Standards and Competitiveness

Ensuring Product Quality for Billion-Dollar Brands

Kimberly-Clark and the Power of Standardization

Kimberly-Clark Corp. is a global manufacturer of personal care, professional care and medical products. These include consumer brands such as Kleenex, Kotex and Huggies as well as protective products such as the Jackson Safety brand. All of these products are influenced or guided by ASTM International guidelines and standards, and Kimberly-Clark representatives have been active participants in developing and revising the relevant standards.

Our consumer goods businesses rely on both the utility of our products as well as experienced and perceived comfort. For example, Huggies diapers not only have to work as absorbent products but have to be comfortable on the child; that comfort and the product’s efficacy has to be apparent to the consumer. All of our products undergo extensive sensory and field testing to ensure that we are delivering a quality product to our customers.

Since so much of our products’ appeal depends on sensory and preference judgments and on communicating those benefits to our potential customers, Kimberly-Clark representatives have been active participants in ASTM Committee E18 on Sensory Evaluation. This committee has produced such guidelines as ASTM E1958, Guide for Sensory Claim Substantiation; Manual 63, Just-About-Right (JAR) Scales: Design, Usage, Benefits and Risks; and E2299, Guide for Sensory Evaluation of Products by Children and Minors; it is also drafting a proposed standard, WK22268, Guide for Two-Sample Acceptance and Preference Testing with Consumers.

Many Committee E18 standards were originally crafted to reflect the concerns and practices of sensory scientists in food and beverage industries or the concerns of the beauty product industry, where small-scale testing in a controlled environment is the norm. These standards did not address the needs of products that needed to be both efficacious (e.g., stop diaper leaks) and comfortable. A further limitation of the controlled environment is that it does not capture the actual variability in use conditions that are important for practical success.

Kimberly-Clark addressed these needs by sending representatives to Committee E18 meetings. These representatives are experienced in the conduct of large-scale human testing, experimental psychology, materials and statistical methods for human populations. These scientists worked with E18 members from other industries to extend the existing E1958 standard to include the broader concerns that consumer products needed to face, resulting in a series of revisions to E1958 that have been approved by the general membership.

Kimberly-Clark’s professional healthcare division has been active in ASTM International for many years. A prime example is Subcommittee D11.40 on Consumer Rubber Products, which addresses medical gloves. As medical crises emerge, redefining the importance of specific product performance requirements and the need for new materials with innovative properties, ASTM committees have acted to address the problem. In the late 1980s, AIDS emerged as a threat to both patients and caregivers. Subcommittee D11.40 responded by developing more rigorous test methods for manufacturing gloves. Increased glove wear and latex allergies led to test methods for antigenic proteins, and definitions of and test methods for powder-free gloves. Currently, healthcare-associated infection is a focus area for industry and patients; Kimberly-Clark participates in the ASTM task group currently developing test methods to determine the efficacy of antimicrobial treatments of gloves to prevent pathogens from infecting patients.

Scientists from our protective apparel business have been active members and chairmen in ASTM Committees D11 on Rubber, D18 on Soil and Rock; E35 on Pesticides, Antimicrobials and Alternative Control Agents; E60 on Sustainability; F02 on Flexible Barrier Packaging; F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices; F23 on Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment; and F29 on Anesthetic and Respiratory Equipment. These groups produce standards that aid us in the manufacture of products such as gowns for physicians, nurses and hospital technicians that protect them from patient fluid splatter or soak-through so that they can confidently deliver patient care with less concern about their own safety. Additionally, we manufacture protective gear for people in industries or environments where they are exposed to soils and hazards. These products range from hard hats, eye protection and coveralls to full isolation suits for use in toxic environments.

Guaranteeing quality and conformance to standards is very important in these conditions, and ASTM International standards provide both a rigorous testing methodology and a standard by which to judge product quality. As with the other products mentioned in this article, Kimberly-Clark has been active in the development of standards and guidelines.

All of these activities have a clear benefit to Kimberly-Clark and other companies in related industries. In our work with ASTM, we respect ASTM bylaws and maintain balance between industrial needs and clinical perspectives for the good health of the consumer to develop standards that are scientifically sound and validated. Our work in developing sensory guidelines helps provide clear guidance for companies that wish to demonstrate the sensory properties of their products as well as make defensible statements about consumer preferences and choice. In the protective apparel and healthcare industries, ASTM standards provide actionable means to test and certify the benefits of the products that comply with these standards.

Since many of these standards have a global reach, standards allow companies to compete on a more global scale. Kimberly-Clark’s participation in ASTM International has provided us with clear benefits in product development and communications with our consumers.

Adam Stevenson, Ph.D., is a cognitive psychologist who joined Kimberly-Clark in 1999 and has been a voting representative to ASTM International since 2004.

William Raynor, Ph.D., is a biostatistician. He has been with Kimberly-Clark since 1984 and a participant in ASTM International since 1997.

Martha Tate, Ph.D., is a textile scientist with focus on materials and the wearer. She joined Kimberly-Clark in 1998 and has been an ASTM International representative since 2004.

  • Irving, Texas, USA
  • Manufacturer of consumer goods and protective apparel brands sold in more than 175 countries. Nearly one-quarter of the world’s population purchase K-C products every day.
  • Market: Global
  • Revenue: $21.3 billion (2013)
  • Staff: 58,000 in 37 countries
  • ASTM technical committees with Kimberly-Clark representation: D11; D18; E35; E60; F02; F04; F23; and F29

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.