28 February 2012
Product testing passport gives access to all areas
On an increasingly technologically level playing field, brand reputation sets one manufacturer apart from another. A significant part of that reputation comes from a positive user experience, created through safe and reliable products that satisfy the intended use, meet consumer expectation and don't harm anyone.
Yet, because CE marking relies on a manufacturer's declaration that the product complies with the relevant European legislation, there is no guarantee that a product is safe. It is increasingly common for less scrupulous manufacturers to simply affix the CE marking, sign the declaration of conformity and not bother testing products.
For those manufacturers wary of the pitfalls of CE marking self declaration and who are looking to ensure their products are deemed safe, the CB Scheme offers something beyond wider access to international markets.
CE marking remains an EU requirement for imported goods and responsible manufacturers will want to ensure their products meet the legislation. The good news is the CB Scheme encompasses all of the requirements of CE marking regulations, delivering to manufacturers the evidence they need to declare and prove CE marking compliance.
The CB scheme is gaining in popularity because it is more regulated and is controlled by the IEC System for Conformity testing and Certification of Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE).
The CB Scheme is the first international system for the mutual acceptance of test reports and certificates for electrical and electronic components, equipment and products. It offers a single test that gives manufacturers access to international markets for their electronic products, covering electrical safety and emc. It encompasses 22 product categories, ranging from entertainment equipment and toys to portable tools and medical equipment. Most certificates issued covering IT/office equipment, domestic white goods and domestic audio/video products.
The main objective of the CB Scheme is to facilitate trade by promoting the harmonisation of individual national standards with international ones, and to bring manufacturers a step closer to the utopian ideal of 'one test, one market'. This multilateral agreement, which reduces the need for duplicate testing significantly, is operational in more than 50 countries and is being used by more than 15,000 manufacturers. It is also widely accepted beyond the countries that participate in the scheme.
While the CB Scheme is gaining popularity, many companies still seem reluctant to take advantage. Instead, they continue to apply for testing and certificates with a plethora of certification bodies to gain access to individual export markets. By not taking the CB Scheme route, development costs are higher and time to market for new products is slowed significantly, potentially making products more expensive and less competitive once they do hit the market.
Under the CB Scheme, the National Committee of each member country designates a National Certification Body (NCB) or Bodies, which are responsible for issuing CB Test Certificates. The testing is conducted by CB Test Laboratories (CBTLs) affiliated to the NCBs. There are currently 75 NCBs and 359 CBTLs worldwide, with more than 170,000 valid CB certificates in circulation. Tests are based on the use of international (IEC/CISPR) standards and the resultant CB Test Certificate proves that a product complies with those standards.
Every three years, these test laboratories are audited to ensure a consistent level of testing standards worldwide. The audits, conducted by competitors to the laboratory being reviewed, help to create a mutual sense of trust within the CB Scheme and to encourage international acceptance of testing.
Taking the import green channel
Before the CB Scheme, the only option for a manufacturer was to have their products tested and certified by many different national testing laboratories/certification bodies: a difficult, time consuming and expensive process.
The CB Scheme follows three simple steps:
* Product submitted to CBTL for testing in accordance with International Standards and the National Deviations of target countries.
* Product assessed and CB Test Report and Certificate issued to client.
* Client (or their representative) submits product, CB Test Report and CB Test Certificate to NCBs in target countries to obtain national certification; this confirms that the product conforms to local standards.
Under the CB Scheme, manufacturers now only have to deal with the CBTL of their choice. The CBTL does all the work, including testing to the national differences and country deviations of the product's destination countries.
Once the manufacturer has the CB Test Report and Certificate, it can use this to obtain national approvals in many other member countries. The manufacturer is required to submit an application and may also be required to submit a product sample in the country of destination. Under the CB Scheme, however, reports and certificates can only be rejected with good technical justification. In fact, many countries will now accept –and may demand – CB Test reports and certificates without the need for local certification. For example, any electrical product exported to South Africa must have a CB test report and certificate.
The CB Scheme should be viewed as a passport which helps a product gain individual country approval. While it does not always eliminate the need for additional 'in country' approval or testing, it does get you at least 85% of the way there.
By considering declared national differences as part of the testing process, the CBTL helps the manufacturer to meet the requirements of its target markets. Such differences include 'country deviations', which are national characteristics or practices that cannot be changed, including climatic or electrical earthing conditions. 'Regulatory Requirements' also cover the differing restrictions, licenses and laws imposed by the government or the national authority. CE marking for the European Union is just one such regulatory requirement the CB Scheme can address.
As an example, let's take the Information Technology Equipment Safety Standard 60950-1, which carries the prefix EN in Europe, UL in the US and IEC for the rest of the world. The CB Scheme covers all the 'harmonised' requirements of these standards and the associated national differences, meaning that only one set of tests needs to be done and one test report delivered. The report is made up of several parts, the first covering the common requirements across all the standards, and the others comprising report annexes showing tests for the specific country differences such as mains supply voltage.
Relative to the alternative of embarking on the lengthy and expensive approach of conducting multiple tests to satisfy multiple countries, the CB Scheme is seamless. It offers obvious advantages and is the only initiative of its kind that has succeeded where others have failed. For the countries that do recognise it, it would seem that testing utopia for international exports does exist.
The ability to carry out one test programme to gain access to many international markets, more quickly and at a lower cost surely means more manufacturers should be taking advantage of it.
Jean-Louis Evans is managing director of TÜV SÜD Product Service.