• Lee Ould

Challenges of Product Certification in a Thriving Economy

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

There are challenges in securing product certifications in an “up” economy, with some of these being anticipated. It can take a safety agency longer to get out its quotes, for example. A reviewer on a project can take longer for the final signoff on a project, as the reviewer works through the queue of jobs in front of your project. Even for factory inspections, there can be challenges in scheduling the inspection when the appointments for the first factory inspection have to be pushed out due to full calendars, as another potential spot for delays of a project. Outside of the agencies themselves, engineers at manufacturers can have many irons in the fire competing for their attention, including compliance. Component vendors can be slow to provide a response or agency reports for their components, for the same reasons. All of these are reasons to plan well ahead for the project certification (and to have a good consultant like SEL!).

While those delays can be expected, maybe less obvious is the potential impact on manufacturers that have technologies that do not fit into the existing standards or norms. With a thriving economy, the safety agencies do have a regular stream of standard products that do not challenge such norms. These inside-the-box products might be faster or cheaper or better in some other way, but they do not require a creative evaluation of a new technology, nor the judicious use of a couple of standards concurrently to address a product that sits between two traditionally separate technologies — a cable modem with the traditional CATV connection from audio/video products AND an ethernet connection that is normally native to ITE, as a past example. What we are seeing in a good economy is the preference to focus on the standard product stream and “turning the crank” for the same types of products, with the clear focus on the revenue stream. We are seeing a rash recently of “no bid” projects from the safety agencies where they almost do not want to exert the additional effort for the challenging new technology, but rather avoid the category of “new and unusual” or “new and innovative” altogether. While that may seem a pragmatic business decision on one level, passing on certain more challenging projects includes the risk that the agency’s engaged and proactive competitors will pick up that new technology not only initially, but possibly losing any traction in a fledgling industry with potential exclusion indefinitely, as others solve the problems with its deferral. Because an agency does not know what technology is ultimately going to become commonplace, it would be well served to stretch to accommodate these challenges, even in times of a healthy technology environment. We are often in product safety, especially as consultants, known by the challenging products that we have done, where there was not an existing published standard or requirement; or there was a complex “how to we prove this is safe?” when presented with a technology that did not fit into existing test methods. While focusing on revenue stream is a needed business focus, there should also be a focus on being flexible and adaptable for new technologies, even when there is a steady stream of standard products coming in the door.

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