Definitions

Product_certification

Product certification

Product certification or product qualification is the process of certifying that a certain product has passed performance and quality assurance tests or qualification requirements stipulated in regulations such as a building code and nationally accredited test standards, or that it complies with a set of regulations governing quality and minimum performance requirements. For an example treatise on the subject, see ULC's statement

Certification of products

Certification of products may indicate their established suitability for a specified purpose (e.g. a computer system might be certified as being fully compatible with a large software package). For an IT compatibility example, see this and that

Certification is stringent in aerospace applications, since the demands for low weight tend to lead to high stress on components, requiring appropriate metalurgy and accuracy in manufacturing.

The widespread availability of the Internet has led to a new kind of certification for websites. Website certifications exist to certify the website's privacy policy, security of their financial transactions, suitability for minors, etc.

Products, once certified, may be endorsed with a quality mark or be eligible to display a certification mark.

Products must be used in accordance with their listing in order to perform as intended.

In broadcast engineering, transmitters and radio antennaa often must by certified by the broadcasting authority. In the United States, this is called type acceptance by the FCC, and applies to most services except amateur radio (due to its inherent homebrew nature). In recent years, this has been weakened to type notification, which means that manufacturers are allowed to "approve" their own products, without the oversight of independent testing.

Process

Everything starts with a national authority that can accredit the following:

  • national standards
  • standards writing organizations
  • certification organizations
  • testing organizations

An example of a national accreditor is the Standards Council of Canada

Examples of organiations that fit all of SCC's accreditation categories listed here, are Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada (ULC), an affiliate of Underwriters Laboratories or TUV Rheinland of North America an affiliate of TÜV Rheinland Group. ULC is accredited in Canada to not only conduct tests, but also to provide certification, and to author national standards, through the use of consensus committees.

Germany's equivalent of Canada's SCC, where it comes to the products used in the construction sector is Deutsches Institut für Bautechnik (DIBt), which translates to German Institute for Building Technology.

Accreditors routinely audit those whom they have accredited, meaning that the maintenance of the accreditation level such an organisation has achieved must continue, in theory, to be earned.

The idea is that there is documented compliance on the part of accredited organisations to do what they are supposed to do.

Test reports that are only based on testing, and not on certification, are done for the interests of the submittor, but are not used to comply with code requirements.

Accredited Certification Organisations: Earning a certification mark involves an entirely different regime. First of all, a submittor (usually a manufacturer of a product) is required to turn over his entire process standard to the certification organisation. This includes all information necessary to make the product, including descriptions of the equipment, how to run it, purchasing specifications for ingredients or components and quality control measures for the ingredients and components as they arrive in the factory or are made there, as well as the entire product, once assembled or otherwise made. With a process standard, one has all required knowledge about how to manufacture the product. This document in hand, the certification organisation dispatches an inspector or an engineer to witness the manufacture of the product that is intended to be tested.

The product intended to be tested is packaged ready for transit, officially sealed and then sent directly to the laboratory where the testing will be conducted in accordance with the nationally accredited standard, by the subject organisation that is accredited nationally both for testing and for certification.

While in North America, certification organisations are typically trusted with confidential process standards, in Germany, the accredited laboratories only typically receive quality control information, whereas the process standards themselves are submitted to DIBt There have been no known cases of misappropriations of process standard information on the part of the German government. Certification organisations in North America however, which are typically private sector companies, have been known to have staff members with security clearances for process standards leave and then work for private sector manufacturers, where product offerings were soon expanded. As a result of the hesitancy this has caused some submittors, some North American certifiers have had to offer "fingerprinting" methods that bypass the usual process standard regime, in the case of products that are not protected by patents.

Once the product has landed in the laboratory, the seal that was previously applied by the inspector is officially broken and assembly of the item in a test rig may commence. This is a crucial phase. Certifiers must observe the construction of test specimens to avoid any possible cheating on the part of the submittor or parties affiliated with the submittor. The allure for an unethical submittor is to have a product certified that may be less expensive than what he or she actually had tested. As a result of documented abuses in this field, certifiers typically reserve the right to re-test as a cautionary measure to ward off such behaviour. While de-listing of a submittor is not an everyday occurrence, it has happened many time, the world over, which is the cause for having strict and mandatory certification regimes in place. De-listing has, at times, occurred, not necessarily as a result of deliberate wrongdoing, but, at times, because of a deterioration in the quality of certain product components or ingredients, particularly natural ones, such as mined ores.

If the test passes and achieves a rating, (e.g., a fire-resistance rating of a firestop, or an electrical safety rating for a toaster), a test report is issued which includes a certification listing. The listing is used by an Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), such as a municipal building inspector, fire prevention officer, or electrical inspector, to compare the product's use or installation with the intent of the rating by testing. In order to comply with the code, the listing must be "active", as products and companies can become "de-listed" as a result of improprieties or a business decision by the manufacturer.

An active certification listing indicates three things:

  • The product is being made under a certification, or follow-up agreement that exists between the manufacturer and the certification organisation, such as ULC This means that the certifier will conduct up to 4 unannounced factory audits per year, for the purpose of ensuring that the product being made and sold is still identical to that which was tested.
  • The product's packaging, literature and the manufacturer's promotional information is authorised to use the certification mark.
  • The listing is a matter of public record, not proprietary, and is listed in the certification listings directory of the certification organisation

In the case of Germany, the accredited testing organisation routinely audits manufacturing locations and submits quality control test results to DIBt While the German laboratories do not possess process standards, their methodology can uncover changes in the nature and quality of ingredients, as DIBt establishes very clear tolerances for performance. De-listing can occur in the case of non-compliance. Trends in quality are identified very early and brought to the attention of all stakeholders to enable the prevention of problems.

The certification marks are easy to see and enable users to track down the certification listings to determine the tolerances that guide field use, and whether or not the listing is still active.

Countries and industries without mandatory certification

North America's nuclear industry is exempt from mandatory certification. This has allowed situations leading to large amounts of remedial work, especially for fireproofing of electrical circuits (circuit integrity) between nuclear reactor and control rooms in the US. In this case, submittors were permitted to dictate not only their test procedures, but also to construct test specimens in their own facilities, prior to fire tests on the part of laboratories. The primary example of this situation is the Theromo-Lag Scandal, which came about as a result of disclosures by whistleblower Gerald W. Brown to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as watchdog groups, members of US Congress and the press.

The United Kingdom is also unique among western industrialised nations, as product certification is entirely optional.

Where product certification is optional, one must rely on the ethics of the manufacturer that the item being sold is identical to the item that was tested, and that the item that was tested was in fact installed the way the test report reads. The test report by itself also does not afford its bona fide interpretation in terms of the tolerances that a certification listing would provide.

An overview of market access regulations can be given for example by http://fita.org/countries/ and http://marketaccess.tuv.com.

See also

External links

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