So you’ve got an idea for an awesome new product and you’re ready to make it into a reality. You’ve started the product design process and the prototype is looking good. Now you’re ready to start manufacturing it—or so you think. Before you can actually start selling your product, it needs to undergo testing and certification. This process is known as Product Certification and it’s important for a lot of reasons.
First, let’s look at the definition of product certification and why you need it. Then we’ll look at the different markings and how they work. It’s important to certify your products as a sign to people that it is safe, reliable, and of a certain quality.
What is Product Certification?
Product certification is the process by which your product is tested to meet regulatory standards in a specific market or industry. For example, if you were selling a medical device, it would need to meet the minimum standards in the health industry as regulated by governments and businesses.
Beyond that, product certification is often a requirement in particular industries where a failure could have serious consequences. Let’s go back in time to find an example of this.
If you were around in the 1980s, you probably recall that there was a string of murders involving Tylenol. Various packages were tampered with which caused a number of deaths. As a result, packaging requirements changed for over-the-counter pills. The government then passed laws to enforce “Tamper-Resistant Packaging Requirements.” That’s why over-the-counter packaging can seem a bit cumbersome today.
Product Certification exists to prevent events like this from happening again. While that’s a noble cause in itself, there are still other reasons for your products need certification.
Why Does Product Certification Matter?
For one, it helps your product stand out in the eyes of the consumer. Let’s say I’m choosing between two coffee brands at the supermarket. Do I want the ones that have a stamp showing they are ethically sourced and use sustainable business practices? Or do I want the ones without those certifications? There might be a taste difference, sure. However, if my primary concern is safety and sustainability, I could be willing to compromise on the flavour of my morning coffee.
Another important reason for product certification is to indicate safety and reliability. After all, no one wants to buy something of low quality or that is dangerous. Many certifications are used to show that your product passes performance tests as well as quality assurance tests. We’ve actually been doing this for a lot longer than you think.
In ancient Rome, archaeologists discovered ancient loaves of bread with specialized stamps on them. This was because many bakers were cutting costs on flour by adding cheap ingredients like wood shavings. Since it was a common issue, the city started inspecting bakeries. Then they used bread stamps to indicate to customers that particular baker sold bread that wasn’t full of wood shavings. In a way, we could think of those old stamps as an early kind of product certification.
Another reason product certification matters is because governments have purchasing standards that they have to enforce. Businesses and schools will often follow in their steps and recommendations. These days, it’s perhaps easier than it should be to create low-cost products and rush them to market. Because of that, it’s as crucial as ever to ensure your product is certified to outperform your competitors.
Finally, the last reason to have your product certified is to guard against liability. While you aren’t always obligated to have your product be certified, you still should because showing that your product is tested for safety reduces the risk of legal action.
What are the Steps in Product Certification?
Now that you understand the importance of product certifications, here’s a quick overview of how the process generally goes. Don’t feel too overwhelmed, if you’re working with a good product development company they will guide you through this as well.
- Application – This involves the testing of the product and sending an application to the agency responsible for provided certification.
- Evaluation – At this point, you look at the test data to see if it indicates that the product meets qualification criteria.
- Decision – After it’s tested, there is a second review of the product application to ensure the Evaluation is accurate.
- Surveillance – Once in the marketplace, it’s important to continue monitoring your product’s performance to ensure it still meets qualification criteria, especially since it’s hard to test out every possible scenario in a lab.
Once you’ve passed these steps, your product will proudly bear the certification mark and your consumers will know it has met those standards. Now, let’s explore some of the different types of product certification out there.
What are UL, CSA, CE, WEEE, RoHS, and FCC?
There are a lot of different markings out there and they all mean different things. Often it’s because different countries have different requirements. That said, it’s also due to other factors like the process surrounding manufacturing as you’ll read later. Let’s look at a few and see where they come from.
Origin: U.S. and Canada
Acronym: Underwriter Laboratories
Explanation: This is a third-party certification company that has been around for over 100 years. Their mark indicates products are safe for workers and customers to use. Think of them as a safety organization that establishes standards for new products across various industries. For example, electronic components are often UL certified to show that they can handle safe levels of electrical current as promised.
There are some differences in requirements in the U.S. and in Canada, sp if there is “c” on the left the product meets Canadian standards, but it might not meet American standards.
Origin: International Certification
Acronym: Canadian Standards Association
Explanation: The CSA Group is another certification company that was founded 100 years ago in Canada; however, it is now respected internationally to indicate a product’s been dependently tested and certified. It shows consumers your product meets recognized standards for safety or performance in many different countries.
Unlike the UL certification, CSA is widely regarded and respected around the world. This means you could more easily sell your product in new markets.
Origin: European Union
Acronym: Conformitè Europëenne
Explanation: Since 1985, the CE mark has been used on products. It indicates a product conforms with health, safety, and environmental protection standards across different industries. It’s often a requirement for many products sold in the EU. When applying for this marking, you’ll need to be able to provide the paperwork and documents supporting that your product met the standards.
One confusing aspect here is that it’s not an indication of quality, it’s actually just an indication that you have the supporting documents to show you met certain standards. There is no testing done by a third-party that approves the CE marking, and in some cases, you can actually certify a product yourself.
Origin: European Union
Acronym: Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment
Explanation: This European Community Directive was created in 2002 to combat the excessive amount of dangerous and toxic waste created by electric products in landfills. Electronic waste is extremely hazardous and difficult to dispose of, so this directive places the responsibility of reducing that waste on companies and manufacturers.
It basically indicates your product meets the standards for the separate collection, treatment, recycling, and recovery of electronic waste. This mark safeguards human health in the long term by reducing environmental contaminants.
Origin: European Union
Acronym: Restriction of Hazardous Substances
Explanation: Similar to the WEEE compliance, this mark indicates the compliance with restricted use of specific hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products. The RoHS Directive imposes a set of restrictions on European manufacturers in regards to the material content of new electronic equipment placed on the market.
Both the WEEE and RoHS compliance relate to electronic waste, but RoHS focuses on the safety of the material components in the product whereas WEEE focuses on recycling and reducing electronic waste processes surrounding a product.
Origin: US and Canada
Acronym: Federal Communications Commission
Explanation: Finally, there is FCC which is the most common certification as it is mandatory for most electronic components in order to enforce communications laws and regulations. In essence, it makes sure your product doesn’t interfere with existing communication frequencies.
While the FCC regulates certification in the US and Canada, they are referred to EMC/EMI certifications more broadly.
Product certification can be intimidating, but it’s an important step in the process of product design and development. It can be easy to get bogged down by jargon, but the important thing to note is the common theme of safety. Many of these markings demonstrate your product is safe. For your consumers, it’s important that you meet the ethical requirements created by governments and highly respectable certification companies.
To stand out on the shelves, your product doesn’t just have to be useful and practical, it also has to be reliable. Consumer decisions are guided by that in almost every industry you can think of, which is why this is such a fundamental aspect of product development.
Hopefully, you found this article helped demystify product certification! If you liked this blog post, don’t forget to share it and subscribe to our newsletter for more useful content like this. You can also check out our article on Prototyping in Product Development Today or 5 Common Mistakes in Product Development!
About the Author
Ventrify is a product design and manufacturing firm that helps entrepreneurs bring product ideas from concept to market. We take in fledgling ideas and bring them through our iterative design process to create products our clients can be proud of. Then, we work with manufacturing facilities worldwide to bring our clients the highest quality products at competitive prices.
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Article by Victoria Fraser