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issue: February 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Testing New Acceptance Waters

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Editorial from Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

Recent actions by testing and certification bodies Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group may be the first step toward easier, cheaper, and faster certification of electrical goods.

Lisa Bonnema, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

By the end of this month (February, 2004), CSA and UL are expected to finish up the first phase of their new Agreement on Acceptance Components, which was first announced in November 2003. The Agreement states that both UL and CSA will accept each other's components when performing certification tests on an agreed list of end products. It also extends the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the companies signed back in 1996, which enables manufacturers of electrical components and end products to obtain both CSA and UL certification/listing on the basis of a single product test program carried out by the two companies.

While the Agreement doesn't directly affect appliance producers in the short-term - the detailed "list" only covers certain components used in specified industrial low-voltage distribution and control equipment - it may have some beneficial long-term effects. If extended to the appliance industry, the Agreement could eventually provide benefits such as the elimination of component re-testing and, potentially, a reduction in an end product's time to market.

"At this time, it is a very important strategic win for the appliance industry," Grant Carter, vice president of Marketing and Communications, CSA Group tells APPLIANCE. "We at CSA remain concerned that the agreement is of a limited scope, at this time, but we believe that the savings that manufacturers in other areas served by this agreement will realize can also be realized by appliance producers, as we push to expand the agreement to include the components that appliance producers would typically see in their end products."

UL feels the real benefit is in the expanded MoU. "We heard from quite a few of our clients that would like to see the MoU expanded with CSA in the interest of having tests done at one organization and allowing or facilitating for certification by both organizations," notes Gus Schaefer, vice president and COO of UL. "With the expanded MOU, the results of the new product testing that we do should be accepted by CSA as a basis for issuing a CSA product certification. That might be a good short-term benefit to the appliance industry."

The final Agreement and expanded MoU, which were signed at NEMA's Annual Meeting and Leadership Conference on Nov. 10, are said to have stemmed from a vocal group of major electrical companies - many of which belong to NEMA - that felt the lack of acceptance between CSA and UL was negatively impacting their costs and time to market.

Both NEMA and the Electro-Federation of Canada (EFC) served as third-party participants during the Agreement negotiations, which started in October. Some of the issues that surfaced during negotiations included the scope of the Agreement and the details surrounding the different companies' follow-up testing procedures.

According to CSA, it initially presented UL with a proposal that covered all components used in electrical products - including appliances. "Our position at those negotiations was that the electrical industry in North America needs a comprehensive component acceptance practice by major recognized certification agencies," says Mr. Carter of CSA. "We have tabled a proposal that the Agreement encompass all components. That proposal was rejected by UL."

UL says it was concerned with initiating a "carte blanche" acceptance proposal without seeing if it would work first. "We were reluctant to go that route because we couldn't in good conscience say we will accept another organization's component without knowing that their follow-up level is at the same level as ours," Mr. Schaefer of UL tells APPLIANCE. "That component is going into an end product that is certified by UL. So the integrity of that end product certification is built on the integrity of each of the component certifications."

In the end, UL agreed, but only under the limited scope. "Our mission is to get safe products into the hands of the customer as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can," says Mr. Schaefer. "If it means entering into agreements like this with CSA, we will do that with the necessary checks and balances."

Both companies agree that much work needs to be done before full implementation of the Agreement, which will be instituted in three phases; the first phase scheduled for completion by Feb. 28, and the second and third are supposed to be wrapped up by the end of this year, although no dates have been specified. In the meantime, the main focus of both CSA and UL will be to find a common way of performing follow-up inspections. The Agreement will also be reassessed after 18 months to ensure that it is meeting the needs of both organizations' affected customers.

Assuming that a quality follow-up testing program can be co-developed between the two companies, this should be a step in the right direction. NEMA, for one, is pleased with the final result. "The new program will help NEMA get their products to market more quickly, while avoiding unwarranted costs," Malcolm O'Hagan, NEMA president, said in a statement about the agreement.

It is also notable that since 1994, UL and CSA have had a similar agreement in place for specified components used in the Information Technology (IT) industry, which uses many of the same components used in the appliance industry.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of mutual agreements such as this will be the increased competition among testing and certification organizations, which, in turn, only means heightened customer service. Both CSA and UL admit that the recent Agreement will give manufacturers more of a choice when fulfilling their certification needs. As Mr. Schaefer of UL notes, "As far as what goes into the ultimate market, neither CSA nor UL can determine that. That is determined by the purchasers."

In terms of the appliance industry, CSA says it has spoken to many leading appliance companies that said they would welcome a similar agreement. UL, however, says it has not heard any requests from its appliance customers.

Whether or not the Agreement makes it past its 18-month review is anyone's guess, but without action on the behalf of appliance makers, it is possible our industry may never feel the potential benefits if the program succeeds.

"My suggestion to major appliance makers would be to make their concerns known," says Mr. Carter of CSA.

What do you think? We'd like to hear your thoughts.




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