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On the Safe Side

Tests and Certifications for Textiles

By Amber E. Watson

Digitally printed textiles are found in many applications, from signage to personalized clothing and home décor. With expanding popularity, print service providers (PSPs) and vendors are rushing to take advantage of the boom. In this haste, important safety rules and regulations cannot be overlooked. For example, fabrics are highly flammable and must pass many different codes—some depending on the city—before being used in a venue.

 

While several textile manufacturers proactively certify products to promote flame resistant and non-toxic attributes, many certifications are pursued based on customer and city/state requirements.

 

Meeting the Requirements

Certification is a lengthy and costly process; therefore textiles are often certified to meet specific customer requests. Companies such as Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. (ASTG) certify products according to requirements which may include physical characteristics, such as thread count, width, thickness, tensile strength, weight, and fire retardant attributes.

 

The majority of ASTG’s products are used in specific industrial applications and certified according to each particular product’s specifications. The company certifies according to qualitative testing. “Testing is performed in accordance to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) test methods,” explains Teresa Skinner, marketing coordinator, ASTG. In addition to the AATCC, the company works with independent testing labs, such as Manufacturing Solutions Center in Hickory, NC for comparative analysis.

 

As a European producer selling in international markets, DHJ International must comply or offer certifications for many products in inkjet printing. “Fire retardant certification has various standards in Europe,” explains Blaise Humphries, business unit manager, DHJ International. “M1 certification for France and B1 in Germany covers 95 percent of all European requests and both certificates tend to be known and accepted by many North American clients.” In addition, DHJ carries a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 701 and California State Fire Marshal (CSFM) Title 19 for the U.S.

 

According to Humphries, the process for fire retardant certification is long standing and takes anywhere between three and eight weeks depending on the type of test—M1 or B1, and how busy the labs are at any given time. Certification lasts five years in most cases and is mandatory for all indoor applications.

 

Flame Resistant Certifications

Not surprisingly, flame repel is a major concern for many vendors and consumers of textile products. Oftentimes, clients and/or fire marshals require fabrics to adhere to fire resistant certifications such as NFPA 701, CSFM Title 19, and German B1 test basis, certifying they are registered flame resistant products.

 

The guidelines for the fire protection of all fabrics set forth by the NFPA are known as NFPA 701 and interpreted by each municipal fire department. At a minimum, safe fabrics meet NFPA 701 requirements.

 

NFPA 701 is a vertical flame test performed in a lab using either a small 16- or large 48-inch test specimen. “For the latter, the specimen may be tested flat or folded like a curtain. The method depends on what types of applications the material is typically used for,” says Lance Reed, director of quality, Cooley Group. Given the usual application of Cooley digital products, the company prefers to test large scale flat. The specimen is hung vertically and ignited on one end. It cannot burn more than 17 inches along its length nor can any dripping material continue burning for more than two seconds.

 

Fabrics sold in CA are generally certified by the CSFM, and fabrics sold in the city of Los Angeles, CA (COLA) must meet city requirements. “The CSFM test is performed by the state and takes up to two months for results and certification,” explains Reed. “COLA testing requirements are handled by the company applying for certification but once submitted to the city of Los Angeles—along with an application and check—it may take six months or more for the city to review and approve.” CSFM testing is similar to NFPA 701 except smaller—requiring only 12 inches. The specimens are also tested before and after accelerated weathering for fabrics used outdoors.

 

NFPA 701 and CSFM Title 19 each take approximately one week to test and certify by an independent testing lab. It involves sending two yards of fabric to the facility. Test data and approval are mailed back in a short period of time.

 

German B1 takes anywhere from four to six weeks for testing and approval and requires sending five yards of the fabric to the testing facility. Test data and a five year certificate with an official seal are mailed after this time.

 

Each state’s rules and regulations vary; however CA sets the strictest guidelines. Therefore, fabrics that meet the criteria set by the CA Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Office of the State Fire Marshal pass in any state.

 

“To register a fabric as a flame resistant product by the CA Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Office of the State Fire Marshal involves sending one 3.5x10-inch cut of the warp and one cut of the fill for style to be certified along with test data showing that the fabric passes CSFM Title 19 and NFPA 701,” explains Sharon Roland, publicity manager, Fisher Textiles, Inc.

 

“Approval usually takes four to six weeks and each approved style must be re-certified every year, which involves re-submitting the warp and fill samples,” she adds. An official certificate signed by the Deputy State Fire Marshal is issued for every certified fabric.

 

Fisher Textiles is accustomed to this process. “Clients and fire marshals request a flame certificate showing the fabric passes these tests, which Fisher Textiles issues according to lot number with every flame retardant product that we sell,” shares Roland. “We also have test data available to clients for each of the listed certifications if the fabric has been tested for that certification.” Diversified Testing in Burlington, NC handles both NFPA 701 and CSFM Title 19 certifications for the company.

 

Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag seemee US, Inc., shares that all Verseidag seemee fabrics and flexface that are promoted for interior use are tested and approved with some sort of certification. “The NFPA 701 certification is the most general and widely accepted across the country,” he notes. The manufacturer typically uses Intertek and Govmark labs, and sends a couple yards of material with a completed form indicating which tests to run on the material.

 

Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF) is also experienced with the multi-step process for fire retardant certification. “We first send fabrics to an independent test laboratory where they are analyzed to ensure they meet CSFM Title 19 requirements concerning char and burning characteristics,” explains Jeff Sanders, digital fabric sales manager, PCF. “Once the test laboratory certifies the fabric, the entire process is repeated by the CSFM, and if they concur with the test results, an ASTM E-84 certificate is issued.” This entire process is performed on a yearly basis with PCF supplying multiple warp and welt samples for each fabric.

 

Tests for Environmental Safety

Fabrics may also be required to meet environmental certifications, such as PVC-free. Various environmental and chemical content testing is done by reputable labs and performed on the media before it is printed.

 

Matt Devlin, VP of business development, NatureWoven, Natural AdCampaign Ltd., believes all fabrics should be compliant with environmental standards, such as biodegradability. The ASTM D6400 standard offers a set of criteria to determine whether a product is considered compostable. The European Standard EN13432 is similar and applicable in Europe. Material must achieve a minimum of 60 percent biodegradability within a six month period to qualify for ASTM D6400. NatureWoven materials compost within two to 12 weeks and the material breaks down by up to 90 percent due to the sustainable and natural raw materials from which it is made.

 

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and Greenguard Environmental Institute are other certification examples that apply to a variety of fabrics. “ISO and United States Green Building Council also offer guidance on environmental impact,” says Drew Nelson, product manager, Tri Vantage, Glen Raven, Inc. “In addition, media fabrics sold in or sent to Europe need to meet REACH criteria, which covers chemical composition and environmental characteristics,” he adds. Environmental studies may take several weeks to a couple of months for completion.

 

As a European producer, DHJ holds REACH certification for all products. “We are legally bound to undertake this process, which is enshrined by law for European manufacturing companies,” explains Humphries. “This gives the guarantee that there are no harmful substances in our products—both the textile bases and in the coating formulations.”

In addition, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is requested by a large number of European clients, though more complicated and expensive. It is a globally uniform testing and certification system for textile raw materials, intermediate, and end products at all stages of production. “To date, the certification is not mandatory but more a sign that the manufacturing company is prepared to go beyond the strict minimum in compliance with the mandatory requirements of REACH,” says Humphries.

 

While all textiles selected by PCF must first pass an in-house laboratory testing for printability and longevity, there are additional outside tests. “We certify an array of fabrics as either/or flame repel, organic, or as manufactured in an environmental and socially responsible manner,” says Sanders. “Our tested textile products are allocated to one of the four Oeko-Tex product classes based on intended use. The more intensively a product comes into contact with the skin, the stricter the human ecological requirements it must fulfill,” he adds.

 

Manufacturers are entitled to mark successfully tested products with the Oeko-Tex label and to advertise in other forms as long as it has been proven within the extensive laboratory tests that all components, including accessories, comply with the specified test criteria without exception. An issued certification applies for one year and can be renewed as often as required.

 

Put to the Test

The time it takes to test and certify fabric varies, and any competent testing laboratory can conduct these tests. “If the tests are for a particular state or city then the appropriate fire marshal or city engineering office should be contacted for an approved laboratory list,” notes Reed.

 

The length of time it takes to complete testing depends on the required specification or certification, which is likely determined by how and where the project is installed. Fire retardant testing may be approved by certified labs in a matter of weeks for NFPA 701. “CSFM Title 19 is a more detailed and comprehensive process. Testing, application, approval, and registration can take several weeks,” cautions Nelson.

 

Michael Katz, president, Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Systems, stresses the importance of manufacturers establishing a close working relationship with a lab or labs. “A level of trust and competency needs to be established over time, ensuring the investment pays off in the long run. Often, the process of certification takes many weeks. A manufacturer should have a resource person in their lab whom they can work with not only to expedite certification, but also to manage changes in the constituents or process of a coating or material, which may lead to unforeseen liability even before re-certification is initiated,” he recommends.

 

Each certification requires that material is sent to an established and specialized lab. One might have to send material to a lab that only does flame testing and another lab to gather information on the environmental toxicology of a coating that may be applied to the fabric. “The cost of certification is significant and time consuming. Whenever there is a change in constituents certification needs to be done all over again. In practice, certification concerns a small percentage of your customer base, however, those who need it, need it,” states Katz.

 

Cautionary Approach

Flame resistant and environmentally safe testing and certification of fabrics is critical to a large number of digital applications, especially those associated with interior applications such as retail, point of purchase, trade show exhibits, and indoor banners.

 

As is the case with controlled testing, actual results vary depending on where and how the application is installed. It is possible improper or inadequate field procedures can incorrectly indicate satisfactory flame resistance, which may result in errors. For example, fire resistant qualities pertain to the media fabric in its preprinted state.

 

Field procedures are useful, but results must be viewed with good judgment and recognized limitations. Responsible vendors and distributors understand the importance of fabric safety certifications. It is better to be on the safe side.

Jul2012, Digital Output

 

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