When testing upholstery fabrics for International Maritime Organization (IMO), the first question that typically comes up is – Which foam should the lab use your fabric? Most often, you are given two choices: a non-fire retardant (FR) foam and some variety of FR foam. While the most tempting choice may be the FR foam, that may not be the right choice.
So, what am I supposed to do? The standard states that the material is supposed to be tested in the configuration that it will ultimately be used. However, when you are testing the fabric and in the developmental stage, it is unknown how or what product will be chosen.
Non-FR vs. FR Foam
Let’s look at what the results will tell you. If tested over a non-FR foam, you are determining the ability of the material to provide ignition resistance. According to the Fire Test Procedure (FTP) standard, while this “does not eliminate the need to test the actual combination…it can help in the short-listing of material combinations and to reduce the overall amount of testing required”. Specifically, they recommend testing over a non-FR flexible polyester foam with a density of approximately 22 kg/m3. In this scenario, the fabric must act as a deterrent to the ignition source, not allowing it to ignite the foam underneath the fabric.
The alternate option is to test over a flame retardant foam, such as a combustion modified, high resiliency (CMHR) foam. This will allow you to assess only the fabric’s resistance to the ignition sources. The foam itself is ignition resistant, so the fabric does not need to act as a barrier like it does when testing over non-FR foam. The main drawback though is that your fabric is then only approved over that specific foam. If the end user decides on another type of foam (such as one with less ignition resistance), then retesting must occur which may lead to the need for additional flame retardant treatments.
Choosing Between CMHR & Non-FR Foam
Ultimately, the decision of whether to test over an FR foam should be based on how you want to market your material and the expectations of your end user. Once you determine this, the decision as to how to test your material becomes much clearer. But if you still need help deciding, just give us a call and we’ll help you decide on how to test!
Here are some things to consider when deciding FR vs. Non-FR:
- Where will your product be marketed?
- What are your expectations of the material?
- Is the fabric going to be the main deterrent to ignition?
- Is there a possibility of manufacturers using multiple foams?
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Do you have a textile that needs testing? Do you have questions about the right testing methods for your product? We can help! We do it all, and better than your current lab.