Credibility Is Key

When municipal and utility engineers and other decision-makers authorize a materials or equipment purchase, they?re putting their professional reputations on the line every time. For those spending taxpayer money, the pressure is on to make intelligent, responsible decisions that result in high value-to-cost ratios. It just makes sense that, before signing on the dotted line or cutting a check, these decision-makers should do their homework in vetting the claims of the product?s manufacturer.

Such due diligence is greatly enhanced by the work of third-party testing labs, whose job it is to put manufacturer claims through rigorous performance trials and analyze resulting data. Only such testing performed by an objective, qualified entity can assure buyers they?re getting what they think they?re paying for.

There are literally thousands of testing companies, some generalists, others covering narrow manufacturing niches. For purchasers, it?s important to know the manufacturer uses an industry accredited testing lab to ensure credible results. Look for a relationship with a testing lab that?s a member of a trade group such as ASTM International.

Originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM was formed over a century ago to create quality standards for industry. Now, ASTM International is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world. A trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems and services (astm.org), it has more than 30,000 members in 120 countries.

Internal and External Rigor

It?s also a good idea for manufacturers not to get too comfortable with a single testing provider. ?Over the 20 years we?ve been in business, we?ve probably dealt with six to seven different firms,? says Jerry Gordon, president of SprayRoq Inc., which manufactures spray-applied protective linings. ?The reason we work with different firms is to verify that the information provided by one company is in line with what the other findings may be. That gives our products more credibility from the end user?s perspective. They know what they?ve requested in a product and its performance is going to be delivered.?

This cross-testing isn?t done only for the end-user?s peace of mind. Manufacturers themselves should be interested in holding their products up to the most intense scrutiny. Gordon continues, ?We do this from time to time just to do a gut check, to make sure the primary company we use is living up to their standards of performance as an ASTM testing firm. We also want to make sure that if the product does migrate to other (testing) offices, we?re going to come up with comparable results. It?s worth the investment to double-check test findings.?

Reports from ASTM-approved testing firms provide buyers with assurance that the item tested has met the minimum criterion for each standard, based on established industry parameters. By comparing performance levels to ASTM standards, end users can make a credible judgment about whether the tested product meets not just industry standards, but also their own unique requirements and expectations for their particular application.

Numbers Can?t Stand Alone

As important as standards testing results are, other logical parameters must be applied when evaluating possible product solutions for any specific application.

?For example, if the product has a slow cure time incompatible with project needs because there is a need for a quick-curing product,? Gordon posits, ?although the ASTM performance may be acceptable for the long-term, the short-term need in putting a project back into service may need a different type of product altogether. It?s not just about the ASTM results. You have to look at the overall performance characteristics of that particular product and measure it against actual project requirements.?

Then there?s the question of properly employing the product to achieve optimal results. Regardless of how well the product scores on standards testing, its performance is only as sound as its installation. Due diligence must be performed on candidate contractors about their experience, manufacturer support and training.

Gordon?s expertise is in spray polyurethane, cured-in-place pipe lining and cementitious products. Having
worked with an extensive network of certified installers, he recommends project managers look for several things in those who will apply these materials. ?One of the most critical things is their certification by the product manufacturer. Does that particular contractor have the necessary training and industry experience to understand how the product should be installed in a particular environment? With water and wastewater applications, there may be a lot of hidden issues to contend with. Surface preparation, the work environment and infrastructure age all play a part in a successful installation.

?What about references? Are these solid and intact, or is the potential installer just a fly-by-night? Is the company new to the marketplace? If so, what?s there to support them and make them a credible application partner for any city? It boils down quite often to the combined technical know-how of the contractor and the manufacturer to put together a good project.?

Building Success Into Your Bids

Since testing is so critical to the long-term success of a project, RFQ preparers should take steps to require its use in project bids. Engineers from the municipality and any outside firms, and infrastructure owners should take time to educate themselves on the capabilities of products that may be used. Side-by-side product comparisons can be helpful in this effort, as are evaluations of products being applied in onsite demonstrations.

Researching other projects that have used the products under consideration and contacting the end-users for comments is another good practice. Of course, applying ASTM benchmark standards to see how potential candidate products measure up adds that extra level of performance assurance.

One good way to evaluate potential products is to visit manufacturers? websites to see if they?re proactively offering their testing results, rather than waiting to be asked for them. This indicates overall confidence in their products? performance. Conversely, if companies hesitate or provide excuses instead of testing documentation, it?s not out of line to assume that their product performance claims may be inflated.

One last item to consider is a product?s environmental friendliness. Requirements for ?green? products in both new construction and rehabilitation projects will only become more stringent, so it?s a good idea for RFQ preparers to acquaint themselves with the green factor of product solutions they?re considering.

Conventional petroleum-based materials set the standard in terms of tensile strength, elongation, tear strength and other key performance factors. More and more products are being offered with renewable source material formulations. That?s great for the environment, but are they comparable to traditional performance?

?With bio-based materials,? says Gordon, ?if you?re not selecting the right renewable source base, you can end up with much lower performance characteristics and tensile strength. For example, recently we saw a product made of a certain renewable source material whose tensile strength was one-half that of a typical petroleum-based material. Even though it may have green content to it, if it doesn?t have the performance characteristics and the ability to provide good corrosion protection over a period of time, then it?s not going to be a good solution.?

It?s All About Education

In the end, making good choices is about understanding the underlying requirements of your project, and matching product choice to those needs. When dealing with the difference between cementitious-based vs. resonance material in surface coatings, ask yourself:

  • Is it a structural project?
  • Is it one that requires corrosion coating?
  • Do you want a long-term solution or just a quick fix to put the structure back in service?
  • Do you want something that?s going to be inherently corrosion-resistant, or just something to act as a patch?

Gordon says a big consideration in the face of dwindling tax revenues is project budgeting. Though resonance material products are long-term solutions for corrosion control and structural rehabilitation, they do cost more than cementitious-based materials. So many factors must be considered in any cost/benefit analysis.

A successful project will depend on the preparation put into it on the front end. Engineers and end-users must take time to weed through all the product claims made in the marketplace. Require ASTM testing to substantiate claims. Use care in how you evaluate a product for a particular project, and make sure your engineers are on board with your overall objective. Perform due diligence on contractors under consideration and have a solid handle on what fits in your budget.

Doing your homework will ensure a solid project with tight control from beginning to end, and will pay dividends with project performance that meets your needs far into the future.

Mary Shafer is freelance technical staff writer for Creative Raven, a marketing communications and production firm specializing in the water, wastewater and municipal infrastructure sectors.

What Does It All Mean?

Every ASTM test result is presented in an official document signed and typically stamped by the testing laboratory, certifying it as authentic and true to ASTM standard testing procedures. Truly skeptical end-users can actually call the lab to discuss findings. This keeps the testing process transparent and verifiable, which maintains confidence in the results.

?For example,? Jerry Gordon explains, ?what we provide on our website is actual third-party test results in .pdf format. They?re on the letterhead bearing the signature of the testing authority and quite often that of the owner, president or manager of that testing group. They don?t state necessarily that the tests exceeded or fell short of the standard. They just report what the numbers are, per their results. They?re not giving any endorsement or criticism. It?s just a statement of the facts.?

These third-party test results will be part of the quality benchmark for the product being submitted for consideration in a specific project bid.? Purchasers or specifiers of spray-applied linings in the wastewater management and infrastructure rehabilitation industries should ask certain questions about their product expectations.

  • What is the product?s tensile strength?
  • What is its flexural modulus (the ratio of stress to strain in flexural deformation)?
  • What are the cure times?

Answers to these questions should be provided in writing, optimally as part of the bid process. Some type of reliable information ? product specification sheets, brochures, case studies ? should also be obtained from product manufacturers to back their claims.

Of course, this information is only as useful as the understanding of the person reading it. Non-technical managers responsible for such evaluation should be educated about what they should be looking for and why, and how to interpret test data.

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