Intertek's Building & Construction Podcast - Testing

Welcome to Intertek’s Building and Construction podcast where we discuss all things related to Intertek, Total Quality Assurance offerings to the building products and construction world through our assurance, testing, inspection, and certification offerings. I'm Shawn Donovan, with Donovan and Associates, and I'll be your host for today's podcast. We're excited to have Vinu Abraham as our guest today, Vinu is vice president of products for Intertek Building and Construction Business Line. And we'll be discussing the performance tests that building products go through each day at Intertek and the importance of having the proper tests done to provide building product manufacturers, that their products are fit for purpose. Welcome Vinu, I know you have a very extensive background in the building products industry. But for those who don't know you, can you tell us a little about your background and your current role with Intertek?

Episode 1 - Material Testing

Guest: Vinu Abraham

Moderator: Shawn Donovan



Shawn: 0:00 

Welcome to Intertek’s Building and Construction podcast where we discuss all things related to Intertek, Total Quality Assurance offerings to the building products and construction world through our assurance, testing, inspection, and certification offerings. I'm Shawn Donovan, with Donovan and Associates, and I'll be your host for today's podcast. We're excited to have Vinu Abraham as our guest today, Vinu is vice president of products for intertext Building and Construction Business Line. And we'll be discussing the performance tests that building products go through each day at Intertek and the importance of having the proper tests done to provide building product manufacturers, that their products are fit for purpose. Welcome Vinu, I know you have a very extensive background in the building products industry. But for those who don't know you, can you tell us a little about your background and your current role with Intertek?

Vinu: 0:52 

Yeah, Shawn, it's obviously a pleasure to be here with you today. And once again, thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about what we do. So I've been in this industry for 31 years, believe it or not, I guess I got old in the industry doesn't feel like 31 years, because it's the greatest job I've ever had. I've been with Intertek for 28 of those 31 years, and really have played a lot of different roles. I mean, I started out as a worker bee in the lab, you know, driving forklifts running tests, cutting up samples, setting up tests, etc, obviously, on my engineering degree, kind of move more into a test engineer for the organization, and then kind of figured out that I was reasonably good at managing sites. And so then I started running one site, which then grew to three sites. And along the way, dip my toe and a little bit of sales, a little bit of business development. And, you know, as I look back on a 31-year journey, and today, I look after, essentially the products business for intertext, Building and Construction Business Line. And so there's roughly 25-ish locations that fall into my area of oversight that really cover all of North America. But it's been a fun ride. Awesome. Well, great,

Shawn: 2:05 

Great for that insight. And so let's kind of get into this whole testing part of this. And so my understanding is there's three broad types of testing, right, there's component or small scale testing, there's assembly or system testing, and then there's field testing, can you provide kind of an overview for our audience and kind of explain how they differ?

Vinu: 2:26 

Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, really, when you think of us when you think of Intertek, when you think of this market, that we serve, Shawn, we can, we can kind of take a customer from soup to nuts, okay, we can start from the raw ingredients that are going to go into their products and making sure that these are the right raw ingredients. And we can do materials, tests, property tests, all types of individual component tests, through taking these raw ingredients, putting them into assemblies that then become building materials that go inside the buildings we live in on the outsides of the buildings we live in, and take a look at how the assembly itself is performing. So it's a lot of different products coming in to make a window or a curtain wall or a wall system or a roof system. And then the equally cool part about Intertek is, we don't just stop in the lab, right, because the lab is, is what I call the wedding, It's a perfect controlled environment, the clients are bringing their best people with the best materials, and you're going to try to see if this thing will work, we actually go a step further, we can follow that product now into the field. And we can follow it through shipping, we can follow it through installation, we can follow it through inspection of the installation, and then ultimately, field validation testing to make sure that when it's all said and done, our client’s products have ended up in the building owners hands and this thing is actually going to perform as intended as expected as designed. Right. So

 Shawn: 3:54 

The value for the manufacturer is that assurance pretty much from where you start with the testing and all the way through to actually going into the into the field.

 Vinu: 4:03 

Yeah, I mean, look, I think it's safe to say Intertek takes a lot of pride and having built a business organically and through acquisition. That is a one stop shop. And there's a reason we want to be a one stop shop because we believe for our customers having to trace and chase eight to 10 providers to figure out you know, hey, does this get along with that component? Does that component get along with this assembly? It's quite a complicated maze that our clients have to go through. And so we've prided ourselves and building a team that allows our customers through one call to access people that can help them from hey, I need to source my aluminum if I just take a window, I need to source my aluminum from China, but the glass is coming out of Europe. The gaskets with the current global supply chain crisis are coming out of South America. Right and it's all got to get built in Georgia. Okay, well, I mean, if you're the window guy you just want to sell a window, and having to keep up with all those moving parts, is daunting. And so we try to be the one firm that can help solve that. Connect all that and be a trusted adviser to our customers to kind of say, Yeah, this marriage is gonna work. So you can actually sell your product.

 Shawn: 5:16 

Yeah. And I would have to think one of the big value propositions is that consultation part of it as opposed to just doing the testing for them.

 Vinu: 5:23 

It is because look at the end of the day. Anybody can test. Right, right. And as we got further into this conversation, I'll talk a little bit about what differentiates us from being just a testing house. But in the intro, you mentioned assurance, testing, inspection certification, right. And that's revolutionary in our industry until seven years ago, everyone tested, everyone inspected, and everyone certified. These are the big boys, Air Attack, Bureau, Veritas SGS, et cetera. But we pivoted about seven, eight years ago and said, look, our customers need more than a testing house, they need more than an inspection house, they need more than a certification house, they need somebody that's in the cockpit, helping fly the plane, looking at the same instruments, and having the ability to see what's around the clouds. And you can see today, and that's this whole concept of assurance, because we look, anybody can be your supplier, we don't want to be a supplier, we want to be a partner, we want to be somebody that's in the cockpit with you flying the plane with full skin in the game. And, and so yeah, we take a lot of pride in that it hasn't come easily. Because frankly, you know, I'm an engineer, And I am in the engineering world, everything is black and white. And assurance is very great. Because you're having to look at the challenges that are out there, look at the available components, assemblies systems, and figure out how to how to navigate with the bucket of parts you have, and get the buildings built that need built in the time that our customers needed to be built by.

 Shawn: 7:03 

So let me go there, what are some of the most common issues with the various types of testing? You know, we talked about everything you guys do? And kind of that whole package, if you will? But yeah, what are some of the common issues that you see,

 Vinu: 7:17 

look, at the end of the day, you know, there's a reason we test. And again, I'm gonna pick on engineers, because I'm an engineer first. Design only gets you so far, you know, it all looks good on paper, a lot of bright people have looked at it, a lot of bright people have studied it from a lot of different angles. But you don't really know what's going to happen till you fit the whole suit together, and you see if this is really gonna do what it's supposed to do. And so probably the biggest challenge I think our customers see when they get into the lab environment, is things that might have been overlooked and design become very quickly exposed, you know, you might have taken a type of sealant, and used it to hold something to a piece of metal or a piece of stone that might have had a coating on it that wasn't compatible with the sealants on the surface, it looks like they ought to get along. But for whatever reason, whenever they painted, whatever that surface was, the paint, they use that a slightly different raw ingredient, and it doesn't get along with your sealant looks fine to the naked eye, right. But when you're subjecting it to 180 mile an hour winds or a driving rainstorm, pretty easily to expose a weak link. Right. So that's one of the things we see. Not paying the proper attention to proper installation, Shawn causes lots of problems, you know, the devil is always in the details, you can have the world's best design. And it can be installed by the world's best installer. But if they didn't really pay attention to how things went in, you know, where the right tolerances there where the right cleaners used to prep surfaces, for critical seals, etc. That will rear its head during testing, the testing environment is a very unforgiving environment. And we stress with our customers, we get paid to call balls and strikes that's never lost on us. But when we watch a product, go through a testing, you know, we're kind of hoping like our customers that hey, we did our homework, this is gonna go as planned. And you kind of cross your fingers. And you know, there's just that moment where it's like, is it really going to work out and unfortunately, when something goes wrong, it goes wrong pretty quick. And usually it's pretty destructive. And you kind of have to go back to the drawing board reevaluate. And so yeah, improper installation can drive a lot of problems that we see incompatibility and materials can drive a lot of problems and what we say I think those would be two big takeaways.

 Shawn: 9:50 

Yeah, you know, it makes me think when you do work with a manufacturer that has different components in a product, yeah. Do you see these manufacturers you're bringing in some of the other manufacturers of the component products is your do they work together in some way? Or are they kind of on their own when they're testing with you guys.

 Vinu: 10:07 

my rule of thumb, Shawn, is I always tell our customers when you're bringing something through for testing, it doesn't cost you anything to have all the all your stakeholders that helped you come up with that assembly. have an opinion on what you're about to do. You should share your design with them. And welcome that input because it's a complicated enough industry that having divergent Viewpoints is actually better for the customer. Some of our customers heed that advice. Some don't some just say, you know what, I can figure this out on my own, you know, I've done online research, I've seen what my competitors have produced. I know my product; I know what it's capable of doing. And so I'm just gonna wing it on my own. And sometimes that works, okay. But most of the time, it doesn't. And usually when we start, and what we try to do is, I make it very much my point not to point fingers at anyone, because the way I look at it is if we tried to run a test, okay. It's like, you know, it's like, if you watched Olympics, and you've seen a pole vaulter, right, you see the guy coming down, or the lady coming down with the pole and they have a bar, they have to scale, when they come off the ground, everyone's hoping that they go over the bar. And if they clip it in any way, they don't, right, and then you start the analysis to figure out what happened. And most cases, when you analyze what's going on, it was just the fact that the right input was in sought to figure out if some of these cutting-edge technologies really would work well together. You follow what I'm getting?

 Shawn:  11:46 

And you know, it's funny, back in the day, you know, I was involved with all the window testing for the hurricane market. And you know, you had the glass, you had the silicone, you had the metal, I mean, you had multiple components, and in the failure point could be obviously the weakest link out of any of those. So, you know, it's really important for us always to have the silicone manufacturer there, because they knew their product better than we did, you know, got the metal people in. And so that's kind of where that question came from. That today is still kind of a prevalent part of the testing.

 Unknown Speaker:  12:12 

It is. And I think I think some of our customers struggle with it. Because if they make one of the ingredients that goes into whatever the system is, you know, their belief is I shouldn't be responsible for the rest of it. Okay, well, I get that viewpoint as an individual component supplier, but you got to remember, at the end of the day, the end user is buying performance of some element that's going into a building, and it's the entire assembly that has to perform all as one, you know, whether it's fire resistance, blast resistance, ballistics, hurricane, tornado, every day, air-water energy performance every day, thunderstorm performance, you know, when I'm at home, when you're at home, Shawn, you're kind of counting on Mother Nature, staying on the outside, and your conditioned air staying on the inside. And you don't really want to you know, you're not you don't feel any better. If the guy who made the glass says my glass was perfect, but the whole piece of glass fell out of the door. That's right. That's a problem. And so and so that is tough for customers to understand. Which is why we spend a fair bit of time asking the question, right, because a lot of times, you know, the question you have to ask, and I spent a lot of time training customers and internally, just because somebody asked you for a test is not a reason to do a test. Okay. I always answer that question. Hey, Vinu, I need to run an ASTM E 84, fire test or hey Vinu I need to run a Taz 114 weathering test. Great. I'm glad you need to do that. Shawn, where are you trying to go with this test? Is there an authority having jurisdiction that's asking you for verification of evidence that you passed it? Do you need some type of approval? So you can sell into a given market? Are you trying to cross an international boundary, and you believe that the boundary you're moving into has some requirement, and this is what that is? So usually, if you start asking those questions, beyond just what they need it, I need this test, you can quickly uncover what really needs to be done for the customer to gain market access - because there's a couple of things that's driving this, obviously, our current coming out of COVID-19 with the weakness that was exposed in the global supply chain, there's a shortage of everything everywhere all day long, which I which in my belief, in my opinion, is a great opportunity for anybody in this in this business. Because the one thing we do in times of great demand is you have to ramp up supply. So we have customers coming out of the woodworks all over the world that are trying to get into every single market, And so You have to condition yourself, not to just give a person a price to run a test, and then run a test without understanding where they're trying to go with the data. You know, because that will drive the real decision on what needs to be tested. If they need an approval, there's a whole laundry list of things that need to be done. They need a code compliance research report. Okay, there's a whole set of steps that have to happen in order for that to be accomplished. And you're better off asking that question.

 Shawn:  15:30 

I have to believe the residual that is you start building customer loyalty if you will because they see that you have the best interest rather than just collecting the money to have the test done.

 Vinu: 15:38 

Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, Shawn, how did I get to 31 years on this? Intertext has obviously been at it a lot longer than that over 130 years. It's because we took the long view, right, right. We're in it for the long haul. I mean, look, if you just need a fast Buck test, I'm not your guy, I'll give you the name of four of my competitors, and you can go talk to him, Because what'll end up happening is you'll run that, be highly dissatisfied with how the whole thing went, and then you'll come back, but once you come back, you're never going to leave. And so we've always prided ourselves and kind of taking the long view and trying to march in our customer’s footsteps and understand where they're trying to go. Right.

 Shawn:  16:19 

So Vinu, what products need to be tested? And what are the most common products that you see tested here at Intertek?

 Vinu: 16:27 

I mean, look, I can give you kind of a short, cute answer. And the cute answer is, any material that goes anywhere on the walls, roofs, floors of a building, needs testing of some kind, right, right, and 99% of that Intertek does. So, if you just start to visualize that a building, you know, the combination of the walls, the doors, the windows, the roof, and the floor, that forms the envelope of the building, right. And that's really, what has to do the job of separating the elements from the space that we occupy. And that's been mankind's greatest pursuit is shelter. Right. And so we're in the shelter compliance business. You know, you, you want to be able to live in your house, with good air quality, with, you know, no risk of mold or water penetration, or all the negative things that come with that, you know, fire, safe environment, etc, with some confidence. And as a total quality assurance provider, that's what we do. We're, that independent group, that is verifying that all these systems are fit for purpose, you know, and we get paid to call balls and strikes. And a lot of times, you know, we have to deliver bad news because they did either a didn't perform, right, or it missed, the mark just barely doesn't matter. The Mark was set, we didn't come up with the mark, the industry didn't, right, you follow what I'm getting at. I mean, probably the biggest things we get into obviously, all types of roofing materials, all types of insulation materials, you know, anything fire-related, whether it's fire-resistant assemblies, whether it's material performance to fire as a, you know, on its own, so membranes, coatings, whatever.

 Shawn:  18:16 

To be clear, we are talking commercial and residential right?

 Vinu:  18:20 

All, commercial, residential, institutional, industrial, you know, the thing we've all figured out and certainly COVID-19, I think, highlighted this, even more, is the need to think about buildings as being more than just the walls, the roof, and the floor, you now have to think about indoor air quality, You now have to think about occupant safety, you have to think about, you know, the transmission of aerosolized particles, you know, and so I think that's just generally what our industry is going to do is buildings are gonna get smarter and smarter, they're gonna get healthier and healthier. And so as that goes, all these performance validations or claims have to be validated. Right. And so yeah, I mean, you know, I wasn't cute and what I said initially, all the components that go on the walls, the roofs, the floor, and the and the ceilings of buildings, we can test and we can test it for material properties. We can test it for hurricane resistance, anything fire-related, ballistic performance, blast performance, thermal performance, acoustic performance, I'm building near an airport, I'm building near urban, high-density downtown area, I want to be able to sleep at night. You know, what can you do to help me with that? So yeah, that the sky's the limit on and what we normally tell our customers, Shawn, is, look, if you need something tested, there's a very high confidence we can do it. And the flip side of that is if we can't we're gonna tell you, and then we'll also try to help you figure out who can you know because we believe that we serve an industry Uh, you know, we'd love the entire industry to be ours, but we understand we have competition. But we like to be good stewards of the industry. And so whether we can do the service or not, certainly if we can't we put as much effort into getting you to somebody who can, as we would trying to land you as a customer. Right,

 Vinu: 20:18 

Let's jump a little bit. You've mentioned indoor air quality, and how does that tie into, you know, sustainability is a big deal these days. And it sounds like that would kind of tie into that is that how do you guys address that?


Unknown Speaker:  20:34 

I mean, great question, obviously, sustainability, Shawn is, is kind of demand of the next generation today, all of our kids are looking at us. And kind of going, what the heck have you guys been doing all this time? And how do we guarantee the planet for another 100 or 200 or 300 years? And, you know, that's an issue and an initiative that touches more than just us in the testing business more than just us? You know, the in the building and construction business line, it touches all of Intertek. And we're developing, you know, because we have been innovators from the word go. And the reason we're in the spaces and in the industries we are today is because a customer came to us and asked us a question, Hey, I got this need, can you help me figure it out? And the easy answer would have been now we can't do that, you know, you got to call somebody else. But we've never done that. We've always rolled our sleeves up and said, Yeah, we don't have an answer today, but we're going to help you figure it out. And that's how we've grown into all these adjacent industries that we're in. I mean, sustainability is a big deal. It's the future. You know, we're already seeing it in from our building products, manufacturers, you know, they're all thinking about, you know, what's the end of life of this product? What's the lifecycle assessment? You know, how do we make our material more sustainable? How do we make it more environmentally friendly? How do we make it less dependent on shipping great distances? So absolutely, that's something Intertek is in there. I mean, do we have it all figured out? No, we don't. Will we have it figured out in time? Absolutely. We will.

Shawn:  22:11 

That's great. Well, listen, I feel like we could talk for hours about this stuff. I know you can. Thank you for sharing a lot of great information on testing. Is there anything that I didn't ask that you would like to share regarding Intertek?

 Vinu:  22:23 

Just in closing, Shawn, and we covered certainly a lot, you know, look to me, maybe three or four minor, you know, closing bullets, if you took anything out of the conversation today? You know, number one is, you know what, Intertek got into the space, we certainly had to make a choice. Okay, where are we going to have one kind of big location that all our customers came to? Or were we going to have just smaller regional offices and every market that our customers in? And we took the latter, right, and that's the reason we have as many brick and mortar labs, as we do, you know, scattered all over the United States, good parts of Canada, into China, growing into Europe, growing into the UAE, etc, is because we want to be as local a player for you as we can, even though we're a global provider, right. And so, we have this kind of grammatically incorrect word that we use that says we're Glocal. And there's a reason we're Glocal is because we want to be local, do as much as we can, right. That's the first one. Okay. Second one is, you know, people always look at me, when I say this, look, at the end of the day is we got to remember, a single test is usually worth 1000 opinions. The rubber hits the road on the test, everybody, all your smart people, right, that designed, everything can tell you everything is going to be great. But you're really not going to know until you put it to the test. And so and we're in the testing business, right, so just remember that. Third one is testing usually exposes any weakness in the system, you know, and it's not a personal thing, frankly, you want to test because as a product owner, product designer, product purchaser product user, you want some confidence in the thing that's gonna work when it needs to work, you know, I drove to the office today. And you know, in the steering wheel of my car was a little initial that said, airbag, I'm hoping that the manufacturer of the car, tested the airbag so that when I need it, it actually works. I'd hate to hear that the auto manufacturer kind of designed it and all the designers signed off on it, but no one actually tried to hit the car to see if the thing would go off. Right. And so, testing is beneficial for that reason. You know, it mitigates risk. It provides a lot of confidence in the design. And it also shows you where your flaws and weaknesses are in the design. And more importantly, it tells you how much extra capacity the product has, because a lot of times our customers are testing to code minimum, which is great. Remember, the building code is only the minimum. But then we normally encourage our customers Hey, push it a little bit. You know, how much extra fuel do you have in the tank? Just a minimum because that gives you a competitive advantage. And the final one, you know, as I said earlier, is we want to walk in our customer’s shoes, we don't ever want to be looking at them, looking at them struggle, that is not who we are. We want to be in their shoes with them feeling their pain, understanding what they're trying to meet, what time constraints they're under, what money constraints they're under, what performance constraints they're under. And then we're going to do our part to help them solve that. So those would be probably my biggest takeaways from our conversation today.

Shawn: 25:35 

Great, awesome, Vinu thanks again. And that will conclude our building and construction podcast by Intertek, and we hope to see you for the next one.


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