ANSI/AWI 0641 Casework | Part 1 Free casework performance testing with AWI

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In our latest podcast, Greg Parham, Executive Director for AWI’s Quality Control Program (QCP), speaks with the Executive Vice President of AWI, Doug Hague, regarding the recent announcement of free casework testing options for AWI members.

Continue reading to learn more about the new ANSI/AWI 0641 Casework standard, how the free testing element works, and how it drives innovation for woodworking professionals. If you’d like to hear the full interview, you can listen to the full podcast here


Why Do You Need Cabinet Testing?

Now that the new ANSI/AWI 0641 Architectural Wood Casework Standard is starting to apply to projects, a lot of companies are asking about the testing requirements, as well as AWI’s recent announcement about free testing options for AWI members. So, we felt that the first question we should answer is, “why do you need cabinet testing?” 

Doug: “The short answer is that cabinets need to be tested because the new standard requires it. This is so that your cabinets perform to a standard that allows the design community to designate which testing level is desirable for an individual project.”

Doug goes on to say that the most important thing to remember with the new casework standard is that it doesn’t limit you to an exact method of how to build a cabinet. In fact, it allows each individual manufacturer to be innovative and make the best use of their equipment and staff. The new casework standard comes in after you’ve dreamed up that final product, and after you’ve come up with an engineering method that is able to make the most of all your assets. 

As Doug puts it: “We essentially have to have something formalized to prove that the cabinet does work and comply with the measurable thresholds that are provided in the test methodologies, which then ultimately make you in compliance with the new standard.”

The measurable thresholds Doug refers to are the performance duty levels specified in the AWI Standards. These include four duty levels, with duty level one being the least restrictive, duty level three being the default, and duty level four being the highest level of structural performance. 


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What Brought About the New Standard?

The new ANSI/AWI 0641 Casework standard has been on the horizon for quite some time, and the testing requirements it enforces are definitely nothing new to the architectural woodworking industry. But it was specifically that the design community is used to performance-based rather than prescriptive standards in other areas of construction that prompted its development. 

Doug tells us that formalized standards are particularly important to the design community, which has seen a migration to ISO (International Standards Organization) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards. The standards-writing process that comes from these bodies are often performance-based and requires an element of laboratory proof of the product’s quality and construction. For the design community, complying with testing standards provides a great deal of assurance and scientific enforcement, while mitigating the risks of liability. 

An example Doug gives us is the liability of the designer when it comes to fire-rated doors: “If the designer says the doors are fire-rated but they’ve never been formally tested and then the building catches on fire, it’s the designer who’s ultimately liable. By having a standard in place for cabinet testing, we now have something measurable by which to say yes, this product did perform in the laboratory and should produce the desired results once installed in the field.”

So really, it was listening to and working with the design community to understand how performance-based testing standards mitigate liability risks that catalyzed the new casework testing standard. Beyond this, the testing requirements also provide assurance on how the materials and construction of a product will perform under the stress of the test methodologies. 


What’s the Long Term Vision?

Doug tells us that the long-term vision is to one day have a specified system that woodworkers and design professionals can adhere to, rather than a set of specifications, which can be restrictive. 

Doug: “If you think about the current standards and specifications, they talk about which core type you can and can’t use, which joinery aspects should be used in, for example, drawer boxes, which exact shelf pin should be used with the finish, and all those types of things. This can start to become very restrictive. We also don’t necessarily know or understand the performance of all those aspects or how they might interact differently with one another. 

“Specifying a system will allow the design community to just say “the product must perform to duty level one, two, three or four, but I’m going to allow the manufacturer and the woodworker to come up with a method that’s in compliance with those thresholds”, without getting into the specifics of which core or which joinery should be used.”

A system would basically act as a complete package: it would formalize quality standards and testing requirements while giving woodworking professionals the freedom to be innovative and cost-efficient in their construction methods, while still providing the aesthetic look the design professional wants. 


Key Things You Need to Know About Free Casework Testing

The biggest question we’ve been getting asked about the ANSI/AWI 0641Standard is the free testing element for AWI members, so this was a main focus in the podcast.

In a nutshell, there will be no testing charges for AWI manufacturing and industry members when it comes to the actual testing element of base, wall, and tall cabinetry battery, valid once over the lifetime of AWI membership. This is so that we can alleviate the costs associated with the new standard and allow AWI members to be compliant. The one-time benefit of free testing will therefore apply to any engineering method that you may wish to build your cabinets to in order for them to be tested at a specific performance duty level.


What Elements Can Be Tested?

Doug points out that an important thing to remember is that all elements of a product are able to be analyzed under the new standards, so members will be able to stretch themselves when it comes to this free testing element.

Doug: “Earlier, I talked about innovation, and making the most of your equipment, your employees, and your process. This is where I would challenge anybody listening to get in your war room and get all the individuals in there to represent every aspect of your cabinetry construction process because all elements maximize your ability to make the most of the  free testing member benefit.”

From engineering to production to installation, Doug urges woodworkers to analyze their entire process, package it all together, and develop a system that can be submitted for free testing. 

The biggest benefit of this free testing element is that it allows AWI members to develop a method that is specifically theirs. Assuming this method has positive results, it will mean you’re compliant with the new standard and have maximized your return in the process. 


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What Indication Level Can You Test To?

Another key thing to highlight with the member benefit of free casework performance testing is that you get to pick the indication level that you wish to test to. Doug says: “If you want to design your cabinet to duty level one, two, three or four, that will be your choice of designation.”


AWI Leadership Approved Funds

Another free testing option for members is AWI Leadership Approved Funds. While this option is limited by available funds, it’s an excellent choice for those who like the methods prescribed in the AWS2. 

Doug: “If you are an AWI member and QCP licensee, always build to the exact AWS2 specifications and don’t wish to change, then the board is willing to assist you by providing you with another option: you design and engineer a cabinet where the materials and construction are in 100% alignment with the AWS2, and AWI will pay to ship it from your facility to our testing facility. There, we will test it free of charge to the default duty level three.”

So there are two things at play when it comes to free casework testing. You can either use your innovation to come up with your own unique method that you would like tested, or you can stay compliant with the AWS2. The best part? You can qualify for both. 

Doug: “If you’re in the situation where you want to build to the AWS2, but would still like an element of innovation and be able to make use of your member benefit, you can qualify for both options. The thing to keep in mind about the AWI Leadership Approved Funds is that there is a certain dollar amount set aside for shipping cabinets, and once that amount is gone, then that option will go away, too.”


Banding Together to Further the Industry

Another thing Doug points out about the agreement for free testing is that once members have developed a favorable method, they must sign a waiver that allows AWI to give that method an anonymous name, so that it’s not tied to a specific company, and post it to the member library of available build methods. 

Doug explains why: “AWI is looking to grow their library, but we want to grow it with relevant methods that work for individual companies. At the heart of this association is like-minded individuals banding together to further the industry. It’s about manufacturers coming together to say “Hey, I’ll give up my name and my rights, there’s no big secret here. I’m happy to help out a fellow woodworker should they ever elect to use this building method.”

By collecting a range of unique methods from fellow members, AWI will be able to continue developing methods based on that shared information that benefit the industry as a whole.


What is the Testing Process?

Here’s a quick run-through that Doug gives in the podcast of how the testing process works:

  • You start by creating accurate engineering drawings of your product
  • When building your item, ensure it’s identical to those drawings
  • Submit or ship your product to the laboratory of your choice
  • At the lab, your cabinets will be verified against the engineering drawings
  • Their condition will then be photographed and documented thoroughly
  • Your cabinets will then enter three days of acclimation, where people will monitor the temperature and humidity levels, ensuring the products are acclimated for testing
  • After the three days, they become eligible to go to the testing fixture
  • Once they’re installed to the testing fixture, and loaded with weights, a timer will be set for 24 hours
  • If there are no signs of breakage or failures during this period, the weights come off, and another timer is set for 60 minutes, allowing the product to recover
  • After that 60 minutes, the product is inspected to ensure that it can return to serviceability and that there are no noted defects 
  • It’s then a simple process of compiling all the information and photographs and creating the test reports


Closing Thoughts

The new casework standard and AWI’s free testing options give woodworking professionals the flexibility to try something new while still adhering to world-leading industry standards.

As Doug puts it: “I encourage all of you to maximize that opportunity and say: “Hey, I’ve always thought there’s been a better way”, or “I always thought that our labor could be better used in this fashion”, or “I’ve always had the opinion that our boxes for our company should be made in this particular way.” With that, I would say head out and look for the ways to make the most of and enjoy the new standard, as well as the innovation and platform it offers you to make improvements.”

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