25 May 2024, 18:20
By Furniture News Sept 03, 2018

Trade turns to SATRA in testing times

SATRA celebrates its centenary next year. Founded in 1919 as a specialist footwear research association, the test centre has grown to become a UK authority on shoes and personal protective equipment (PPE). Yet it is also equipped to handle more general products, and furniture and floorcoverings are a significant part of its business. Paul Farley visited SATRA’s cutting-edge facility in Kettering this summer to find out more … 

Rising consumer expectation means product quality has never been so important. With sizeable risks associated with product failure (I’ve heard my share of horror stories), it’s no surprise that companies are increasingly turning to reputable test centres for help. 

Operating from a sizeable HQ in Kettering which incorporates half a dozen dedicated laboratories, covering everything from flammability testing to chemical assessment – plus a satellite facility in Dongguan, China – SATRA’s services are in high demand. 

Last year, the company’s testing arm turned in a record performance, prompting it to make ongoing investments in technology and staff – such as the addition of a new universal fatigue testing machine, which has doubled the capacity of its furniture and floorcoverings department, and the more recent appointment of senior team leader Johnny Worthington.

“So far this year, table and bed testing work has tripled, and cabinet testing has doubled, while chair testing has also been extremely busy,” says the department’s head, Geoff Bindley, when he greets me in the company’s well-appointed reception area. “This is a very exciting time in furniture and floorcoverings testing and certification at SATRA, as there is potential in the whole market.” 

The reception gives way to the steady hiss of hydraulics as we begin our tour by entering the structural testing laboratory, where various chairs, sofas, tables, cabinets and mattresses are being squeezed, pushed and pulled in different directions. These load tests – be they of the fatigue, static, or shock variety – are all applied by machinery of SATRA’s own making, and delivered in line with the appropriate domestic or commercial standards to ensure their strength and durability.

“Most customers are putting longer guarantees on their products,” says Geoff Bindley, head of SATRA’s Furniture and Floorcoverings department, as he points to several of the tireless contraptions, “so demand is growing for our services. Some 80-90% of our furniture testing equipment is in use at any one time, and many of these machines run 24/7 – across an assessment period of 14 weeks, they may do anything up to half a million cycles.”

The tests simulate real-life scenarios, from general wear and tear to sudden impact – for example, aside from being sat upon, a dining chair may be dragged, pushed from side to side, leaned or stood upon – and if a supplier or retailer wishes to comply with the standards and minimise any risk of returns, their product should be able to take the abuse.

SATRA’s various laboratories are accredited by UKAS, and work to ISO 17025, so have been entrusted by major players across various industries (client confidentiality precludes SATRA from naming names) to deliver reliable, independent product validation – and these clients are increasingly seeking SATRA’s own seal of approval, through its Diamond Product Certification Programme.

Yet this area is just the start of the tour. A key strength of SATRA is its expertise across numerous – often complementary – parts of the industry, as I begin to discover upon entering the flammability testing lab.

Large enough to test even a full-sized mattress, the facility can execute the pricy – yet invaluable – processes necessary to ensure compliance with the current Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations, and I’m treated to a demonstration of how quickly foam burns when free from the fire-retardant chemicals demanded by UK law.

“Although there’s not necessarily any direct correlation, we did experience an uplift in demand for fire testing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster,” says technologist, Andrew Munn.

We move on through rooms in which finishing tests are carried out to assess the damage of impact, heat, and stains on veneers and foils, to SATRA’s expansive footwear department, where it becomes clear that many of the test mechanisms developed for other sectors during SATRA’s long history can, and have been, applied to furniture.

Customers seeking upholstery testing and certification invariably discover that this department’s fabric and leather nous is invaluable in assessing a cover’s flexibility, resistance to abrasion and colourfast properties – the latter being of particular importance, given the potential for litigation which can arise from clothing stains.

Next up is the chemical laboratory, which takes testing down to a molecular level. Since the introduction of the REACH EU regulation in 2006, this department has experienced huge growth in demand – and, again, there’s relevance to the furniture sector, with testing taking place to guarantee the safety of finishes on nursery furniture, and, elsewhere, analysing leathers for the presence of chromium-6, an unwelcome by-product of the tanning process, which can irritate the skin in large enough concentrations.

All these diverse capabilities, delivered by some 200 employees, are housed under one roof, potentially making SATRA a one-stop-shop for every furniture testing need – and there’s even a new building opening nearby which will house the engineering equipment SATRA uses to manufacture and maintain its own machinery.

At the heart of SATRA’s offer is a comprehensive training and consultancy service, designed to help the industry perform at the highest possible standards, and interested parties can get a taste of these by attending one of the company’s many seminars.

Flammability seminars, for example, take place throughout the year – the next are on 11th October and 6th December – while a Furniture Safety seminar, which provides information on the concepts of general product safety, Fire Safety Regulations and an introduction into the REACH legislations on restricted substances, will be held at SATRA’s headquarters on 8th November.

“Some test houses will only deal with you if you know exactly what you want,” says Andrew, as I depart. “At SATRA, we employ people who can provide advice on the relevant standards, whatever your requirement – and we can tailor our services to meet specific demands, making the service fit around you, rather than the other way around.”

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