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issue: January 2005 APPLIANCE European Edition

Quality and Testing
Working Toward a Seamless Market


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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

Standards harmonization and improved testing choices help speed product introductions and cut paperwork.

 
L'obiettivo? Un mercato senza stop
L'industria degli elettrodomestici sta scoprendo che l'armonizzazione degli standard e la scelta di test perfezionati di collaudo riducono il lavoro di routine, contribuendo inoltre a velocizzare il lancio di nuovi prodotti sul mercato.
 
In Richtung eines nahtlosen Markts
Die Haushaltsgeräteindustrie entdeckt, dass eine Vereinheitlichung von Standards und mehr Auswahl bei den Testverfahren nicht nur den Papieraufwand reduziert, sondern auch die Einführung neuer Produkte beschleunigt.
 
Cap sur un marché transparent
Le secteur de l'électroménager constate que l'harmonisation des normes et le choix d'essais disponibles contribuent non seulement à réduire la paperasse, mais aussi à accélérer la commercialisation des nouveaux produits.
 

This Bluetooth laboratory is located in Kista, Sweden. The facility, used by Intertek ETL SEMKO, assesses devices that follow the Bluetooth communication standard.

Globalization implies that companies can produce and market their products seamlessly from one country to another. Of course, it is highly unlikely that such a scenario will ever be completely realized given the reality of political, economic, transportation, language, and product preference differences. Even so, tremendous efforts are being made to ease the flow of products as more manufacturers view their markets in international, even if not necessarily in global, terms.

One important piece in the globalization effort is improved international standards and testing. By all accounts, international standards are becoming more uniform, test results from one country are more likely to be accepted in another, and paperwork is being reduced. Nonetheless, navigating testing and standards is still not for the novice. There are a virtually limitless number of acronyms—UL, CE, CSA, IECEE, ISO, FCC, to name a few—to navigate. To add interest, an acronym might refer either to a standard or to a company that will test to that or other standards. And some acronyms may refer to more than one company or test mark. Straightforward it isn’t.

While harmonized standards make it easier to design and manufacture a product for international markets, they are only part of the picture. In years gone by, getting safety and other approvals internationally sometimes required submitting samples to laboratories in each country where the products were to be sold. This burden has been considerably eased in more recent years, however. One reason is that many testing laboratories have agreements with laboratories in other countries that may allow a company to submit a product in one country and have the results accepted in another. It is also helpful that many testing companies have offices strategically located around the world.

In addition to reaching individual agreements, laboratories can participate in a broader program called the CB Scheme. This is based on the principle of mutual recognition of test results used for obtaining certification or approval at a national level. The scheme is designed to provide convenience to manufacturers and other users of the services provided by National Certification Bodies (NCBs). The NCBs employ testing laboratories known as CB Testing Laboratories. The Scheme is operated by the IECEE (IEC System for Conformity Testing and Certification of Electrical Equipment). Currently, more than 40 countries participate in the program to some degree.

The CB Scheme is intended to reduce obstacles to international trade that arise from having to meet different national certification or approval criteria. Participation of the various NCBs within the CB Scheme is intended to facilitate certification or approval according to IEC standards. Where national standards are not yet completely based on IEC standards, declared national differences are taken into account. However, successful operation of the scheme presupposes that national standards are reasonably harmonized with the corresponding IEC standards.

The Scheme is based on the use of CB Test Certificates that provide evidence that representative specimens of the product have successfully passed tests to show compliance with the requirements of the relevant IEC standard. A supplementary report providing evidence of compliance with declared national differences may also be attached to the report. To date, more than 27,000 certificates have been issued.

“The IECEE CB Scheme is a successful example of the solutions that have been created to make global trade easier by using one test as the basis for market entry in several countries,” contends Gösta Fredriksson, chairman of IECEE’s Certification Management Committee and president of Intertek ETL SEMKO in Europe, Middle East, and Africa. But, he warns, “Although most countries agree about the importance of joint standards as a way of creating trade without borders, we still have some way to go before this becomes reality.”

Following the Fleet

Mr. Fredriksson notes that in his more than 40-year testing and conformity assessment career, he has seen small, local, and often isolated markets grow into regional markets, and now he is seeing the move toward a global market. Many of the most successful players in the appliance industry are part of this international trend as they establish new operations and joint ventures or purchase companies in other countries.

It is hardly surprising, then, that testing companies are doing the same. Many of the familiar names have offices or laboratories in key markets and are starting to take full advantage of them. TÜV Rheinland Group, for instance, has more than 300 offices worldwide. In one promotion, it is offering testing packages in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Sourcing—Products for Home, Garden, and Ambience Show. The show premiers in Cologne, Germany in February 2005. The company says the TÜV certification guarantees exhibitors a rapid market launch and optimal marketing within Europe. At the same time, certification will guarantee show visitors that the quality standard of the products on display has been assessed.

Within Europe, Intertek ETL SEMKO is emphasizing the advantages of using its “S” Mark. Louise Borglund, marketing officer, points out that this will serve as a single mark to convey impartial testing for entry into the EU market. “As a European safety mark, it communicates that the products are safe to more than 450 million people,” she says.

“I’m seeing corporate consolidation in the testing area,” observes Michael L. Hetzel, vice president/Americas of Pro QC International North America, Inc. (McHenry, IL, U.S.). “Some companies are rolling up various testing agencies. I think this is a business-driven acquisition strategy and not unique to the testing industry. It would be the same situation if they made widgets.”

At the same time, Mr. Hetzel says he is seeing a redistribution of laboratories. “Customers are asking for labs that are in proximity to the product sources,” he says. “If there is to be a post-mortem on test results, customers want to be able to discuss results on a local basis. We are seeing new labs, especially in China.”

Following the trend, Mr. Hetzel says Pro QC International has opened a new lab at its facility in Ningbo, China. He adds, however, that industry may see migration of laboratories to other countries, as costs and congestion in China increase. “Standards harmonization and the relocation of laboratories benefits our clients,” Mr. Hetzel explains. “It increases their freedom and options to pick the best supply chain location. Appliance companies can more easily locate where they can competently and inexpensively produce products that meet international standards. They can pick a location where the logistics and infrastructure work well. Also, they can engage in a third market strategy, in which they can sell their products both in the country where they are made and in other international markets.”

Randall Luecke, president of CSA International (Toronto, Canada), finds consolidation and globalization in testing laboratories hardly surprising. “Basically, the labs are doing what the manufacturers have done,” he says. “It’s now a matter of being where the manufacturers are. That means having a global presence, and especially in Asia, as manufacturing shifts there.”

To meet the challenge, CSA International is emphasizing partnerships with testing companies in other countries. “We are working with a number of agencies similar to us around the world,” says Mr. Luecke. “We have a good dialog with our partners. These relationships make life a little easier for our customers since we can be a one-stop shop for their certification and compliance efforts.”

Dr. Ulf Schmidt, product director, machinery, information technology, and consumer products unit of TÜV America Inc. (Danvers, MA, U.S.), adds that only global players will survive in the near future. “Manufacturers want a company that can help them with approvals worldwide,” he says. “Along these lines, we offer the TÜV CUE Mark, which indicates compliance to Canadian (C), United States (U), and European (E) standards. But even more, customers want assistance through the entire development and production process, and they want all their questions to be answered locally and in a timely fashion. With expertise and facilities around the world, the global players will be able to meet these needs.”

Safety Law Changes

In determining how to address product safety, appliance producers in most countries deal primarily with testing and certification organizations and voluntary standards. However, government actions and laws have an inevitable impact. In the European Union (EU), laws have been changing as it works for a more uniform legal framework.

Recently, Germany implemented a law that, among other things, sets up new manufacturer responsibilities. The Equipment and Product Safety Act (GPSG), which came into force on May 1, 2004, applies to consumer products and technical equipment and affects all manufacturers (with some exceptions), importers, and dealers that export products to Germany. The GPSG encompasses the Device Safety Law (GSG) and the Product Safety Law (ProdSG), thereby eliminating a multiplicity of rules. The GPSG implements the European Union (EU) product safety directive dating from 2001 as national law.

“The GPSG imposes new obligations on manufacturers and suppliers,” explains Dr. Hermann Buitkamp, member of the board of management for the international testing body, TÜV Product Service, a member of the TÜV SÜD Group. “For example, they will need to give more weight to the implications of ‘foreseeable incorrect use’ as a condition of the products’ safety. Can the mixer be put to use as curling tongs? Or the laser pointer used as a light sword?”

Under the new law, a product can only be introduced into the market if it does not endanger the safety and health of the consumer. If this is not found to be the case, the manufacturer, agent, or importer must report to the authorities, which are empowered to enforce increased market surveillance checks under the GPSG. In addition, every product must now bear the name of the manufacturer. If the manufacturer is not from the EU, then the name of the agent or importer is required. Manufacturers, agents, or importers must also take precautions to enable them to respond appropriately to dangers. Actions range from recalls to providing consumer information.

Failure to comply with the new regulations can result in costly liability claims. “Those who follow every aspect of the GPSG cannot rest easy, however, as German liability law extends beyond this and takes account of other legal principles,” points out Elizabeth Schulten, corporate communications for TÜV Süddeutschland Holding AG (Munich, Germany). “Above all, the Civil Code applies.”

Dueling Signals & Overcoming Cost Hurdles

Testing, of course, is also about performance. Many products are tested and certified for EMC (electromagnetic compatibility). Europe and some other markets have EMC standards for major appliances, consumer electronics, and other appliances. Standards like CISPR 14-1 , CISPR 14-2, and others from the IEC 61000-X-X series are used throughout the EU and internationally for EMC evaluation.

“For major appliances, there is a common and increasing reliance on electronic circuits, microprocessors, and simple electronic controls,” points out Tim Dwyer, EMC program manager at TUV Rheinland of North America, Inc. (Newtown, CT, U.S.). “These electronics can both contribute RF noise and be affected by it. The real benefit of EMC is that an appliance can perform better and last longer. EMI (electromagnetic interference) can destroy controls, or cause the appliance to do unexpected things. Who wants a dishwasher to start on its own at random times, for instance? While some people look at assuring EMC as something that is simply costing more money, the process actually results in a better appliance.”

Line filters, Mr. Dwyer adds, are often used to provide the needed performance. “This is the easy choice, especially if a company is pressed for time in its design cycle,” he observes. “However, a careful design can sometimes reduce or eliminate the need for these filters.”

Testing companies can provide an evaluation and test report, which can allow a manufacturer to self-certify when it has met the EMC standard. Mr. Dwyer adds that many customers go beyond this and get a test mark. In Europe, for example, this is a marketing advantage since consumers look for third-party compliance marks on the products they purchase.

Product testing and certification is one area where costs can be lowered, suggests George Gruss, director of U.S. Operations, CSA International (Cleveland, OH, U.S.). He adds that certification providers are teaming up with manufacturers to help reduce costs.

Many testing and certification companies, he says, have made significant capital investments aimed at streamlining internal procedures and enhancing customer service—all to benefit their manufacturing customers. One example, notes Mr. Gruss, is that CSA recently upgraded its information handling systems. This reduced project paperwork, improved customer access to information, and, as a result, allowed its technical staff to focus on testing and certifying products. “These changes are intended to benefit manufacturers and help them gain an edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” he says.

Determining how to test a product to the applicable standards is not always a straightforward process. In these cases, tapping the expertise of the testing and certification organizations becomes even more important. “Consider the unique challenges presented by an appliance that doesn’t fall neatly within the parameters of a known standard,” says Mr. Gruss.

To help in these types of situations, his company has a Requirements Review Committee (RRC) that can prepare an interim document outlining the specific testing requirements a unique product must comply with to obtain certification

While nobody is contending that appliance standards and testing is a simple subject, considerable strides have been made to simplify these areas for appliance producers, and more steps will be taken. Participating in these changes, perhaps as a member of a standards committee, may be one way to keep abreast of this dynamic system. In any event, be prepared to take advantage of changes in standards and testing, as they will inevitably continue at a rapid pace.

 

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