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Certifications For Hardware Products: What you Need to Know (Part 3)

To conclude our certifications series, we review some of the major decisions you’ll need to make along the way. If you haven’t covered them already, definitely review Parts 1 & 2 in the series first! 

CAUTIONS AND DECISIONS

  • Schedule, schedule, schedule: When you certify a product, you need to provide the testing body with production ready product. There are only minimal changes you can make to the product after you get the certification without having to start over. Testing can take up to four weeks and this can impact the critical path that will drive schedule. Don’t get caught unaware that when your product comes off the production line, it may be a while before you can ship it, due to unplanned certification needs.
    • Get the final production product out: The product should be off the manufacturer assembly line (first engineering prototype is acceptable) and not an in-house breadboard model unless you are just doing a pre-scan for confidence purpose.
    • Send to testing: If in the US, the shipment can take a few days.
    • Testing: This can take a couple of weeks and if you are in the busy season when everyone is getting ready for Christmas, there can be a backlog.
    • Failure: If there is a failure in testing, you are back to square one.
    • Certification: You need to wait for the paperwork to get all of the certification numbers and art to put in your manual and on the labels
    • Printing: You will need to get the manuals and labels printed and to the factory floor.
    • Assembly: Once the manuals and labels are ready , you can assemble the product for shipment.
  • Pre-scan: Contract manufacturers often have equipment on site or can help find testing equipment to do pre-scans of products. These evaluations will give you as sense of what margin you have in your product design.  Getting a heads up on potential issues will reduce the risk of finding the problem when you have no extra time left to deal with it.
  • Use graphics rather than text: A universal graphic image is better than text as you will otherwise need translations of the text depending on where you are selling the product.
  • Don’t leave your manual to the last minute: Regulatory houses most often require a full manual to be sent along with a number of samples of the product. Be prepared with a manual early on including translations if this is a global product. The product should be off the manufacturer assembly line (first engineering prototype is acceptable) and not an in-house breadboard model unless you are just doing a pre-scan for confidence purpose.
  • Are your components already certified? Many sub-systems may already have partial certifications that can reduce your testing requirements.  You should ask your suppliers/partners what certifications they are providing and communicate that to the team that is managing your testing.
  • Cost: Many companies want to launch their product globally without realizing that they need capital to pay for added regulatory tests for each country. Countries like Japan require unique tests and a local representative (that can be supplied by certain 3rd party certification houses). It is recommended that start-ups focus their business to a few countries where their main market exists and then expand as they grow. USA and Canada have similar tests so they can piggyback off each other. EU regulations cover a broad number of countries so that is the next obvious market.  Asia has separate regulations for each country.

It is important to bundle similar products together in a certification (e.g. where color is the only difference) to avoid extra costs and time. You can anticipate future models and have them certified in the original document. For example, getting a product certified for the X series should cover you if you one day release a SKU X01, X02, X03, etc, where each SKU is a different color. We suggest getting a product roadmap as early as possible and developing a model/SKU number strategy early on.

  • US vs. China testing: You have a choice of doing testing at either a US site or China site.  It is easy to assume that the US site will be more on schedule and that the extra cost buys you a place in the queue.  This is not always the case – we have generally had quicker and more dependable results from testing done in China.  Testing in China has several benefits we have found.
    • There is no delay in shipment of the products and risk of getting delayed in customs.
    • If you are shipping batteries, you are not subject to the US DOT regulations
    • We have had our project managers live at the China testing sites on products with limited margins.  The testing companies have been able to make design change recommendations and implement and test them in very rapid cycles.  If we had to sent the various versions to the US for testing, it would have taken months to find a resolution rather than a few days.

SUMMARY

It is always a good idea to start understanding the certification issues as soon as possible. Understanding the schedule, quality, design, testing, and labeling issues as early as possible will only benefit you. There are going to be a lot of iterations and questions once you’ve decided what regulations apply.  These decisions can as easily be made early in the design process as late, and late can (and has) lead to significant delay.  Ask a lot of questions about why you should do the test, is it required, can the CM do the paperwork, and how early in the process can you complete the testing.

Certification selection and labeling can have significant legal and cost impacts. Each regulation has very specific requirements for what has to be on the label and these change frequently. In addition, there will be very specific language they will need for their manual. You should always consult a certification expert to understand what regulations apply and how to conform to those regulations through testing, certifications, testing, and labeling.  

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Feedback or questions? Please let us know below or Ask An Engineer.

2 Comments

  • Gregg Favalora commented on October 2, 2015 Reply

    These are great – I am sure that the emerging population of new HW entrepreneurs will find your advice very useful. One random idea: would it be helpful / meaningful / possible to link to some of the key standards to keep in mind? For instance, the 60601- standards?

    I had also wondered if you’d link to some certification houses that you trust. But, it seems you already did that in Part 1.

    -Gregg

    • beth@dragoninnovation.com commented on October 6, 2015 Reply

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback as well as the idea around posting info on some of those key standards. This is something we’ll work on putting together – give us some time and we’ll post something in the coming weeks.

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