5 On Your Side

Inside Consumer Reports' testing labs

Posted November 10, 2011

— Creepy mannequins, a temper tantrum and fresh-baked cookies — these are just a few of the interesting things WRAL 5 On Your Side's Monica Laliberte found on a exclusive tour of Consumer Reports' labs.

The nonprofit recently celebrated 75 years of testing products and invited WRAL News to tour its headquarters in New York.

"It's a very unassuming place from the outside. It looks like a 1950s or 1960s factory almost," Consumer Reports Editor-in Chief Kim Kleeman said.

But inside the 250,000-square-foot building, 50 labs operate nearly year-round.

"It's almost like a conveyer belt of testing," Kleeman said.

She said visitors are often surprised at both how continuous and involved the testing is.

The clothes washer lab has a probed floor built to test vibration and a high-tech analysis tool that pinpoints water temperature and energy use.

"We can analyze it and have a chart that shows you how much it's going to cost to run these machines," Consumer Reports tester Leigh Druckenmiller said.

Testers take photos of loaded dishwashers to ensure that they're loaded exactly the same way every time they're tested.

In a lab that looks like a display at a home improvement store, hundreds of light bulbs constantly switch on and off at specific times to simulate different home uses.

The camera lab has mannequins whose clothes, hair and skin tones were specifically picked. "You sit here long enough, they start blinking at you," tester Jim Langehenning said.

There's also a honeycomb-looking, $2.5 million anechoic, or echo-free, chamber made of fiberglass wedges. 

"These tiles on the floor, on the ceiling and the walls are designed to absorb sound so that there's no reverberation. There's no sound bouncing around in here," Langehenning said.

The anechoic chamber is used to test speakers and is built on its foundation.

"When a tractor-trailer or a large truck goes rumbling down the street, we don't feel the rumblings in here. It's actually separated from the rest of the building," Langehenning said.

Consumer Reports headquarters in New York Inside Consumer Reports' labs

Consumer Reports employees say the oven range lab is the place to work. There, workers test a dozen ranges by baking sugar cookies.

"The other guy to know is the one who does most of our grill testing, because they've got steaks and salmon and hamburgers and hot dogs and whatever," Kleeman said. "You want to be there at lunch time, so you can get a pretty good meal."

Among the interesting machines in the labs are one nicknamed the temper tantrum that tests crib mattresses, one that checks paint durability and a tiny tapping machine that tests the battery life of tablet computers.

"You sit here (thinking), 'What the heck is that for?,' until someone says, 'Oh, that's mimicking a human hand, touching a screen repeatedly,'" Kleeman said.

After they're done testing all the TVs, cribs and other products, Consumer Reports employees can bid on them and typically pay half of retail cost.

"That is the biggest perk of working at Consumer Reports. I would say all employees have pretty good stuff around here," Kleeman said.

"It's a wonderful, funky, weird place to work, and it's a thrill every day," she added.


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