May the Best Product Win

March 24, 2014

The unseen similarities between product certification and sports

While growing up, I never would never have guessed that I would end up working in the drinking water treatment industry. All I knew growing up was sports. I was raised in a household with three older brothers who are all tall and athletically gifted. They range in height from 6 ft 5 in. to 6 ft 8 in., and I am 6 ft 2 in., so, simply put, if we had decided not to play sports it would have been a “waste of height.” When I was too young to even watch the competition, I was dragged to countless basketball games, baseball tournaments and swim meets. I also had my own basketball, swimming and soccer schedule to attend to. 

As I grew up, my passion for sports in general turned into a sole passion for volleyball. It became my life. I lived, breathed and slept volleyball. I was fortunate enough to earn a full athletic scholarship to attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

Upon graduating from college, my dream was to find a job with a sporting apparel company and work in marketing to female athletes, because that is what I am and that is what I know. Working for the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) in its product testing and certification program is most certainly on the opposite end of the spectrum. 

After learning about what the program entails and the different tests that products have to undergo to achieve certification, however, I have determined that it is not all that different from what collegiate athletes have to go through to secure spots on their teams. I will focus on the three main tests that water treatment products may be subject to, depending on whether they are components, systems or additives: performance testing, structural integrity and extraction testing (or material safety).

Performance Testing: Be Able to Do What You Say You Can Do

When a company makes a claim about its product’s performance — such as the ability to reduce chlorine, lead or mercury — it had better do just that. Certification to a Drinking Water Treatment Unit standard requires a product’s performance to be tested. Performance testing is conducted to validate the product’s ability to reduce the concentration of a specific contaminant to an approved level. 

You may be wondering how this relates to athletics. Athletes have to pass performance tests all the time — tests of strength, speed and endurance. As a collegiate athlete, I always dreaded the cardiovascular tests I had to pass. As a kid I could run all day up and down the soccer field and basketball court. As I grew older, though, I realized I just really do not enjoy running. 

At Bradley, during my freshman and sophomore years, we had to pass what was known as the “beep test” — a cardiovascular drill created to make your life miserable. Here’s how it works: For 11 minutes — the longest 11 minutes of my life, I might add — each player has to get from one end line of the volleyball court to the other before the beep sounds. The interval between beeps starts long, allowing a walking pace, and the beeps speed up incrementally throughout the drill. By the end, a full sprint is required in order to get to the end line before the beep. If you missed two beeps in a row, you failed the test and had to do it again the next day. If you passed, you didn’t have to do that dreadful drill again until the next year’s preseason.

Just like products may fail their performance tests, re-testing is allowed. Generally, it does not take place the next day and, unfortunately, it is not free; but once a company determines its product is ready, it can have another go at it. If a product passes, it does not have to go through performance testing again for a specified period of time, which varies by certifying body.

Structural Integrity Testing: Hold Up Under Pressure

Structural integrity testing is performed to evaluate the structural safety of any plumbed-in system or component. Typically, a plumbed-in system or component will be tested under more pressure than it would likely undergo in the field. This is done to ensure that the product will not leak when customers use it. 

The two types of structural integrity tests that are required are hydrostatic and cycle. Hydrostatic testing ensures that a component can hold higher-than-usual pressure for a certain amount of time above the manufacturer’s stated maximum working pressure. Cycle testing ensures that a component can handle the pressure change that comes when a system is turned on and off. This test is done with a certain amount of cycles above the manufacturer’s stated maximum working pressure.

Athletes are also pressure tested, but in a different way. Coaches put athletes through drills that may seem excessive just to make them mentally tougher. To make sure that athletes do not “fall apart” during pressure situations, coaches will drive them almost to their breaking points. In that way, it is a lot like how plumbed-in systems and components are tested by third-party certification bodies. 

Extraction Testing: Keep It Clean

Extraction testing (or material safety) is performed to evaluate contaminants that may leach out of wetted parts of systems or components, meaning anything that touches water that is meant for consumption. Systems that have adsorptive or absorptive media must be tested with and without media. This means that the parts that make up a product or component should be making the water better, not worse. 

Are you wondering how an extraction test can possibly relate to athletes? Obviously, athletes are not soaked in water to see what contaminants may come off their skin. Instead, they are given a tiny plastic cup and asked to urinate in it. The NCAA requires drug testing to ensure that athletes are not contaminating their bodies with unapproved substances. If any contaminant shows up in your urine, you fail, just like a product undergoing extraction testing.

Now What?

So, what happens when a product, system or component passes these tests, or others required for a specific standard? It earns certification and is listed on the certifying body’s website. It also gets to don that certification body’s logo and compete against other similar products. And athletes, what happens to them? Pretty much the same thing! They get to be listed on a roster on a school’s website, wear a jersey with the school’s name on it and compete against other teams in their sport.

Good luck, and may the best product and athlete win! 

Amy Reichel is sales and marketing associate/tradeshow specialist for the Water Quality Assn.’s Gold Seal Product Certification Div. Reichel can be reached at areichel@wqa.org or 630.505.0160.

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