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issue: December 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Guest Editorial
Developing Harmonized North American Safety Standards


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by Joel G. Solis, certification/code engineer, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute

The last 100 hundred years has been a remarkable period for the HVAC/R industry. In 1902, the world witnessed the invention of the air-conditioner. Thirteen years later, it saw the birth of the first corporation dedicated to improving air-conditioning technology. By mid-century, what had started as industrial equipment grew into the U.S. $70-billion HVAC/R global industry we know today. Even now, it is the U.S. industry that leads in product development, technical knowledge, and standards development.

The world, however, continues to change and so has the market and demand for HVAC/R technology, equipment, and standards.

The industry has moved beyond the U.S. and has penetrated markets from South America to Europe to Asia, Australia, and Africa. And while some manufacturers have expanded horizontally as well as vertically into these competitive markets, it is the U.S. industry that has been proactive in preventing barriers to trade that arises through the use of nationally developed standards.

Prior to the harmonization of UL1995/CSA236, Heating and Cooling Equipment, between Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), industry had to comply with multiple electrical safety standards for a single piece of equipment. During this period, design input considerations of an indoor furnace would have required compliance to five separate standards. Multiple standards with overlapping scopes resulted in unclear, vague requirements that frustrated equipment designers. It slowed down the product development cycle and forced industry to submit two product submittals—one to UL and another to CSA. Product releases had to be staggered, first to the U.S. and then to Canada. And industry had to maintain two sets of inventory—one with field-installed accessories for the U.S. and the other with factory installed accessories for Canada.

In the late 1980s, the HVAC/R industry sought to reduce the complexity of complying with various national electrical safety standards. It created the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI) Laboratory Liaison Subcommittee (LLC), which was chartered to reduce the frustration associated with product safety listing and approval procedures. Through the LLC efforts, the HVAC/R industry now enjoys having one common set of electrotechnical requirements for the safety of ducted heating and cooling equipment. The bi-national safety standard, which has been accepted by Mexico, has enabled manufacturers to build products that are tested once and accepted throughout North America easing cross border trade. Today, Canada and Mexico remain two of the most significant export markets for U.S. manufacturers.

The benefits of harmonization have far exceeded industry’s expectations. It made the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican manufacturers more competitive in the context of a rapidly globalizing world economy. By reducing the complexity with listing and approval procedures, it effectively reduced the number of design inputs for new and sustaining product development, thereby quickening the product development cycle. A quicker design cycle allowed manufacturers to satisfy market demand sooner. Most of all, it allowed manufacturers to quickly recover the cost associated with product development.

Harmonization has also created competition for manufacturers’ business between U.S. and Canadian safety certification organizations. Today, both UL and CSA compliance marks are accepted in both countries. Manufacturers can now choose between agencies to satisfy both U.S. and Canadian safety concerns. This has helped manufacturers simultaneously release products into the U.S. and Canadian markets, once again quickening the recovery of development cost.

Joel G. Solis is certification/code engineer of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and has been with the organization since February 2000. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in electrical engineering and a legal assistant certificate.

Impact on National Standards

The integration of U.S. and Canadian safety certification organizations into the global arena is having profound implications on National safety standards. The use of International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards by standards development organizations began in the early 1980s.

That was when the International Electrotechnical Committee for Conformity Testing to Standards for Electrical Equipment (IECEE) established a means for mutual acceptance of CB Test Certificates and Test Reports among participating product safety certification organizations. In 1985, it was integrated into the IEC as the IECEE CB Scheme. The CB Scheme, however, is based on IEC standards. To participate in the CB Scheme, a member country’s national standards must be reasonably harmonized with IEC standards. In the case of the HVAC/R industry, IEC standards were independently adopted by the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican electrotechnical standards development organizations. However, each added their own national requirements, resulting in three very different standards. It is the independent national adoption of IEC standards, however, that have placed the common set of requirements that have met North American safety concerns in jeopardy. At some point the U.S. and Canada will need to withdraw from the bi-national standard in favor of national requirements based on IEC 60335-1, Household and similar electrical appliances—Safety—Part 1: General requirements, and IEC 60335-2-40, Household and similar electrical appliances—Safety—Part 2-40: Particular requirements for electrical heat pumps, air-conditioners and dehumidifiers.

It is compliance to various national electrical safety standards that will keep North American manufacturers equipment cost higher than they should be and reduce the economy of scale trading advantage the industry currently enjoys. No one understood this better than Adam Smith, who in 1776 published The Wealth of Nations. Mr. Smith’s book promoted the power of free trade and competition as stimulants to innovation and progress. His principles of free trade form the basis of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Enacted in 1994 as a comprehensive trade agreement, NAFTA improved virtually all aspects of trade in North America. It was during this period that the government of Mexico recognized the newly formed Asociación Nacional de Normalización y Certificación (ANCE) as its national electrical safety standard developer. And it was ANCE which accepted UL 1995/CSA 236 as being equivalent to Mexico’s national standard for ducted equipment making the bi-national standard a North American standard.

Mr. Smith’s philosophy might have anticipated the creation of The World Trade Organization (WTO), the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. The WTO’s main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably, and freely as possible. However, it is the development of national standards—if left unchecked—that could become a technical barrier to trade. That is why the WTO’s umbrella agreement for trade in goods specifically addresses the issue of product standards. It requires members to consider international standards such as ISO and IEC when developing or revising national standards.

Recognizing how vital it is to maintain harmonization in North America, the HVAC/R industry made the decision to convince testing and certification agencies to discontinue proceeding forward with its independent adoption of IEC 60335-2-40. The industry understands all too well that national deviations will create unnecessary technical barriers to cross border trade, increase cost, and lengthen the product development cycle. The industry is working to ensure UL, CSA, and ANCE coordinate their independent national adoption of the IEC standards to minimize, preferably eliminate, any national deviations. That is why ARI and three North American standards development organizations have joined efforts to develop a harmonized North American safety standard under the auspices of Consejo de Armonizacion de Normas Electrotecnicas de las Naciones de las Americas (CANENA). The goal of CANENA is to foster the harmonization of electrotechnical product standards and electrical codes between democracies of the western hemisphere.

UL, CSA, and ANCE, at ARI’s urging, will produce a harmonized North American version of IEC 60335-1 and IEC 60335-2-40. Should national deviations be required, they must be consistent with promoting the acceptance of HVAC/R products into global markets. In addition, the harmonized standards must enjoy the benefits of reciprocity between UL, CSA, and ANCE that ensures maintenance of a single North American standard.

 

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