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EXPLAINED: How Century-Old National Test House Is Embracing New State Of Play With Toy, Nano Tech Plans

The National test House has plans to set up two facilities for testing toys, in Mumbai and Jaipur

The National test House has plans to set up two facilities for testing toys, in Mumbai and Jaipur

The National Test House is branching into testing toys and nano materials used in electronic devices. Here's what you need to know

The digital future is here. And it is made up of a lot of nano parts. Exploding cellphone batteries and malfunctioning gadgets are not uncommon. To ensure that electronics are safe for use and perform as promised, rigorous and meticulous testing is needed, going right down to the basic make-up of each product. An India looking to make Atmanirbhar strides needs to be sure about the integrity of the devices it uses. Known for chipping in with its expertise for mega projects, the National Test House (NTH) is now venturing into the minute to ensure the quality and safety of everything from electronics to toys.

What Is The National Test House?

It is an institution that was set up more than 100 years back in 1912, interestingly, under the Railway Board to help with the testing and checks of indigenously made products used by the railways as it sought to meet its needs through import substitution. NTH would soon branch out into testing ammunition and equipment for the military as well as items utilised by the various departments of the then British colonial government.

NTH says that after India’s independence, its duties “have increased manifold" and it is “involved in all aspects of technology connected with industry, commerce, trade, import substitution, export promotion and standardisation". When it comes to the formulation of national standards, NTH says that it has had “the proud privilege of assisting Indian Standards Institution presently known as Bureau of Indian Standards since its very inception in 1947". It now provides “material testing facilities for the industry, consumers and government agencies in all domains of engineering".

NTH’s mandate and sphere of work resonates closely with the present push for Atmanirbhar Bharat and the Department of Consumer Affairs, under which it functions, says it “plays a pivotal role in the development of indigenous industries and serves as a vital link between industrial research and manufacture of finished products under rigid quality control".

The NTH is now a “laboratory of national importance in the field of testing, quality evaluation". It carries out quality checks for almost all sorts of industrial and consumer products except drugs, arms and ammunition and issues test certificates against evaluation per “national/international or customer standard and specification". The NTH is headquartered in Kolkata and has regional offices at Mumbai, Chennai, Ghaziabad, Jaipur and Guwahati.

What Are The New Plans For NTH?

At a news conference in New Delhi on September 7, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution announced plans for the NTH to foray into the testing of a new range of products that are set to see increasing uptake in the digital age.

So far, NTH evaluation has covered everything from railway tracks, wagons and coaches to high-rise buildings, iron and steel bars and transformers. It also tests small consumer items like mixer grinders, pressure cookers, ovens, toasters, batteries, wires, cables, etc. Its scientific testing and quality assessment has undergirded the creation of bridges, roads, airports, steel and power plants, refineries, etc., the ministry said.

But as a digital future beckons and a “vast market of nano materials" takes shape, NTH is expanding into new areas. The ministry said that there is a plan to create a “nano material testing laboratory" to enable it to evaluate consumer products containing nano material, “especially in cosmetics, electronic consumer items and digital appliances used in homes", covering everything from cellular phones to microwave ovens.

While there is no single accepted definition of what a nano material is, experts agree that these “are partially characterised by their tiny size, measured in nanometers". “A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter — approximately 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair," says the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Consumer Affiars ministry said that NTH is expanding into packaged drinking water, e-vehicle battery testing, LED lamps testing services and testing of solar panels so as to support “a large number of Government of India programmes".

What Are The New Services Lined Up? Why Is It Important?

Among the new areas in which NTH is set to expand its expertise is food testing, with a “complete food testing laboratory" planned in Kolkata. It is also planning to set up test facilities for air conditioners in Mumbai, toys at Mumbai and Jaipur and helmets.

Vineet Mathur, Joint Secretary in the Consumer Affairs Ministry, said that the “testing facility to look into nano properties of materials" would be set up “this financial year" and that about Rs 2 crore would be spent on equipment in the first year.

As to air-conditioners, he said that while manufacturers come up with performance ratings, “with the establishment of a testing facility, we can test the performance of air conditioners".

The need to evaluate toys for safety, too, stands out with reports in 2019 saying that nearly 67 per cent of imported toys had failed a test by the Quality Council of India (QCI). In fact, the Centre implemented the Toys (Quality Control) Order from January 1, 2021, which requires, among other things, that toys sold in the country, including imported ones, conform to Indian standards and also carry the Bureau of Indian Standards (ISI) mark. The order also directs manufacturers to set up testing facilities and allow factory inspections.

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first published:September 08, 2021, 11:20 IST