is recognized by the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as being responsible for developing and defining voluntary standards at the European level. It deals with a broad range of industries and industry sectors.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards. The organization has published more than 21,000 standards, covering almost all aspects of technology and business. Textiles are among the products for which standards have been set.
U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) deals with trade issues in support of U.S. businesses, but it also provides information on regulations and standards that can affect trade decisions.

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