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Certifications For Hardware Products: What You Need to Know (Part 1)

We often get the question, "Certifications...isn't that something my Contract Manufacturer (CM) handles?" The short answer, which you probably guessed, is no. Ensuring your hardware product complies with all of the regulations is a highly complex and ever changing process. There are many resources to get help including certification suppliers (i.e., SGS or Intertek), certification consultants, the web, your lawyers, as well as your CM. You are likely to get conflicting information about what should and shouldn’t apply to your product, who should handle the process, how much it should cost, how long it will take etc. This confusion is due to a number of factors:

  • The regulations are not well written or clear. They often have conflicting or inconsistent requirements.  Your product may not fall into a clear category.  In addition, some tests can be used for multiple certifications.
  • The regulations keep changing. What was true 6 months ago may change completely.
  • The definition of “compliance” can be vague.  In some cases such as the FCC requirements, the actual requirements, test procedures and labeling requirements are very clear. In others, such as WEEE and Rohs, defining compliance and who is responsible is not clear-cut.
  • Everyone is going to want to do everything for you.  Remember, the people giving you advice have a vested interest in getting your business.  You need to ask a lot of questions to make sure you aren’t paying for things twice (i.e., your CM does a Rohs as part of their business offerings and then the certification company wants to recheck it for you).
  • The recommendations are only as good as the information you provide.  Regulations are highly dependent on the type of products and the sub-systems. For example, you will need to get some separate certifications for chargers, batteries and other accessories. If a product can be used as a toy, then the product might require additional certifications. 
  • Some of the regulations/certifications are from other companies. For example, you may want to put the Bluetooth logo on your product to indicate Bluetooth capability.  You will need to test and register your product with the company.  Apple has very strict testing that may take significant time.

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The term “certified” includes a broad set of activities, tests, paperwork, labeling and other requirements.  Here is a short list of the types of things are you going to encounter

  • Testing requirements.  Each of the various bodies in various countries or international consortia have very defined sets of tests that a product can be subjected to them. The list of possible tests across all countries is probably tens of thousands of different protocols. The trick is to understand which ones apply to your product and which ones do you have to do.
  • 3rd party certification. Many regulations require an outside third party testing of products to ensure that the tests are unbiased and accurate. These organizations are accredited and can do the testing and file the necessary paperwork to obtain the certification.
  • Labeling/Manuals. Your product and manuals will be peppered with language relating to warnings, testing certifications and other material to show compliance with the relevant regulations.  Get started on this early to understand all of the elements that need to be in the product labels and the manuals.  Each component and accessory of your product may also need to be individually labeled including batteries and chargers. Part of these labels will be individual certification numbers unique to your product that will be issued when you register with the various bodies.
  • Marks.  Some regulations require the use of specific graphics to indicate the compliance with certain regulations.  Each country and regulatory body has its own set of marks that need to be on the labels and in the manuals.
  • Compliance documentation.  All regulations require you to keep track of the paperwork and documentation for a period of time after product production.  Some regulations require you to file the paperwork, others such as the FDA food grade safe regulations require you to keep a “letter of guarantee” on file but you don’t have to actually send it any where
  • Registration.  Many regulations require you to register the test results or documentation with a reporting body.  In some cases you will file the paperwork, in others the CM, in others you may have to have an in-country representative file the paperwork for you.


Click here for Part 2 in the series which focuses on what regulations cover and how they apply. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments feel free to give us a shout in the comments section or Get one-on-one help from an engineering expert.

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