Product certification is an industry must. It ensures that products meet the quality and safety standards required by applicable regulations. This process is a way for manufacturers to prove that their products have been tested and evaluated by independent third parties to ensure compliance. It can also enhance consumer confidence in the products they buy by providing an additional guarantee of their quality and safety.
The ways and means for getting a product certified can vary depending on the type of product and the country where a company wants to sell it. Product certification is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of current guidelines and regulations, certification agencies and the steps to follow to get a product certified.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the key steps to successful product certification.
Describe the product
What are its functions? What does it contain? In what context is it used? Is it used indoors or outdoors? In what sort of environment will it be used? All these questions and more should be asked and answered to determine the certification requirements.
The existence of electronic components and lasers, the type of power supply and the presence of batteries or radio modules will determine which standards a manufacturer must comply with in order to design a safe high-quality product that is dependable in use and durable over time. To do this, it’s necessary to identify all the elements that constitute a risk in the assembly, use and maintenance of the product.
Identify target markets
After determining the specifications for the product being manufactured, the company must identify the markets in which it plans to sell and export the product.
Identifying target markets is a crucial step in the product certification process as it helps determine the specific certification requirements for each of these markets. Certification requirements vary from one market to the next depending on factors such as applicable guidelines and regulations in the target market or the product’s context of use (lab, industry, medical, hazardous areas like refineries).
Standards may vary by country, industry and product type. They may include requirements for safety, performance and energy efficiency. These standards can be found online or by consulting a certification body such as CSA or UL.
By identifying target markets, companies can be sure their product meets the guidelines and regulations for each individual market, making it easier to enter these markets and increasing the confidence of customers and business partners alike.
This step is crucial for the rest of the certification plan. It will help with evaluating the costs and timing of each of the activities related to certification. Depending on the certification plan, it will be possible to define how many systems should be reserved and used for certification purposes.
Establish the standards assessment
After identifying the target markets where the new product will be sold, the next important step is to undertake a complete standards assessment for the target markets and for the application of the future product.
A standards assessment is a document that lists the requirements and standards that apply to a given product or service. When pursuing product certification, preparing a standards assessment ensures that the product satisfies the regulatory and standards requirements that apply in the markets for which the product is intended.
This task consists of identifying all the standards that must be addressed to meet the certification requirements for the product being developed. For example, laws in both the United States and Canada require that any device connected to the electrical grid must bear a recognized certification seal. Whether the device designed for internal use or for sale, certification proves that products, services or processes comply with a national or international standard and ensures that the product will be safe for its user.
The standards assessment should be presented to the design team so they can consider it as they go about creating the product. It’s also a way to start the conversation with certification agencies.
Work with the design teams
Close collaboration between the certification and design teams is the key to successful certification. By working with the design teams to design the product, the certification team is able to identify relevant certification requirements and link them to the technical requirements of the product. This collaboration is a way to keep an eye on the product’s design, with the requirements of the applicable standards in mind, especially when it comes to electrical, electronic and mechanical design.
As an example, a product that uses a laser will have to comply with laser safety requirements from the IEC-60825-1 standard. In some cases (depending on the laser class for the final product) interlock switches that deactivate the laser when the enclosure is opened may need to be installed as a safety measure to protect the user from unsuitable radiation. The design team will have to be aware of this constraint when they design the product, so they can plan for the addition of interlock switches in the finished version. In addition, user warning labels must be affixed to the equipment and included in the user and installation manuals. They must be easily affixed and visible to warn of a hazard.
Even if the product doesn’t exist yet, it’s important to consider the certification requirements as they guide the design of the product towards successful certification.
A product intended for outdoor use in temperatures ranging from -30°C in winter to 40°C in summer will need to undergo reliability testing to operate in these extreme weather conditions.
In addition, vibration testing can be performed to simulate the transportation of merchandise that will be shipped far from the factory of origin via rail, road, air, sea and more. In order to survive transportation, design teams need to develop a package that withstands impacts and arrives at its destination intact and in perfect working order. Eco-design is another interesting aspect to discuss with product development teams. This approach is used to design the product so that it can be easily assembled. It also helps focus on the modularity of the system so that it can be easily repaired in the field. Eco-design also contributes to the environmental aspect because it makes it possible to effectively plan the product’s life cycle.
Nowadays, there is another growing trend in the certification of products containing software, namely cybersecurity, which affects all connected products whose integrity could be compromised by external threats. Radio equipment connected to an external Internet network could be a gateway to the company’s information system and an entry point for cybercriminals. This concern should be considered as early as possible in the product’s design. In Europe, for example, the RED 2014/53/EU radio equipment directive will add a cybersecurity component in August 2024.
To successfully prepare for certification, the company will need to gather all the documents related to the product that the certification agency will require. These include the user manual, installation manual and technical drawings, as well as environment-related records.
In some cases, depending on the regulations and guidelines in the country concerned, the certification agency may need to see a list of the product’s components to ensure that it meets the safety and quality standards in force. This is known as the BOM (Bill of Materials). From this, a list of critical components will be made. It will be audited four times a year by the agency that granted its label.
Documents may also include proof of compliance demonstrating that the company is in compliance with the certification standards, such as audit reports or certificates of compliance and calibration.
Choose your certification agency
Once its product has met the standards, the company must hire a notified certification body to conduct an independent assessment of its compliance with the applicable standards. It may request test-related documents and any other required documents, like the user manual and the quick start guide. The product and its specifications must be submitted to the selected agency so it can develop a technical test plan for certification.
The notified body will conduct an initial inspection of the manufacturing facility where the product will be manufactured to ensure that manufacturing and quality control processes are in place. The certification body will conduct a thorough evaluation of the product, assessing its compliance with applicable standards and conducting laboratory tests. If compliant, the company will receive its certificate of compliance confirming that the product satisfies the standards. A full certification report will also be provided at the end of the process. This will mean that the manufacturing company will have the right to affix the notified agency’s label.
Some markets require specific marking. For example, CSA is popular in Canada, while in Europe TUV is often preferred. Overall, the agencies resemble one another and are all equivalent. Whether CSA, UL, TUV, Intertek, NEMKO or QPS, the agency chosen—and consequently the marking—may come down to a question of image depending on the region, the environment where the equipment will be installed or even the marketing stance according to the country and the market for which the product is intended. Since all notified agencies are recognized, the final decision may also depend on how close the lab is, the relationship and the service, as well as the lab’s competence and specialty.
Product certification doesn’t last forever. The company must make sure its product continues to satisfy the standards. This is achieved through regular audits by the certification agency for the purpose of maintaining certification. The company must also be vigilant and keep an eye on changes to applicable standards. This is why keeping a standards watch is so important for the manufacturer if it wants its product to remain compliant.
Choosing a certification agency means choosing a long-term partner who will handle not only certification but also maintaining it.
Identify available grants
The certification process can be expensive. In every corner of the world, there are organizations that offer grants for product certification according to the field of activity. Types of certification include quality, the environment, health and safety.
For example, the Government of Canada has developed the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) to help Canadian companies develop and market innovative products and technologies. The IRAP provides financial support for research and development activities and also for product pre-certification. Eligible companies can receive an amount that covers a percentage of the eligible costs associated with the certification of their product, up to a maximum amount per project. The interactive tour could be a tool to begin some of the activities related to pre-certification.
In conclusion, the certification process requires a great deal of time, money and effort. It’s a long and tedious exercise that requires an excellent knowledge of the procedures and certification requirements for each country where a company wishes to sell its products. But it’s absolutely worthwhile, as product certification opens the doors to the various markets it covers. It allows manufacturers to sell their products internationally without their equipment being shut out of markets they wish to conquer. To learn more about the benefits of product certification, read 3 Reasons to Invest in Product Compliance and Certification.