German company opens local furniture testing lab

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The decision to locate its 14th U.S. lab in the Grand Rapids area was “strategic,” given the city is the home of BIFMA, which develops compliance standards for the U.S. furniture industry. Courtesy TÜV Rheinland

A nearly 150-year-old German product inspection company is making its first foray into West Michigan via a testing lab that will serve the region’s major furniture manufacturers.

Cologne, Germany-based TÜV Rheinland — which provides testing, inspection and certification services for the global furniture industry — on March 5 held its grand opening for a new 3,000-square-foot furniture testing lab at 3650 Broadmoor Ave. SE in Kentwood.

The company’s move into Kentwood was announced in January, and the facility is now up and running.

About 11 employees have been hired so far, and TÜV Rheinland plans to continue hiring over the next few months.

The testing lab is part of a 4,600-square-foot leased suite in a 43,356-square-foot flex/industrial building managed by Realvesco Properties that was move-in ready. The portion of TÜV Rheinland’s space that is not occupied by the lab includes a break area, potential office space and a training and meeting room where compliance workshops will be held.

TÜV Rheinland — which has 20,000 employees and 500-plus labs and offices in 56 countries, including China, Vietnam, India, Poland and Italy, with its North American headquarters in Newton, Connecticut — said the decision to locate its 14th U.S. lab in the Grand Rapids area was “strategic,” given the city is the home of the Business and Industrial Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), which develops compliance standards for the U.S. furniture industry.

TÜV Rheinland’s proximity to BIFMA will allow its field managers to be more involved in the standardization process and work closely with BIFMA experts as it implements its testing operations.

The new location also allows TÜV Rheinland to get closer to its customers headquartered in the region — including an undisclosed group of “major” office furniture manufacturers it already works with in other parts of the world, as well as some retail customers.

The new lab will ensure local manufacturers meet the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), BIFMA and European certification requirements for regular and large-occupant office chairs, lounge seating, desk products, panel systems, storage units, tables, educational seating and occasional-use seating.

“Furniture manufacturers are eager to ensure that their products meet these standards, including the ISO 24496 requirements, but there’s been very limited test capacity in the United States,” said Stephan Pesch, a native of Germany who is the local field manager for TÜV Rheinland North America’s hardlines division.

“With the opening of this new lab, we’ll be able to help those manufacturers comply with legal, fitness for use and quality requirements. More than that, we work closely with our customers not only to ensure they meet all the necessary requirements, but also provide the customer satisfaction that quality-minded manufacturers seek.”

During a tour of the new, high-tech equipment in the lab space, Pesch demonstrated to the media a variety of the mechanical tests that products will undergo in the lab.

These include dimension, stability, durability, chemical and electric compliance tests, as well as lifecycle assessments.

Whereas European compliance standards are largely driven by the testing labs, in the U.S., Pesch said the manufacturers drive compliance standards, and they require a much faster turnaround time than is required in other countries — about five to 10 workdays as opposed to about 25 workdays in Europe. This has fueled a growing need for test labs in the U.S.

During the testing process, products go through simulation sequences using weights and automated motions at a number of stations. The tests are performed in thousands of cycles, 24 hours a day, to ensure repeatability and long-term performance and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, as well as the risk of long-term maladies due to faulty ergonomics.

Manufacturers engage TÜV Rheinland to conduct specific tests, and the lab tracks how the products perform, i.e., did the item fail the tests, and if so, after how many cycles? The manufacturers then use that information to improve the products before they go to market.

“Depending on the product category, some undergo (fewer) cycles, some undergo more cycles, and then we can tell them, ‘The product broke already after 10 cycles.’ So, that would be a huge issue. Or, for example, if it needed to undergo 20,000 cycles, and it broke at 19,500 cycles, (then we can say), ‘You’re almost there; maybe certain production tolerances you need to improve just a little bit,’” Pesch said.

An example of a standard TÜV Rheinland might test for is the ergonomic fit and adjustability of seating to accommodate people who are a range of sizes.

Dave Panning, head of technical services for BIFMA, said regular occupant chairs should meet height and weight tolerances ranging from a 5th percentile sized female up to a 95th percentile sized male.

In addition to the testing services, the TÜV Rheinland lab in Kentwood also will offer BIFMA trainings and compliance workshops for furniture manufacturers.

On a macro level, TÜV Rheinland also offers market services such as research of regulatory standards, product type approvals, product certifications, shipment certifications and project oversight.

It also helps to shape processes and information security for companies.

Since 2006, TÜV Rheinland has been a member of the United Nations Global Compact to promote sustainability and combat corruption.

The company’s annual revenue is about $2.2 billion.

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