Dr Andy Roediger in the test lab at his company’s premises in Stellenbosch, literally bristling with lab equipment built up over the past three decades

It’s testing time as Roediger Agencies celebrates 30yrs

ROEDIGER Agencies, the Stellenbosch laboratory specializing in comprehensive testing of polymer materials and products, has just completed its 30th year in operation, an achievement which has involved high commitment, intensive analysis and meticulous accuracy.

At the outset in 1993, Dr Andy Roediger set up his company, Roediger Agencies. He had been lecturing in Polymer Chemistry at Stellenbosch University and, although he had gained a PhD in Polymer Chemistry in 1984, his career to date had diverged a stint into stockbroking.

Returning to Stellenbosch in 1993, he approached Professor Sanderson at the Institute for Polymer Science at the University of Stellenbosch to start his consulting company.

“There was a gaping need for the testing of plastic products, with all manner of tests, for product manufacturers, brand owners, material manufacturers and others, across a huge spectrum of products,” says Roediger.

Roediger Agencies was started with absolutely no equipment except that which was available at the Polymer Chemistry department at the university. This equipment was mostly for post-graduate studies, and thus Roediger made use of industry as well, wherever he could, to initially outsource some of the testing.

Staff at that time comprised of “in-service-trainees” from The Cape Technicon, which assisted in building up the company.  A turning point for Roediger Agencies came in 2003, when the opportunity arose to buy out the laboratory at what was then Ciba Specialty Polymers in Isando, when the Swiss-based additives and specialty chemicals manufacturer was purchased by the BASF group. The Ciba laboratory was moved lock stock and barrel to Stellenbosch from Isando.  This enabled Roediger Agencies to achieve an exponential expansion of its capacity for tests.

The purchase of a gas chromatograph equipped with a mass spectrometer (GCMS) in 2014 opened the door for what has been a non-stop journey into the complex world of testing and analysis since; although at that stage the range of tests conducted was limited simply because the laboratory did not have a complete range of testing apparatus.

In 2014, the company carried out its first certification of the EU10/2011 on “Plastics in Contact with Food”; another milestone of testing that has grown tremendously and required further equipment for analyses.

The company has, however, installed new equipment almost every year since, with Roediger proving particularly adept at sourcing equipment.  A second GCMS was purchased in 2019 as the first one had reached its capacity.


Equipment for a multitude of tests

One of the challenges for test labs is that most of the machines required are extremely specific and the costs are frighteningly high, so making educated selections is important. The purchase of versatile systems was thus necessary for the Stellenbosch lab.

Following the first two gas chromatographs with mass spectrometers, a liquid chromatograph with mass spectrometer was purchased in 2022. Both are used for the separation and subsequent identification of chemicals.

The laboratory has an extensive list of thermal analyses equipment and mechanical testing, infrared, UV-VIS spectrophotometer, as well as four weatherometers.

Among the tests conducted are those for polymer identification, Melt Flow, Charpy and Izod Impact testing, Vicat, Heat Distortion Temperature, UV stabilization, light stabilization, age degradation, and many others.  Roediger has proved adept at selecting systems and travelled extensively to purchase lines in the process.

The latest has been a series of pipe testing on U-, M-, and O-PVC as well as HDPE.  Four water baths are available with two 24-channel pressuring systems for SANS verification.

In 2023, an application has been made for ISO 17025, and an outcome from SANAS is keenly awaited.


Verifiable results

Roediger says customers require comprehensive analysis and verifiable results of items or materials tested, with zero tolerance for inaccuracy and staff at the lab thus need to operate to the highest standards possible.

“Results provided need to stand up to intensive inspection and can be used in legal proceedings, so accuracy is of utmost importance,” he adds.

It is to Roediger Agencies’ credit that its staff has been long serving, with both Illana Bergh (general manager and polymer scientist, who joined in 2003) and Tessa Ortell (office manager, who joined in 2001) having been at the lab for extended periods. More recent appointees Wernich Kühn (analytical chemist) and Hugo-Ben van Renen (pipe testing) have settled in well.

Roediger says some unusual tests have been performed over the years too, among those being of boxing gloves (of the various polymer foams and synthetic fabric coverings used) for the World Boxing Association (WBA), and the percentage content of calcium carbonate in shopping bags to test recyclability.

The way forward is for further analysis into Africa, the boundaries of which have already been extended.  Another milestone will be closer collaboration with companies who don’t have their own testing facilities, to offer them a complete turn-key laboratory service.