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issue: December 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Quality and Testing
Multifunctional and Multinational


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by Lincoln Brunner, Contributing Editor

Quality and certification testing agencies are innovating to meet the appliance industry's concurrent needs for speed and global market expertise.

Water ingress testing is conducted by the ETL SEMKO division of Intertek (Boxborough, Massachusetts, U.S.) to determine how the appliance will operate when subjected to environmental conditions such as rain. Determining the safety, performance and degree of protection of the components and operating mechanisms of an appliance is crucial to meeting global requirements.

While appliance manufacturers are doing all they can to speed up testing in-house, they also are pressing certification bodies to expedite the approval process so they can get their products to market sooner.

We feel that more and more, says Randall Luecke, president of CSA International, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. The manufacturers have squeezed time out of every process they control. The process that they don't control is the certification process that's under our control, and they have exerted tremendous pressure on us to get our certification times down, and we're doing that.

How? One, by adding bodies to CSA offices in North America and especially Asia, where the demand for certification has followed the manufacturing boom. Second, by reviewing all of its testing processes to find out where tests might be done concurrently instead of sequentially.

Perhaps in the old days we'd ask for one sample, and we'd run test A and then test B and then test C. What we might do now is ask for three samples and run test A, B and C concurrently to take weeks out of the process, Luecke explains. The manufacturer is very, very willing to send us more samples if that speeds up the time to certification.

To meet the growing demand for speed, the international testing and certification company TV America is expanding its scope of services to the U.S. and Canadian markets, according to Dr. Ulf Schmidt, director of product safety services at the company's office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. The company also is taking advantage of its familiarity with the European market to guide customers seeking to sell in Europe through the waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) Directive and the upcoming Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive regarding heavy metals and bromine flame retardants.

The RoHS directive takes effect July 1, 2006, giving manufacturers of electronics and other affected products little time to determine a course of action if they have not already. The WEEE directive already is in effect.

There's been a huge increase in demand for getting support for the WEEE and RoHS directives, Schmidt says. Many manufacturers are not so sure what to do about this. We can help.

Managing Engineer Thomas Blewitt of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) (Northbrook, Illinois, U.S.) says many substitute parts and materials have been arriving at his lab lately from manufacturers looking to maintain their UL listings by satisfying RoHS/WEEE and similar restrictions, such as California Proposition 65.

Thats causing some manufacturers of electronic and electrical products to first find out whether or not they have these substances in their products, Blewitt says. And then what they're looking to do is get those substances out, if they can, and find alternative materials. In some instances, the manufacturers and especially the component manufacturers are looking to have their products tested to see how much of the restricted substances, if any, are there and how likely they are to come out. It translates to alternative constructions and retesting of products.

Harmonization

In a global economy in which products are marketed in many different countries, the need to speed up certification has become all the more vital. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) suggests that one solution would be to harmonize standards set by standards development organizations (SDOs), so that one set of compliance tests would cover many markets. One way to accomplish this is to get representatives from manufacturers, regulators, consumers, and other groups on the same committees.
“At least they end up on the same page through compromise and dialog and consensus,” Luecke says.
Considering the strength of regional marks such as the UL mark for electrical appliances in the U.S., the GS mark in Germany and others, harmonization isn’t as easy as it sounds from a consumer perspective, notes Blewitt.
“A significant number of manufacturers, even though their Holy Grail would be to have one set of tests work for the entire globe, recognize that to help sell their products in the different markets, they often have to go and get the national marks,” Blewitt says.
However, certain certification bodies, including UL, are part of cooperative certification body arrangements in which a company can have tests done at any one of a number of member labs and then submit the data to several different national certification bodies. “It gets you data about your products that then has widespread recognition,” Blewitt says. “If you need a mark to sell into any one of the markets, you take that information, and you still go (for certification) to whoever owns the mark for the national market.”
The group leading the charge to harmonize IEC 60335-1, Household and Similar Electrical Appliances, Safety, Part 1: General Requirements, for North America is the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). The group has been meeting with representatives from UL (including Blewitt), CSA and Mexican standards group Asociación Nacional de Normalización y Certificación (ANCE) to develop a North American harmonized standard for appliances that more closely aligns with International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, already used widely in Europe and recently adopted in China.
The multinational working group has been meeting for about a year and is working under the auspices of CANENA, a Spanish acronym meaning Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standards of the Nations of the Americas. The working group hopes to have a finished draft ready for review by UL, CSA and ANCE by March 2006, says Joel Solis, certification engineer at ARI in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
“It’s a tremendous effort by the three countries,” says Solis. “It’s the first time in the United States that we’ve tried to harmonize a product standard for electrical safety using an IEC standard as the base document. We’ve had component standards based on IEC standards, but never one concerning a finished product. All three [safety organizations] have agreed on the procedures for harmonizing North American electrical safety standards. We’ve been following it with great success.”
A strong motivator behind the decision to harmonize, like so many manufacturing industry decisions in North America, was China. With China opting to use IEC standards, it “has created a combined European and Chinese market [so large] that electrical safety standards have become an impediment to trade,” Solis says. “U.S. industry realizes that to continue enjoying the economy of scale trading advantage it currently has, it needs to move toward IEC base standards. In the globalized world we live in today, where domestic industry has integrated both horizontally and vertically with Europe and China, it makes strategic sense for North America to move towards IEC standards.”
Before the harmonization effort, the various national bodies had begun to go their separate ways in adopting 60335-1, and “we felt we needed to bring them back together,” Solis says. “Harmonization will allow manufacturers to reduce the [number of] models they produce for various markets. Why develop a separate model for the United States and for Europe when both products are safe electrically? We have to be able to come to agreement on what is safe in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and we should be able to come to terms with that.”
“Through harmonization of standards, we can more broadly apply that ‘test once, market everywhere’ approach,” Luecke from CSA says.

Quality Improvements

Of course, quality improvement means much more than complying with standards, which are by definition minimum expectations. It also means improving products before they’re introduced to market, both through research and development and through testing.
CSA International has been looking hard at the consumer side of late, launching their OnSpeX service out of their Cleveland laboratory a little more than a year ago. Where CSA International examines products and components from a safety certification angle, OnSpeX provides performance evaluations. One tests appliances to ensure they meet the standards; the other tests them to ensure they meet consumer expectations, often comparing products side by side with competitors.
Luecke says the program has been growing rapidly, and CSA International has been looking for additional space in Cleveland to house it.
“We created it specifically to address the needs of retailers,” Luecke says. “But what we’re finding is that manufacturers are using OnSpeX just as much as the retailers, because they want their product compared to their competition in the marketplace. Although they could do that themselves, they seem to prefer having that done by an independent third party.”
The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) works with numerous manufacturers in the gas industry to improve products or confirm their own test results with a neutral party. One recent project had GTI developing a dual-deck gas conveyor-style pizza oven with an airflow system that heated both decks evenly with a single burner. GTI’s oven put the two decks within the same space as traditional single-deck ovens and created a fully modulating burner system that controls the firing rate of the burner to maintain oven temperature within 2°F.
GTI deviated from the typical single-deck design specifically to appeal to consumers that needed more cooking capacity in the same space. Achieving consistent temperatures throughout the unit meant changing the design radically by firing the single burner into a stainless steel pipe and blowing air over the pipe, distributing air uniformly with two or four blowers, depending on oven size. In addition, the fully modulating burner maintained oven temperature much more efficiently: in GTI tests, the temperature in an oven using an “on/off”-style burner varied by more than 50°F. The oven using GTI’s modulating burner varied by only 5°F.
Designing those particular features into the oven was in keeping with GTI’s mission to create gas appliances and solutions that are safe, reliable, clean, and affordable. Accomplishing that keeps consumer appeal high while helping manufacturers comply with new regulations and standards.
“As improvements in emission levels or efficiency for appliances are required by agencies and requested by consumers, the need for precisely engineered appliances and burner systems becomes more important,” says Frank Johnson, principal engineer for GTI (Des Plaines, Illinois, U.S.) “At GTI, we are getting more involved with helping manufacturers fine-tune their own designs or developing new concepts to help achieve the desired performance levels of appliances.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
CSA International
TUV SUD America Inc.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
 

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