The testing and developing of disposable baby diapers.
an independent tester provides some insight as to what to look for when developing and analyzing a baby diaper; how it stacks up to the competition may very well spell life or death for a disposable product In the highly competitive world of packaged consumer goods, few products are as complex or as volatile as the disposable baby diaper. In an ongoing battle to be the product of choice in this almost $4 billion domestic market, diaper manufacturers along with individual components suppliers and retailers are constantly searching for the "newest" and "best" in diaper innovations. All of this activity has made the role of the independent testing and development facility one of the most important elements in the mix.
The manufacturers of branded products need to have perceived product superiority to gain market share and enable them to maintain or improve their clout in the market. The private label manufacturers need to have "national brand equivalency" at a lower cost in order to reach the retail shelf and, ultimately, the consumer. Component suppliers have to meet the manufacturers' needs for performance, quality and price to land the business. The retailers need to know that the product that carries their label or brand will be perceived as a quality product, equivalent to that of the national brands and resulting in repeat purchases and increased profitability for the retailer.
Criteria For Testing
Few would disagree that the diaper is truly an over-engineered product, which works to both its advantage and disadvantage. To its advantage, the product's many individual components allow manufacturers numerous elements upon which to create a better product. To its disadvantage, some of these so-called innovations are more important to the marketing of the product than to its actual performance.
The testing criteria can establish what attributes are essential to product performance and quality--and ultimately, customer loyalty--as well as where cost-control or cost-saving measures can or should be taken. The important factors that are tested include:
* Weight range. Although diapers are done on high speed lines, sometimes there can be a wide variation of weight within a bag or product. A weight fluctuation can indicate that the product control is not being properly handled. This can have a serious impact on both product cost and consumer satisfaction.
If the target weight is 45 grams and the product continually weighs 50 grams (or more), product cost soars and profitability drags. If the product is always short weight versus the target, the consumer is not getting the product the manufacturer intended to make and there may be an impact on performance. If this is not corrected, customers may be lost.
* Total absorbent capacity. While many manufacturers try to sell their products based on being the "ultimate" in absorbency, it is not the most important criteria in diaper effectiveness. The fact is that once a minimum standard of absorbency is reached, more does not necessarily make it better, it just makes it more. Sometimes, also, too much absorbency can negatively impact other performance factors that are equally important.
* Rewet value. Since the advent of the use of superabsorbent polymers, the rewet value of a diaper is as critical as its absorbency capabilities. This test is conducted to measure the amount of moisture that will come back to the surface under different loads (weight of a child in various positions). Finding and utilizing the right materials for minimizing rewet in combination with the diaper's other components requires careful evaluation.
* Positioning of superabsorbent material. The proper positioning of the superabsorbent inside the diaper can insure optimum performance, positively impact the rewet value and save the manufacturer money by not having to waste an expensive material in unnecessary areas. Consistent improvements in superabsorbent materials and new ways of positioning it make this somewhat of an art form. Those who do it well will have a competitive edge.
* XOW "Times Own Weight." This is a calculation based on absorbency. In it, the number of times that liquid can be absorbed over the product's dry weight is measured. The XOW is compared to the industry standards to ensure the product falls into the acceptable range. For example, a superabsorbent diaper should be in the nine to 10 range. Anything less is probably not acceptable. Yet, if a product hits 11 XOW, it does not necessarily mean it is a better product.
* Component Functionality. Many of the components that go into the diaper should be tested for functionality. For example, the fastening system must be evaluated. Does the tape hold securely? Can it be repositioned? How many times? Does the landing zone tear when the tape is removed? If the components function under the rigors of testing, they will hold up to "real life" tests.
* Dimensions. The dimensions of the overall product and of each component should be measured to provide a "dimensional blueprint" of what the product looks like.
* Product Workmanship. Product workmanship is a "catch-all" category that covers any product deficiencies, whether they be critical, major or minor in nature. It is a visual examination to check for all components, their proper placement, functionality and appearance. Observations may include items such as a missing or misplaced tape, ragged edge cuts or dark spots within the absorbent fluff pad. An explanation of the seriousness of each observation and its impact on overall product quality would be provided to the client.
Interpreting The Data
The culmination of any product testing is the bottom line, the conclusion drawn based on the test results obtained. The conclusions must be objective and supported by the data. Editorialization may be provided but must be put in its proper perspective and denoted as subjective opinion.
The results will yield either a confirmation that the right actions were made during manufacturing or that some breakdowns occurred. These may be minor or major, but regardless, they will provide a "report card" on a manufacturer. The "grades" will then direct certain decisions by the manufacturer or retailer.
The Role Of An Independent
In an industry that changes with lightning speed, it is essential to have a variety of technical resources that understand and can respond to the rigorous demands of the diaper industry. The most knowledgeable experts in the business have a depth of experience from both the manufacturers and retailers' sides and offer a full range of multi-dimensional services.
A good testing operation can:
* provide an objective viewpoint of how your product stands on its own merits and/or in relation to other competitive products on the market;
* supplement your own company's internal skills with a different, educated, technical point of view that knows the capabilities of diaper manufacturing from the inside out and what changes can or should be made;
* objectively evaluate a prospective component supplier's product for quality and performance versus current production. If the product does not meet the necessary criteria, then the technical expert can suggest possible modifications and means of implementation;
* objectively evaluate different manufacturers' products to assist retailers in selecting the quality product that will carry their label and to provide continual monitoring of product quality to insure the product selected maintains its quality;
* analyze the workmanship of the product and how it impacts perceived and actual performance;
* supplement the overall quality assurance program created by the diaper manufacturer;
* run comparison testing of product or components via benchtop or actual use testing to determine compatibility (or superiority) among different suppliers. For example, if one component supplier raised its prices and a manufacturer needed to know if another product would work as well without causing any perceived quality changes to the consumer, comparative analysis testing may provide the answers;
* develop claims validation studies for advertising or promotional purposes. If a manufacturer wished to say its product is the "driest" or "most absorbent" or "preferred by two out of three mothers," an independent testing operation can provide the proper test design, which will result in the necessary substantiation to support intended claims;
An independent test can help cut through the confusion to provide an understanding not only about what is important in making and buying a quality product, but also to what degrees each factor is important. To this end, the testing criteria becomes critical.
Nothing Beats Experience
Experience is certainly the best teacher and it certainly is the best source of technical wisdom. A well rounded organization comprised of experienced professionals with diverse expertise permits the client to interface with individuals who know what questions should be asked but, more importantly, what are the correct answers.
An independent should be viewed as a technical adjunct to a company's in-house capabilities. Knowing where to turn to find the answers to a multitude of questions is of extreme value and an experienced independent is an irreplaceable resource.
Alan Perlman is director of paper, plastics and absorbents for Herbert V. Shuster, an independent technical consulting firm and testing laboratory in Quincy, MA. Mr. Perlman has been providing consultation services for more than 10 years in the absorbents and nonwovens industries.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1991|
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