Tags: #ASTM #buildingmaterials #buildingproducts #buildingscience #FMEA #materialsscience #materialtesting #roguetesting

The beautiful art of tearing things apart: Testing to failure versus testing to standard.

Someone recently asked me why I test the way that I do – to the brink of failure or beyond. It’s excessive. Even absurd. Maybe. Their reasoning is based on convention. It’s based on the idea that methods must be explicitly tied to recognized standards – the ones largely associated with code acceptance. But if codes are minimum standards, then their referenced standards are equally minimal. That’s a round-about way of saying most standards have low predictive power. 

Standard methods, standard thought. When evaluating products, I like methods tailored to a particular question or a specific pursuit. The good ones have one foot in Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and the other grounded in common sense, reasonable extremes, and Murphy’s Law.  Good methods strive for simplicity, relatability, and clarity. 

FMEA serves a very different purpose than benchmark testing, although sometimes the two are one in the same. It’s the provenance of old school R&D. It’s the means for making new products better and the basis for improving existing ones. It’s also the root of classical comparative studies – for accentuating Product A’s strengths and exposing Product B’s weaknesses. It’s part art, part science. When done right, it answers questions no one dares think because the standards said we didn’t need to. 

In short, problems arise when testing to standard is seen as sufficient and testing to failure is seen as superfluous.