The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 5, Number 6
Dec 1981

Getting Information About the Product

At the AIC meeting in May, a report was read describing what kinds of product information conservators might be able to get from manufacturers of adhesives and other materials used in their work. The investigative work for this report was done by Mary Kay Porter, a member of the National Conservation Advisory Council's Committee on Scientific Support. A full report is given in the AIC Newsletter for August 1981, from which the following extracts are taken:

"Ideally, the conservator should be able to predict responses of the product to solvents, light, heat, etc., should be able to work out formulations for specific applications, and should be aware of problems relating to health hazards or undesirable impurities.

"The person in industry to whom such inquiries should be addressed is often called a technical representative or technical service manager. . . . The individual is generally not an expert in all details of the product's composition but such experts are usually found in the research lab. Access to the latter is possible but not always easy.

"What information might be requested? Specific data can usually be obtained concerning a product's content and purity; specifications on properties (including physical ones such as the solubility parameter of a solvent); the results of testing (for example, on the reversibility of an adhesive); the date of the most recent change in formulation; the commercial names of the product on foreign markets; and health hazards entailed in product use and related safety precautions. Generally, written inquiries should be kept short and simple. A follow-up phone call often expedites a response and may even produce new data.

"In summary, one needs to be realistic about what to expect companies to provide. Inquiries should be as specific as possible. An informed inquirer is generally the most successful. Results from the inquiry should usually provide a general profile of product composition, application, testing, and safety data. New products or possibly better products can be identified and product content verified so that later changes can be monitored. The more exacting demands of conservation may require separate analytical services, tests, opinions, or an alternative product. Certainly the exchange with industry can be helpful, and often educates the technical representative to a need he or she may have hardly known to exist."

In the discussion following this presentation, the following points were made: 1) the information is written up as "spec sheets", "technical standards sheets", or "material data sheets"; a second sort are the "safety data sheets"; 2) there is a law requiring a safety data sheet to be sent with all shipped materials; 3) some conservation labs, e.g. the Walters Art Gallery, Mario's in Washington, DC, and the Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Laboratory, systematically collect data sheets; 4) data sheets should be requested on each purchase order; 5) conservators from the larger companies or institutions are more likely to get results from their requests; 6) companies making up new formulations never talk to conservators beforehand; 7) as soon as a product is withdrawn from the market, all spec sheets become unavailable somehow from the supplier; and 8) perhaps a central file of data sheets could be compiled, which could be consulted by conservators nationally.

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