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An inside look at performance testing

Take a virtual tour through Moen’s Commercial plumbing testing procedures to see what makes Commercial products so durable.

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Engineering Development
Lifecycle Testing
Field Testing
Withstanding Installation
Moen’s Designed Test Plan

The toughest test to pass in the New York City school system might not be in biology or calculus — it’s surviving a year of wear and tear as a faucet or flush valve in the school bathroom.

From the earliest stages of design to the final stage of production, Moen Commercial plumbing products are subjected to extreme testing to ensure they meet the highest standards of performance and reliability. It’s a process that starts in the testing lab at Moen headquarters and continues through some of the most demanding real-world environments — including the rigorous trials of grade-school bathrooms.

Conrad Haller, a project manager for Moen, works together with Moen’s reliability engineering department to design a test plan that ensures Moen products and component parts not only comply with all relevant codes, but also go above and beyond to meet customers’ highest standards of reliability.

Engineering Development

Performance testing of a product such as a flush valve or faucet begins in the early design stages, once prototype parts are available for testing. In this engineering development testing stage, prototype units are assembled from parts machined in Moen’s model shop. As engineering progresses, Moen begins to assemble the prototypes from sample parts sent in by suppliers, a stage called design verification testing. Finally, the manufacturer will test products assembled on development runs in the plants.

“So we go from very early prototypes to fully functional component parts that are able to be sold,” Haller says. “We’ll test different variations and keep learning along the way.”

Moen’s heavy-duty manual flush valve is one example of a product that must provide reliable, long-lasting operation in harsh environments. One of the simpler tests that the flush valve undergoes verifies the valve’s water efficiency. The valve is placed on a test stand and flushed repeatedly at different water pressures and temperatures. A digital flow meter records the water use to the nearest .01 gallon to ensure the flow rate never exceeds the maximum (often 1.6 gpf).

Lifecycle Testing

Lifecycle testing is one of the most rigorous tests that a plumbing product must pass. To meet code requirements, a flush valve must undergo 150,000 cycles, but Moen tests its products two or three times as long, or until failure. “Engineers like to test things until failure because a failure will tell us more than just taking it to 1x life or 2x life,” Haller says.

As the flush valves are cycled in the lab, test technicians are on duty 24 hours, in three shifts, with a checklist to record the valve’s performance. They’ll record the time, cycle count, water temperature and water pressure, but they also look beyond the data, Haller says. “Does it trickle off or does it make noise as it shuts off? We’re looking for those type of criteria that are outside of just the pure data.”

Moen takes other tests to the extreme to make sure its products perform above expectations. Whereas a code test might require a chrome-plated part to undergo only 24 hours of salt-spray testing, Moen engineers will put it through 96 hours. Engineers also take lifecycle testing further with a test called the endurance lifecycle. Instead of pushing the valve handle 75 percent of the way, the endurance test pushes the handle repeatedly against the stop. “Some people like to kick a flush valve handle,” Haller explains. “We like to see how we withstand that, because that’s a lot more severe test compared with going partial travel.”

Field Testing

Metering faucets have a reputation for being unreliable. “The worst thing is when you push down the handle and it doesn’t stay on,” Haller says. “You kind of hold it down with one hand and get the soap with the other.”

Like the flush valve, the metering faucet and cartridge undergo a battery of tests to ensure users don’t have to struggle to wash their hands. But once Moen plumbing products have passed the test in the lab, they must still pass the final exam: real-world field testing. Faucets and flush valves are put in locations with variable or difficult water conditions, such as Florida, Texas, Nevada and California, to ensure they withstand the most rigorous settings.

They’re also tested in commercial areas, such as schools or casinos, where they’re more likely to be treated roughly. “That gives us the confidence that they can handle different water conditions as well as different usage conditions by the consumer,” Haller says.

After the products have spent some time in the field, technicians will go into the field or bring the products back into the lab and take them apart to see how they held up. “We’ll look for any damage that’s happening to the unit’s exterior,” Haller says. “And when we disassemble it, how is it looking compared with how we sent it out?”

Withstanding Installation

While students can be tough on plumbing products, one of the most common causes of abuse happens during the installation process. To see how their products will withstand installation, Moen brings installers into its testing lab and asks plumbers out in the field to put them in. “We like to see whether they install it the right way,” Haller says. For instance, if the mounting hardware is torqued with greater force, will the threaded connectors hold up, and will the faucet operate properly?

Some of the best feedback comes from inside the building. Moen’s CEO takes home just about every new faucet the company produces and installs it according to the instructions. “He wants to test it himself and make sure the instructions are clear,” Haller says.

Moen headquarters even serves as a testing ground, with different faucets installed on each of the four sinks in every bathroom. And with units being tested for months at a time until they reach failure, the main test lab takes up the building’s entire basement.

“We have a big budget for time and resources for test engineers,” Haller says. “We don’t want to go into production and cross our fingers and hope it works. We spend a lot of time prototyping and testing. It’s because if you do it correctly up front, you don’t have to worry about it later.”