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For hygiene product testing: the day care center as laboratory.

For Hygiene Product Testing: The Day Care Center As Laboratory

actual user testing is imperative for better product design; the development of baby diaper products benefits from the ability to actually observe the product in use For hygiene products, as with many others, meeting the customer's quality expectations requires more than meeting well intentioned but perhaps ill defined product specifications. True product quality begins with understanding the customer's needs and translating these needs into a finished product design and then product specification.

The management of quality, once the specification is set, is a subject in its own right. In this article, we will consider factors behind the establishment of the specification in the first place, as well as its reevaluation for improvement purposes.

There is a degree of difficulty in deciding what laboratory tests simulate in-use performance, when words such as "comfort, softness, dryness and absorbency" are being used by people to describe their reaction to products such as diapers and sanitary towels.

What many producers have are basic "bucket and spade" type tests for absorbency and wet back, with perhaps commercially made tensile and strikethrough testers. It is our opinion that good products can be designed even with basic equipment provided that user trials are carried out and carefully studied. For products such as feminine hygiene items, the study needs to be by way of questionnaires with the user completing the responses.

For adult incontinence products, depending on the chosen user group, responses can be obtained either from the individuals or from the care giver. But, again, the study will largely be done through questionnaires.

However, baby diapers provide a unique opportunity to truly understand customer needs. Considerable extra benefits can be obtained in the assessment of baby diapers by organizing a creche or day care center, where the company's diapers and perhaps competitors' products can be used on the babies so that their performance can be observed over several hours.

Give Them A Lot Of Juice

Provided the room chosen to carry out the study has a good supply of toys, is warm and carpeted and perhaps has a cartoon video or two showing, then mothers and youngsters will be quite happy for a few hours. As an incentive/reward to those attending, free diapers are quite appealing. A plentiful supply of orange juice (and/or other juices) will ensure that a very informative session will follow.

Since they are often quite removed from the actual business of babies and diapers, senior company management especially will gain a great deal from watching the kids as the session progresses.

Following are some of the observations made possible in such a situation:

* How does the fit of the product change with activity and increasing urine load?

* Does the crotch hang down to the knees?

* Do the tapes stay securely fastened? How often are they refastened?

* Are the leg shapes functional?

* Is the shape of the diaper satisfactory on taller/shorter/thinner/fatter children, or on any of them?

* When do the products start to leak? Where? Why?

* Do the boy/girl diapers work equally well? Is the extra absorbent capacity in the right place, and consistently so?

* Is urine distributed to most of the diaper pad or does it lie heavily in the crotch region?

Taking photographs or a video during the session helps a great deal in remembering what has happened and is very useful for subsequent analysis, particularly if combined with a check on how much urine was loaded into the diaper before it was changed. Mothers' comments about their diapering routine and the behavior of their babies are a valuable source of user information and should be recorded in some way.

It is also worthwhile to record the baby's age, weight and waist circumference to build up a picture of the actual user and to compare with the specifications of the tested product. It should be interesting to see how many babies there are who weigh 15kg/33 pounds; check the definition on the pack for suggested baby's weight range as suitable for the product it contains. You may well be surprised.

Most of what the creche/day care center study teaches the company will be qualitative. This is fine but, although it is not too difficult or expensive to run such trials on a regular basis, it is also very desirable to have some quantitative laboratory tests that generate hard data from which standards and comparisons can be drawn.

With a little imagination and the experience from creche/day care center trials, it is relatively easy to create some lab tests that measure the important functional parameters in the context of expected use, without resorting to very sophisticated or expensive test equipment.

A further source of useful data that costs very little to acquire and is used in some countries with good results is a postage pre-paid response card that would be packaged with the diaper product. Comments can be solicited regarding performance of the product and comparisons with other leading brands, including pricing if required. Feedback from this approach of, say, only 10% of the product distributed will quickly provide indications on how to overcome design or execution deficiencies of which the producer may not be aware, at least to the extent that they are perceived by users of the product.

A subsequent article will discuss management of other quality issues, such as responding to customer complaints and improved on-line quality control techniques.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Bridge, Adrian
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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