Card testing laboratory makes sure cards work every time

CTI Team Photo

A Wellington company is one of the few in the world that can test cards for financial card issuers and manufacturers to international standards.

Card Testing International (CTI) tests a wide range of cards such as credit cards, identity cards, loyalty cards, and transport cards to ensure they work as they should.

CTI’s operations manager, David Reynolds, says the work done in their laboratory means their clients can be sure the cards they issue work first time, every time, around the world.

‘Five years ago, most cards used a magnetic stripe. Now, most cards are multifunctional and include an integrated circuit chip. This means the cost of cards has increased and cards are more complex. Many cards aren’t performing as they should and that’s why our clients ask us to test their cards before they issue them to users.’

Card quality specialist

CTI is recognised worldwide as a card quality specialist and has the largest accredited physical card testing laboratory in the world. The laboratory is certified to ISO/IEC 17025 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

CTI’s Director Ron DeDera says that many international organisations recognise CTI’s nearly 20 years of expertise and send card testing projects to CTI.

‘They know we’re certified to ISO/IEC 17025 and are competent to run the tests. Our ISO accredited laboratory has precise temperature, humidity control, and staff competency, to ensure a consistent testing environment. Most of our tests are individually accredited to the required ISO testing standards.

‘We’ve always appreciated what a laboratory can bring – a world of proofs. We’re certified to ISO/IEC 17025 and use international testing standards because the science is the science, and the results are the results.’

Helping to develop international standards

As an industry expert in card matters, CTI also helps to develop international card quality standards. Ron says CTI started to work with ISO to develop card standards in the early 2000s.

‘At that time, eftpos transaction failures and faulty magnetic stripes on bank cards were common. We studied this and found there were many problems in New Zealand that could be traced back to the card and not the reader. Our investigation was the first independent study in the world to look at a national card base and problems.

‘We presented our findings to international conferences and the ISO committee for physical card standards, SC17, Working Group 1. ISO recognised there was a need for organisations to test cards before issuing them to users.

‘We started to provide consultancy and card testing services in 1995. Now, we attend up to three ISO expert group meetings each year and are actively involved in standards development for magnetic stripe and integrated circuit chip card technologies.’

Specialised card testing

For most clients, CTI tests relevant volume of cards from a batch. CTI checks if the cards are manufactured to the required standard. For example, there are minimum requirements for credit cards and they must be durable enough to last until their expiry date.

The tests used depend on:

  • the technology on the card – magnetic stripe, contact integrated circuit (IC), or contactless IC
  • how and where the card will be used, and for how long. For example, credit cards are used more often than gift cards and have a longer expiry date.

Testing reveals faults

The testing equipment reveals faults not visible to the naked eye. Steve DeDera, CTI’s senior Lab analyst and developer, says the test results identify potential problems with a card, even before hundreds of thousands or millions of cards are issued.

‘Our clients can also use this information to understand how long a card is likely to last once it’s issued, to prevent future problems, to improve card quality, and to extend the expiry date of their card products.’

There are tests to check if the:

  • encoded data on the magnetic stripe is in the right place and is of good quality, so a card terminal can read the card
  • chip is embedded correctly into the card to work with modern readers
  • card is durable enough
  • card will work in a wide variety of reader systems
  • will work reliably with tap n’go system readers (that is, PayPass™, Paywave™, and so on).

CTI can also artificially age a card to test the card service life, make sure it will work as intended, and will last until its expiry date.

Steve says that testing cards in a laboratory environment requires specialised and custom-built equipment.

‘We have successfully worked with Massey University in a joint venture with engineering students, who develop innovative testing equipment for us that other labs can only dream of. For example, a Massey University student developed the card flex tester that we use to run a multitude of durability tests, related to different standards. We needed this equipment to be developed locally as the off-the-shelf model could only perform a single test at any one time.’

Photo L to R: Susie DeDera, director; Michelle Boyd, test analyst; Melanie Nesbit, Lab administration and support; Steve DeDera, senior Lab analyst and developer; David Reynolds, operations manager; Ron DeDera, director and founder.

Buy NZS ISO/IEC 17025:2005

Published in business and ICT.