Certifications For Hardware Products: What you Need to Know (Part 2)

In the second post of our Certifications series, we start to break down what the different certifications cover as well as what drives the regulations to be applied. If you have not yet read part 1 in the series, we recommend starting here.


Regulations for electro-mechanical devices fall into several broad categories. Typically there is one “mark” or regulation for each of the categories by country.  Each regulation will have a large number of test protocols or requirements to satisfy that regulation which will depend on the type of product and its market.  You will need to talk with a certification company to understand what tests you need to pass to achieve each of the following. The tests that are specific to your product are a function of the electronics, application, power source, and environment.

  • Electrical safety.  In the US this is typically managed by the UL standards.  These test for issues like fire, shock, overheating etc.
  • EMI/RF testing.  In the US this is based on the FCC regulations.  Products may intentionally or unintentionally emit EMR (Electromagnetic Radiation).  There are two problems with EMR.  The first is that it may interfere with other devices in a way that impacts their performance (radios, pacemakers etc.).  The second is that under certain circumstances EMR may be considered hazardous to human health.  These regulations ensure that intentional and unintentional radiation complies with the limits for safety and non-interference.
  • Communication protocol certifications.  If your device uses Bluetooth then you may wish to place the Bluetooth compatible symbol on your product.  A non-governmental organization, Bluetooth SIG defines the communication protocols and acts like  a government regulator--you have to register, test your product in certified labs, and pay to apply use the mark.  The major differences are that they are international certifications and their websites are actually intelligible and easy to understand.
  • Environmental regulations.  Europe and California have strict environmental regulations.  Because the products for both are shipped widely in the US and around the world, they have become de-facto standards for environmental regulation.  Some of these, such as RoHS, are required and others, such as the Energy Star rating, are voluntary.
  • Battery shipments. Because of the fire hazard  (think Boeing 787) associated with lithium batteries, there are regulations that require certification of lithium batteries prior to shipment out of China.  In addition, there are strict requirements on how batteries can be shipped - air shipment of lithium batteries is sharply restricted in new DOT regulations published this past February, and even shipment by rail or truck faces new restrictions and paperwork requirements.
  • Additional materials in your product: Even a simple polybags that protect your product from scuffing in the giftbox may require you to add a choking hazard warning on it if it is of a certain size.  
  • Product specific regulations.  Products with very specific application or uses may have additional regulations that may apply.
    • Toys.  Children’s toys have a very comprehensive set of tests and regulations that need to be managed and complied with.
    • Food grade.  The FDA provides guidelines on what materials can and can’t be used on products that come in contact with food.
    • Skin contact. If a product sits on skin, there are regulations and testing requirements in some countries.

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There are several issues that will drive whether or not a regulation applies to you.

  • Where are you selling the product?  Regulations are driven primarily by country and state requirements.
    • Even in the EU, which has common standards, each individual country may have individual requirements (i.e., the UK) for regulation, labeling, and registration.
    • Many of the California requirements become default US requirements because it is impossible to not sell in California or to manage two different SKUs.
  • Type of product.  As pointed out above, depending on the type of product and how it is classified, you will be subject to a variety of tests.
  • To UL or not to UL. UL is not legally required to ship and sell in the US. However, we recommend that if your product is connected to mains AC power you obtain UL (or ETL, which is equivalent) certification for the following reasons:
    • Your insurers may require it.
    • You might not be able to sell through certain channels without the certification.
    • If there is a fire or injury and you didn’t do the test, you may have a larger liability even if the product was being mis-used (i.e., CYA).
    • It is good to understand the weaknesses of your product and potential hazards to reduce the risk of returns and or a recall.


To continue with the final post in the series please click here. Feedback or questions so far? Please let us know below or Get one-on-one help from a manufacturing expert. We'll be back next week with the final Certifications installment!

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