A number of crises in the past year, including tainted food products coming into the U.S. marketplace and lead paint found on children's toys from abroad, have led many consumers in North America to question the safety of products coming from other countries. In addition, counterfeiting has become a global phenomenon, with untested and sometimes unsafe products being brought into people's homes and businesses, while also siphoning billions of dollars from legitimate manufacturers worldwide.
How do these issues interrelate and what are some possible solutions for both the manufacturing and the testing and certification industries? One solution is earlier engagement and collaboration by manufacturers with testing and certification organizations, even as early as the initial design phase. This early collaboration helps ensure that a manufacturer's products comply with relevant international, bi-national and/or national standards. In addition, given the need for strict quality and safety consideration when adapting products for the global marketplace, the testing and certification industry is expanding its knowledge and capacity to better serve the manufacturing industry.
Our industry is helping to streamline the process by forging close co-operation with foreign governments, regulators, standards development organizations and other stakeholders to keep all parties informed about upcoming opportunities for new products and to understand the technical requirements in each country. For instance, several testing organizations have the capability to test a product in China for entry into North America and, because of alliances across Europe and Asia, can help expedite product entry into these markets as well. Thus, the engagement of one resource can expedite entry into multiple markets, saving resources and time while also filling a market demand for certified products.
For the electrical industry, the International Electrotechnical Commission for Electrical Equipment (IECEE) created the CB Scheme. The CB Scheme allows manufacturers to have a product tested once by a National Certification Body (NCB), and then use the test results to gain certification acceptance worldwide. The goal, according to IECEE, is to "promote harmonization of the national standards with international standards" and to move closer to the ideal concept of 'one product, one test, one mark.'
Product testing and certification is the final step of the design and development process before a product is released to market. Any failure during this phase results in a manufacturer losing valuable time, money and other resources. To minimize failure at this critical phase, testing and certification organizations have assumed the role of technical experts and begun providing guidance to clients at earlier stages of product development. Taking this concept a step further, new consulting organizations have been established to provide specific services to clients including helping to establish design and testing protocols ahead of final testing, and helping clients address global manufacturing and supply chain issues such as a product's shipping durability for distribution through the global supply chain. Ultimately, these types of services help ensure that quality and distribution issues are identified early in the manufacturing and distribution process and help avoid costly redesigns and recertification submissions.
Certification Labs Setting up Shop Abroad
Product certification serves multiple purposes including protecting a company's brand reputation, helping ease entry into new markets and providing consumer confidence. To assist manufacturing clients in obtaining a certification mark and to help ensure the safety of consumers worldwide, the certification and testing industry has followed the lead of manufacturers and expanded operations to foreign countries.
Several testing and certification organizations have opened laboratories in various provinces of China. The labs enable organizations to work more directly with manufacturers and foreign governments, ultimately improving quality and safety and speeding up time to market. In addition, operating in the same time zone and in the same language allows for ongoing dialog between parties and reduces the time needed for review and response to issues.
Having labs in multiple global locations also serves to combat counterfeiting. Certification organizations can work closely with the government and relevant stakeholders to identify counterfeiters, and at the same time help legitimate companies receive certification for their products. Ensuring safe and tested products are introduced to the marketplace in a timely manner, with a recognized and accepted certification mark, ultimately helps stem the demand, supply and distribution of counterfeit products.
Looking ahead, as our world becomes a more seamless global marketplace, there is little doubt that manufacturers will continue to search for opportunities to reduce costs and expedite the introduction of products by operating facilities in countries that best serve their business needs. It is the responsibility of our industry to adapt to these trends and make the independent third party certification process as efficient as possible to ensure that product quality and safety, coupled with consumer protection and satisfaction, remain top priorities.
Randall W. Luecke is President of CSA International, a global provider of product testing and certification services for electrical, mechanical, plumbing and gas products. Recognized in the U.S., Canada and around the world, CSA International certification marks appear on billions of products worldwide. http://www.csa-international.org/