issue: December 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine
Quality & Testing
Testing and Certification for the North American Marketplace
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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor
Product testing and certification is a legal requirement for companies that export products to the North American marketplace. Product certification shows buyers that a manufacturer's product meets standards for safety and performance that are required by law for the U.S. and Canada.
When selecting testing and certification organizations, manufacturers now have more options to choose from than ever before. By comparing the service, cost, and other factors, manufacturers can bring new products to market sooner and lower certification costs.
The Roles of Testing Organizations and Standards Developers
It is important to understand the differences between testing organizations and standards developers. Standards developers prepare, update, and distribute product standards on behalf of standards development committees. Testing and certification organizations evaluate products for compliance with the requirements of the applicable standards. In some cases, organizations may be involved in both standards publishing and product testing and certification. However, just because an organization publishes a standard does not mean that they must be the ones to test and certify products against that standard. Any accredited testing organization can test and certify products against the applicable standards.
Certification marks indicate or confirm that a product or component meets applicable standards for safety and/or performance. Some of the marks issued for products sold in the U.S. include CSA International, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Intertek Group Plc (ETL), and TUV Rheinland of North America (TUV).
Why Accreditation Matters
A testing and certification organization must be properly accredited to test products for North America. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. accredits product testing and certification organizations as qualified to test and certify that electrical, gas, and other products meet U.S. standards. OSHA-accredited facilities are known as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs).
In addition to OSHA, other bodies accredit organizations as qualified to test products for the U.S. market. They include the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and National Evaluation Services (NES). The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) accredits testing and certification organizations for the Canadian market.
There are many organizations that are accredited to test and certify various types of products. This allows manufacturers to select a certification organization based on timing, cost, convenience, and other considerations that are important to them. This ensures that there is sufficient capacity in the testing industry to meet the needs of all manufacturers. If all manufacturers had to use the same laboratory, product testing would take longer and there would be no competitive pressure to control costs.
In addition to testing products, testing and certification organizations can help manufacturers when they are designing new products. Many laboratories offer customers a pre-evaluation or consultation while new products are in the design stage. Identifying and correcting design concerns before submitting a product for certification can save time and eliminate costly redesigns.
Periodically, existing standards are updated and new standards are written to address new technologies and new product safety concerns. For example, gas water heaters sold in the U.S. now require spill and lint testing to prevent the ignition of flammable vapors. To keep up with these changing standards, manufacturers can rely on the know-how of experienced testing and certification laboratories.
How the Testing and Certification Process Works
When a new product is ready to be tested and certified, the manufacturer requests a proposal from one or more testing and certification laboratories that are qualified to test the product to the applicable standards.
When requesting an estimate from a certification organization, manufacturers should provide the following information:
a data sheet describing the product (what it is, what it does, and what it looks like)
where the product will be used
a photo of the product
a list of all components or materials used in the product, as well as the manufacturer's name, model, or catalog number, electrical rating (if applicable) and certification organization file number (if applicable)
any alternate materials or components that may be used in the product
schematic or wiring diagrams if the product is electrical or
the model or catalog numbers to be covered by the certification and the similarities between different models
the full name and address of all facilities where the product will be assembled and a contact person for each facility
the countries in which the product will be sold
Sample products submitted for testing should be identical to the final version that will be manufactured. In one instance, a manufacturer submitted a controller for testing. Just before the sample was sent to the testing organization, the manufacturer indicated that the final version would “not be exactly the same.” This statement could indicate cosmetic changes or major design changes. In this instance, the company meant that the printed circuit board in the controller was being changed. Delays in product testing and certification resulted while the new circuit board was examined for compliance.
Product testing can be performed at a manufacturer's facilities-eliminating the time and expense of shipping a product to a testing laboratory. However, the organization must first qualify the manufacturer's staff and facilities to ensure that personnel understand the applicable standards and test methods, that the proper testing equipment is available, and that the equipment is properly calibrated.
If and when the product meets all the applicable requirements, the testing and certification organizations will provide a certification report and a Certificate of Compliance. The product is then considered certified and a licensing agreement for the use of the testing organization's certification mark(s) is finalized. The product is also listed in the organization's directory listing.
This information is provided by Dr. Chang-yu Wu, regulatory consultant, CSA International.