Ceramic Decorating / Columns

Ceramic Decorating: Product Testing Of Tableware

February 1, 2001
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Quality assurance is of critical importance to glass and ceramic manufacturers and decorators. Fortunately, many standard test procedures are available to insure that ware will meet safety and performance standards.

Quality assurance is of critical importance to glass and ceramic manufacturers and decorators. Consumers expect a standard level of performance from every piece of tableware, and failure to meet these expectations can destroy a manufacturer’s reputation for quality and reliability.

Fortunately, many standard test procedures are available to insure that ware will meet safety and performance standards. In addition, many glass and ceramic tableware marketers have developed custom test procedures to insure the integrity of their ware.

Testing for Safety

When developing testing protocols, decorators should first focus on meeting all consumer safety requirements. Standardized heavy-metal leaching tests such as ASTM C-738 are conducted to guarantee compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaching regulations for the food-contact surface of tableware. In addition, tableware makers use ASTM C-927 to insure compliance with leaching standards for the lip and rim area of drinkware.

Failure to comply with these standards can cause serious regulatory and public relations problems for a tableware maker. These tests can be conducted by any testing lab familiar with the appropriate procedure; a list of such labs is available from SGCD.

Performance Standards

Beyond safety standards, tableware makers conduct a wide variety of performance tests that demonstrate how ware will perform in actual use. Although many consumers replace casual tableware patterns every few years, they do not expect their dinnerware to fade in the dishwasher or chip easily on contact. In addition, most consumers purchase formal tableware with the expectation that it will last a lifetime, so it is critical that such ware exceed all performance standards

Some SGCD member decorators maintain internal testing operations to insure that all ware will perform as expected. If a potential failure is discovered in the testing process, a company can redesign the product or change decorating or manufacturing techniques to insure consumer satisfaction. It is important, therefore, that testing be considered in the early design stages of a new pattern to identify problem areas or materials. Once a problem is identified, every production department can contribute to the resolution if necessary.

At Lenox Brands, for instance, the company’s performance test plan is designed to establish limits and specifications while assuring safety and durability. According to Diane Stevens, corporate quality analyst for Lenox Brands, the company tests to insure a solid balance between design and functionality. As an example, she notes that an ornately decorated ceramic bakeware piece that fails to meet heat resistance specifications would be redesigned before it was ever offered to consumers.

Stevens notes that Lenox regularly tests ceramic ware for dishwasher resistance, microwave safety, freezer-to-oven capacity, bakeware heat resistance, dinnerware chip resistance and the effect of environmental changes on metals and adhesives. Lenox also uses customized test protocols for abrasion resistance, metal marking and scratch resistance.

Tableware manufacturers will often develop specific tests to address specific problems. Walter Lumley, manager of quality assurance for Tiffany & Co., reports that the company developed a scuff test to determine resistance to scuffs caused when flatware is packed tightly for shipping from production sites. By developing a standard test protocol, the company can now analyze all future ware using the standard to avoid any future problems.

In the final analysis, glass and ceramic manufacturers and decorators can guarantee the value of their products by thoroughly testing every dinnerware pattern or collectible before it is offered for sale. By doing so, a company will insure that consumers will not be disappointed with the ware they purchase.

Developing a Testing Manual

Stevens and Lumley are directing SGCD’s Science Committee efforts to compile a volume of functional test procedures that will be of great value to glass and ceramic manufacturers and decorators. The committee is gathering sample tests from member companies with a primary focus on tests that are not currently published for general use. The Tiffany & Co. scuff test mentioned above is an example of a test procedure that will be included in the testing manual for replication by any SGCD member.

SGCD will compile the test procedures, although the association will not replicate the tests for the purpose of official endorsement or to establish an “official” test. If you are interested in participating in the development of the testing manual, call Andy Bopp at (202) 728-4132, Diane Stevens at (609) 965-8274 or Walter Lumley at (973) 254-7737. The manual will be available at no cost to any glass and ceramic manufacturer who contributes to its development.

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