There’s a rising tide of consumer concern over product safety. Combine that with a bad-news economy and the result is consumers who are putting more consideration into every product they buy. Consumers have become more sophisticated, more informed, and conduct more product research.
At the same time, manufacturers are under pressure to maintain high quality standards in order to survive and prosper. All of which begs the question: How can you make sure your products stack up against the competition? How can you independently support your product claims?
One way is to have your appliance tested and certified. And thankfully, testing and certification agencies are adjusting to help OEMs stay ahead of consumer and marketplace changes.
Credibility Up Front
One change in product and testing taking place is the introduction of the quality & performance mark from Intertek (www.intertekcheck.com).
According to Mike Parker, director, global marketing, Intertek, “We’re continually approached by our clients to do performance testing on their products—to allow them to compare their products using third-party testing data to competitors’ products. In the last year there has been a situation with the economy; at the same time there has been a media spotlight on clients, on their supply chains, on the visibility of their supply chains. The dollar means more now than a year ago and the lens is much more critical. Our mark is a way of taking the credibility out from behind the product and putting it at the forefront. Consumers are looking for more data, and this kind of data can help them justify the cost of a $500 vacuum cleaner over a $150 vacuum cleaner.”
Thus, the new Intertek mark is designed for consumers to easily understand where a product stands in terms of durability, functionality, life cycle, and usability. The mark can tell a buyer that the product was evaluated and validated by an independent third-party laboratory.
“The mark takes the data around performance and quality and puts a face on it for consumers,” Parker says. “Consumers now have data to compare products and make buying decisions. Manufacturers and retailers also can build trust, show their commitment to quality and performance, and have third- party verification that can be advertised.”
For OEMs and retailers, Parker says, the mark offers differentiation among competitors. It’s also a way to evaluate sourced components within a product, substantiate marketing claims, test the claims of others, and broaden the market among early adopters, he says. The mark helps protect an OEM’s brand, Parker says, adding that trade associations can use it to validate new technologies, promote values, and evaluate supply-chain sourcing in addition to establishing industrywide benchmarks for quality.
To use the mark, an OEM chooses from five baseline quality tests: Durability, Usa-bility, Function, Workmanship, and Life Cycle. In addition, there is a sixth test category (CheckPlus Performance) that allows manufacturers to go “above and beyond” to test specific manufacturer’s claims: An optional product testing category that allows the highlighting of specific product differentiators; verification that one or more of the product claims are met and/or exceeded.
Meeting the baseline allows the OEM to post the results in advertising, on the Web, and in other marketing materials. In addition to the five benchmarks, OEM claims can also be tested. Once validated by the testing firm, the claims can be described in advertising, point-of-purchase, and on the product and packaging to differentiate the product from its competitors.
Parker says that each of the five tests has a different part to play in the total picture of what constitutes product quality and performance. In order to establish what
premium is, Intertek is using association standards and its own expertise to come up with the basic standard, then setting a higher, premium level. “Our intention here is to use the mark to identify best-in-class products, and we want to use the mark to provide sound, scientific data to identify best-in-class products,” he says.
He adds that Intertek will be able to communicate to a consumer not only that the product passes a durability test, but also that it passed the test with a life of 15,000 cycles, while a competitor’s product passed with a life of 10,000 cycles.
“This is data the OEM can use in communicating to the consumer,” he says.
Intertek will use a public-facing Web site that will allow the consumer to see the test results. The Web site data will soon be accessible by mobile phone. Testing protocols will be standardized across products, and testing parameters will be reviewed once per year to reflect changes in technology or consumer expectations.
The new mark may do for appliances with premium levels of durability, usability, etc., what the U.S. Energy Star label already does for appliances with premium energy efficiency. Parker also stresses that the Intertek mark is supported by actual data. “The Good Housekeeping Seal is a sign of quality, but there’s no supporting data the OEM can use,” he says. “Consumer Reports is great but it holds the data behind closed doors. We give the manufacturer the ability to provide the data.”
Tested in China, for China
Many appliance manufacturers have turned to manufacturing globally, and China, of course, has turned into the world’s biggest manufacturing hub. China’s growth has now made it one of the most promising consumer markets, as well. But how easy or difficult can it be to get an appliance certified for sale in China?
It depends on the product, says Randall W. Luecke, president of CSA International and OnSpeX and chairman of the board of CCIC-CSA International. “U.S. manufacturers wishing to sell their products in China need, in many cases depending on the product, the Chinese ccc mark. The Chinese government has restricted the issuance of this mark only to Chinese testing organizations; the mark cannot be acquired by way of testing by North American or European testing organizations. CSA International has established a relationship with Chinese testing organizations that can grant the ccc mark, and CSA International can facilitate access to this mark.”
CSA International recently opened its first China laboratory in the city of Guangzhou. The new facility will enable customers to test and certify their products locally and obtain the relevant CSA International certification marks for exporting their products into the North American market and worldwide.
Located in the Guangzhou Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, the new lab is operated by the CCIC-CSA International Certification Company, Ltd., a joint venture between CSA International and the China Certification and Inspection Group (CCIC).
“We opened this laboratory in Guangzhou in order to establish testing capabilities in close proximity to manufacturers in China,” says Luecke. “Heretofore CSA has been meeting the needs of these manufacturers by either having them ship their product prototypes to North America for testing; testing the prototype designs in the laboratories of the manufacturers; or testing these prototype designs in qualified, independent laboratories in China. But sending samples to North America takes time and is expensive, and not all manufacturers have their own laboratories. When we go to use independent laboratories, we cannot always control the timing of the testing. By having our own laboratory in Guangzhou, we do not have to have the manufacturers ship samples to North America, or rely on independent laboratories,” he says.
The facility spans over 3000 m2 and is equipped with testing stations for gas, plumbing, and electrical products. In total, there are several hundred types of advanced product testing possible within the laboratory. Luecke adds, “In other respects, [this lab] is like our labs in North America and elsewhere in terms of equipment, training of testing staff, and testing protocols.”
Testing of gas equipment at the facility includes barbeque grills, patio heaters, outdoor gas fireplaces, camp stoves, and camp lights. Testing of electrical goods includes IT and AV appliances, luminaries and decorative lightings, cooking appliances, motor-operated appliances, fans and ventilators, tools, and wiring devices.
According to John Drengenberg, engineer and business manager for Underwriters Laboratories (UL; www.ul.com), appliance testing and certification is constantly evolving. “Many changes to the way that we test and certify appliances are small modifications,” he tells APPLIANCE, “We do constantly modify our requirements, and some of those modifications will end up resulting in a new standard and some will not.”
Drengenberg points out that UL has been testing products for 114 years and consumers know the UL mark. “They look for the right color, size, and features of a product and rarely ask about the safety aspects as long as the UL mark is there,” he says. That recognition extends to manufacturers and retailers.”
Safety certification does not get scaled back, even in a down economy. As market segments grow, so does the need to test and certify those products. Case in point: solar technology. The
Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Center of Excellence that UL opened in San Jose, CA, U.S., in July 2008 has already announced an expansion project. The center is the only accredited National Certification Body for PV product testing in North America.
“As demonstrated by the influx in industry demand, the need for solar-module testing capacity is critical for the continued growth and success of the industry,” said Tom Kimbis, acting program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Program. “UL’s expanded testing facility is good news for all—the manufacturing industry, retailers, consumers, and the economy overall.”
The San Jose facility will undergo a 13,500-sq-ft expansion to provide 35% more space to UL’s current PV testing operations. It will also include a 31% year-over-year increase in project capacity since the laboratory’s opening. The expansion will house six more test chambers, bringing the total to 20, and include an additional solar simulation room.
“The expansion of our current facility is necessary to help drive the innovation and future technological advancements within the solar marketplace and a demonstration of our dedication toward the renewable energy sector,” said Bill Colavecchio, vice president and general manager of UL’s Global Industrial Products Sector.
“Photovoltaic testing has increased here at UL by leaps and bounds,” Drengenberg tells APPLIANCE. He foresees an increase in fuel cell–using appliances and photovoltaics in the next five years. “But from my experience,” he says, “the basic appliance does not change. What changes is how we use it. And so will our testing and certification as well.”