July 1st, 2020

Product certification – our expert’s guide to why, what, how… and more

Product certification is something you can’t ignore – especially when it comes to electrical safety. But it can be a bit of an ordeal to navigate your way around its complexities. How do you know what products must be certified? Who do you need to certify them with? And do you have to get your products certified in every country you operate?

Andrea Peratello, our product manager, is responsible for overseeing the manufacturing process and certification of all Midstream products. So, we’ve asked him to guide us through the world of CEs, ENECs, ULs, and CBs

Andrea, why do we have product certification?

Nearly every product needs some sort of certification to prove it complies with market standards.

So, to keep this as short, focused, and useful I’m just going to talk about electrical products. And the short answer here, on the whole, is customer safety. Here it’s not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s absolutely essential and in most cases mandatory. There are also benefits for manufactures to make sure their products have been certified too.

Let’s look at customer safety first. Imagine Christmas is approaching, and you need to get your child the latest, must-have, electronic walking and talking doll. Which would you feel more comfortable buying? The official version that’s been thoroughly tested, certified as safe, and has the quality marks to prove it? Or one from a local market that looks virtually the same, but hasn’t got any product certification marks? I know which I’d go for. In this context, it’s all about guaranteeing product quality and giving customers peace-of-mind.

For manufactures, having your products certified can give you a competitive edge. And, if the worst should happen and one of your products develops a serious fault, it shows you’ve put product testing and your customers’ safety high on your agenda. Would you like to turn up in court with no proof you’ve done either of these?

What is the CE mark?

The Conformité Européene (European Conformity) CE mark is an EU wide compulsory, quality standard mark.

It’s there to show a manufacturer guarantees a product complies with any relevant European Directives. And if you want to market any product or an updated version of it, you need to make sure it carries the CE mark – no matter where it’s made in the world.

For some industries, like ours, this guarantee and use of the mark can be based on a manufacturer’s tests only. A word of warning though, you can’t just make up your own tests. They must prove you’re meeting the relevant directives. And whatever you do, don’t forget to keep all your test documents and results so you can prove what you claim. Believe it or not, some companies have failed to keep their results and have had to face the consequences of not having them.

However, third-party testing and verification are needed in some other industries, like medical equipment manufacturing.

What about the ENEC mark? If I’ve got my CE mark do I need this too?

ENEC (European Norms European Certification) is the EU quality mark especially for electrical products, including lighting. It doesn’t replace or take priority over CE certification – so you’ll still need that.

It’s there to prove your products are safe in accordance with any relevant EU regulations or directives, like the Low Voltage Directive. It’s a voluntary mark, so you don’t need to get it.
But, as I was saying earlier, it’s additional proof for customers that your product is safe. And having it can help you stand out from any competitors who don’t.

To use the ENEC mark on your products they all need to be independently tested by laboratories such as BSI. And they need to be retested every two years to allow you to keep using the mark.

The USA has its own UL marking. Is it different from European markings?

UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, a USA third-party certification company founded in 1894.

UL no-longer just tests products, however. It’s now responsible for setting industry standards on products being marketed in the USA. It can also authorise manufactures to test and certify their products using UL standards.

The UL certification covers a broad variety of goods – not just electrical products. Just like the European CE and ENEC marks in Europe, it’s there to show a product has passed tests and it complies with U.S. and Canadian safety standards.

The UL mark isn’t 100% mandatory. But, to give you some idea if its reach and importance, around 14 billion products with the UL seal of approval enter the global marketplace each year.

What about the CB (Certification Body) scheme? What does that do?

Basically, the CB scheme is there to save you the time, hassle, and money of having to get your product certified for each market’s regulations.

It’s based on a multilateral agreement on the use of internationally recognised electrical and electronic product safety standards. And it operates through a global network of CB laboratories who test products to confirm they meet the standards needed.

These laboratories submit their results to national certification bodies, like UL. These certification bodies can then allow access to their markets for CB tested products. So there’s no need for further, potentially costly, and time-consuming national testing.

This doesn’t mean only one mark is needed to cover all markets though. It just makes getting, for example, the UL mark easier if you already have your ENEC mark.

How is certification checked?

After you’ve done all the work to get your products certified it’s not the time to sit back and think you’ve done all you need. Far from it.

You have to keep making sure your product maintains its standards. This is because compliance with ENEC and UL standards is strictly monitored by third-parties – who can do things like factory inspections to scrutinise manufacturing processes. And if your standards have slipped, you’ll lose the right to use their marks.

If you want to see if a particular product has achieved an ENEC or UL mark, you can easily check their certified product databases. They’re there for anyone to consult.

Is there any extra testing needed to work at airports, ports, and sports stadia?

No. The CE, ENEC, and UL don’t have any additional tests or requirements for working in these areas. Horticultural lighting, another of our sectors, is on the whole subject to the same electrical safety standards as traditional lighting. However, UL has recently introduced UL 8800 that includes a new series of product evaluations for things like the photobiological effects on the human eyes and skin of a light source. This is particularly relevant to horticultural lighting.

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