Mechanical testing of water supply products: a growing wave
We all expect our taps, water meters and other water supply and plumbing products that come into contact with drinking water to perform reliably and safe. A wide range of mechanical and hygiene tests exist to ensure this. With market demands increasing, a growing number of manufacturers are opting for certification as a means of independently demonstrating that their products comply with legal and/or market standards. The best place to submit products to mechanical testing? Kiwa’s state-of-the-art Water Lab, also known as the Products Laboratory or the Drinking Water Installation, in Rijswijk, the Netherlands.
A way with water
Did you know that testing products that come into contact with drinking water is how Kiwa originated? Our company was founded in 1948 by the Dutch drinking water companies with the goal of helping to secure the drinking water supply in the country by examining all materials and components that could come into contact with drinking water. Back then KIWA stood for KeuringsInstituut voor WaterleidingArtikelen, or, in English, Institution for the Inspection of Water Supply and Plumbing Products.
Fast forward to 2022, and Kiwa has become a global player in certification, inspection, testing, training and consultancy in many sectors, of which water is just one. As you will read in this article, the water sector is facing many changes and challenges related to regulations, innovation and water-related societal pressures. As a company whose experts have a way with water, we are ready for the future.
Leading the way in Europe
In our everyday lives and jobs, we use many products that come into contact with drinking water: kitchen and boiling water taps, washbasins, shower heads, toilets, thermostats, water meters, fire hydrants, valves, industrial pressure valves and more. Kiwa’s team at the Water Lab in Rijswijk, a town located in the west of the Netherlands, contributes to the safety, quality and sustainability of all those products with a wide range of mechanical tests. Often, this testing prepares the way for certification, and inspection, for which the Rijswijk team can pass the ball to our various other Kiwa offices.
Operating at the forefront of the water industry, our lab serves a growing group of global customers for the European, North American and Australian market: developers, manufacturers and sellers, as well as property owners, hotel chain managers and other parties who see added value in visible proof of the quality, safety and sustainability of their drinking water products. ‘Because we want to remain impartial, we often don't know whose products we are testing. But you can be sure that many products from brands like Grohe, Hansgrohe and Ikea have frequently passed through our hands,’ says lab coordinator Mitchell Burgwal.
Mitchell Burgwal, Lab coordinator at the Products Laboratory in Rijswijk, the Netherlands.
Kiwa's testing capabilities cover the whole spectrum of products used in water production, distribution and in-house supply. Our lab teams in Bologna, Italy, and Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, focus on plastic piping systems and rubbers. Like the team in Rijswijk, colleagues in Guangzhou, China, and Ebbw Vale, United Kingdom, focus on performance testing of fittings, sanitary tapware and valves, safety and measuring devices, and appliances. Our Aachen laboratory is specialized in the acoustic testing and other laboratories, such as the one in Rostock, Germany, focus on hygiene testing.
‘By working together, our labs can offer the leading players in this market a complete and up-to-date package of services,’ says Mitchell. His colleague, Rik Vollebregt, adds: ‘We often work closely with colleagues at the Kiwa UK drinking water lab and Kiwa China, where a new lab has just been set up, as well as with branches in countries such as Germany, Italy, the Nordics and Australia. We also use drinking water to perform the pressure surge test on plastic pipes for our colleagues from plastic piping systems.’
A love of technology
A tour of the lab in Rijswijk takes you through a maze of taps, pipes, water troughs of all sizes, meters, buttons and digital screens: clearly a place run by people with a passion for technology and quality. Here, the daily tasks involve all managing kinds of test setups, often self-designed, accompanied by the gurgling and hissing of moving water, the shuffling of work shoes, the sounds of conversation and laughter, and the occasional clatter and clang of tools.
In the basement, workbenches with saws and lathes are lined up to produce the next customised test rig. Explains Rik: ‘Every product that comes in can be different: bigger, smaller, more complex, designed to reduce water consumption or to last longer, you name it. So, although the standards forming the basis of our tests are fixed, each test can require a unique set-up.’
Mitchell: ‘Our specific role at the lab is to provide objective testing. If a product does not meet the necessary requirements, we will communicate this in a report. We don’t really interact with the external customer, or add any form of advice, because we are an independent company. The external customer then has the choice to either stop there, or to continue working on the product, returning it to our lab as often as is necessary to obtain the coveted Kiwa Quality Mark, or any other certification relevant to their market or location. Think, for example of the DVGW certificate, issued by the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water, the KUK Reg4 certificate in the UK, the Finnish – or Swedish type approval or Australia’s Watermark. Again, it is the fact that all Kiwa labs and offices combine different capabilities – from performance testing, development testing and audit testing – that enables us to deliver full-scope testing services to our customers.’
Rik Vollebregt, Technician at the Products Laboratory in Rijswijk, the Netherlands.
Opened and closed 200.000 times
The tests carried out in the ISO 17025-certified lab in Rijswijk, show customers whether their products meet European, North American or Australian standards, among others. Many of these standards are related to specific functionalities as well as to durability, or lifespan. Functional standards are in place for thing like the water permeability of a foam jet nozzle on the head of a tap, or the pressure resistance of a volumetric flow limiter – a device used to reduce pressure and temperature fluctuations in large water installations.
The durability tests involve almost endless repetitions of the same movement, such as opening and closing a mixer tap with hot and cold water. By way of example, Mitchell shows a test set-up in which a robot keeps opening and closing a tap, uninterruptedly, for four weeks. ‘Sometimes a movement needs to be repeated 100,000 times, sometimes 200,000 times, to prove that the product has the desired lifespan. That can take a couple of weeks.’ To meet the increasing demand for tests like this, the team has expanded its family of three robots to four. ‘Just what we need for all those menial tasks,’ says Mitchell.
Easier access to new markets
The European standards for drinking water products are guidelines. While hygiene requirements are country-specific and often embedded in national regulations, mechanical performance requirements are market driven and based on harmonized standards. Despite this fact, the demand for this kind of compliance is increasing. Why? Mitchell: ‘Large producers often have their own lab to test their products. But different standards may apply in the different countries they serve: we know all of those standards and can test for them, making it easier for them to enter new markets. Besides, many certificates, including the Kiwa Quality Mark, go further than the applicable standards, which offers extra security.’
The fact that the lab in Rijswijk is accredited also plays a role. Mitchell: ‘It means, among other things, that all our equipment and instruments are calibrated by an independent third party. This can be very important when it comes to water meters, for example: for a housing association, or a water supplier dealing with a large number of water meters, a small, structural deviation in all those meters can lead to large deviations in the measurement readings – and therefore in the total cost. A positive test result from our accredited lab means that a product complies with the standard and is eligible for certification. That inspires confidence.’
Innovation and water saving
Stricter regulations and a growing focus on drinking water challenges around the world are also contributing to the workload at the lab, says Mitchell. ‘Innovative products that contribute to water and energy savings are expected to become increasingly popular. Think, for example, of water-saving toilet bowls or shower heads. A quality mark that shows which standard these products meet with adds value. Legislation is likely to shift in the same direction. In Scandinavian countries, for example, taps now come with an energy label that factors in water savings. We expect to see this trend grow.’
Other forms of innovation are also boosting the push for certification. Mitchell: ‘Boiling water taps have become very popular among consumers in recent years. We are the only independent lab that can test them. For the Netherlands, Kiwa has written its own assessment guideline for them (a ‘BRL’ in Dutch), which, as always, goes beyond the applicable standards. Our tests include aspects such as the temperature of the tap control, the amount of water that is heated to 100 degrees Centigrade, and the durability of the buttons.’
Innovative designs, such as smaller taps, also require new testing methods, and Kiwa's knowledge of electrical applications and renewable energy makes the lab an interesting partner for customers.
From fake faeces to gauges
For all this testing work, Kiwa itself must comply with strict norms. There are fixed standards for every instrument and component used in the lab. From water volume gauges to the size of the sensor-carrying fake human faeces used to test the toilet bowls, or the amount of water that must come out of the cistern after the last turd has been rinsed away (the norm is two litres). Comments Rik: ‘As a consumer, you’re not always aware of how many standards have been devised and used in tests to ensure that you can shower comfortably and safely, go to the toilet, or wash your car. And because new products are constantly appearing on the market, no two days are the same here at the lab. Just recently, we tested a beach pole shower. One of the details we looked at was how quickly the water flow stops after the push button has been released - so that the shower doesn’t use more water than necessary.’
In our changing world, there will always be new drinking water applications with new standards. And in Kiwa's Water Lab in Rijswijk, Mitchell, Rik and their colleagues are ready to contribute to safer and increasingly sustainable ways of using drinking water and materials.
Would you like to know more about how we can help you in the field of water? Read more about our extensive certification, testing, inspection and guidance service portfolio here.