The IEC coordinates a worldwide system for testing electrical equipment
International Electrotechnical Commission
How does a hospital administrator know that using a CAT scan will not affect nearby electromagnetic systems and put patients at risk? In the early 1960s, when electrical apparatus became more widespread, not only in specialist areas, but also in the home and workplace, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) began to address the issue of electromagnetic compatibility. In fact, hospital equipment is just one of the thousands of types of apparatus, machinery, and devices covered by IEC standards. Electricity and its concomitant of potential EMI is an inescapable fact of modern life.
100 YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE MARKET
Founded in June of 1906 in London, the IEC has just celebrated its centenary year. During its hundred years of existence, it has established norms such as the Hertz, the electromagnetic unit used for measuring frequency of all types of periodical events, has laid down standards for a variety of electric current applications, and has created the multilingual International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV), now available freely on www.electropedia.org. Today, it has more than 100 Technical Committees (TC) that continue to prepare safety standards, such as those related to the use and safety of emerging technologies including lasers and nanotechnology or the electromagnetic compatibility of computed tomography and other such sophisticated equipment.
STANDARDS AND CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT SCHEMES
The IEC is a not-for-profit organization that operates on two levels. First, it exists to create the standards that ensure the integrity and safety of a multitude of electrically related products, both those ‘banal’ ones we use in our everyday lives and those more highly complex ones to which we occasionally entrust our lives. Its second area of operation is that of assuring that products, which are manufactured to those standards, are tested and certified in a uniform manner. The IEC consists principally of engineers, specialists working in industry throughout the world, whose job it is to ensure that their products and those of their competitors are built and used in a safe and consistent manner. The IEC exists to ensure that the consumer, in other words you and I, can purchase, can use, and can be exposed to all types of electromagnetic products that have been manufactured, wherever this might be, according to a globally approved standard.Producing an IEC standard is not a trivial process. The approval and refinement cycle may last several years. Essentially, developing a standard once a new idea has emerged and preliminary discussions have taken place, requires experts from a minimum of five different countries to launch the new project. The technical committee (TC) will then produce a draft, and the project leader will follow up on suggestions submitted by the other experts, passing through various additional draft, correction, and approval phases until a consensus is reached. At each stage of the procedure, the standard is sent out to a number of countries. In the case of IEC Technical Committee 77, which prepares EMC standards, there are 48 countries that take part in its discussions, either actively or as observer nations.For a project to reach its final voting stage, the entire cycle must be completed in less than five years. The standard is then submitted to all participating members and is issued only when they have given it a consensus vote. How then does a radiologist in Singapore know that the Australian x-ray machine he operates on the third floor does actually correspond to an IEC standard and that it will not interfere with his ultrasound system next door? The answer lies with the IEC’s multilateral conformity assessment and certification schemes.
IECEE – ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT
IECEE certification implies assessment of a product by an independent test laboratory against IEC standards to ensure that it is compliant with the relevant requirements. Outside the IECEE, testing laboratories and certification bodies are likely to use varying test methods, more or less thoroughly and according to varying criteria. Each test takes time, costs money, and results in a different label or mark being granted by the relevant certification body (CB). Traditionally, manufacturers producing electrotechnical equipment and components in one country and wanting to export to another, had to undergo individual conformity tests and certification in each of the countries in which they wanted to market their products and to provide, when requested by the national authority, the necessary proof of compliance.To reduce this complexity and to eliminate the barriers that prevent easy trading, there is a one of the IEC that has put into place and operates a system of mutual recognition whereby there is reciprocal acceptance of test results carried out by any of its national members. (The acronym IECEE stands for the International Electrotechnical Commission system for conformity testing and certification of Electrical Equipment and components.) IECEE members use a common approach in applying IEC standards, defining, by way of the Committee of Testing Laboratories (CTL), common procedures and test methods that offer definite advantages to a manufacturer. Take the example of NEMKO (Norges Elektriske Materiellkontroll), the Norwegian certification body. All its laboratories, whatever the country in which they are based, carry out national certification for a variety of electrical and electronic products. The testing laboratories are, however, also part of the IECEE CB scheme and operate under the direct responsibility of the NEMKO certification body. That implies that any product that they assess and certify as being worthy of IECEE certification is not only certain to have been manufactured to high quality IEC standards, wherever it happens to originate, but is also eligible for immediate import into any of the other countries that are members of the IECEE scheme since their acceptance reduces the testing to a single procedure. Indeed, once certification has been provided by any individual IECEE National Certification Body (NCB), there is no need for further testing or duplication of work because all NCBs recognize the validity of the CB test certificates and test reports of the other NCBs. For example, this mutual recognition arrangement includes Electrosuisse, the Swiss certification body; PSB Corporation, the standards body in Singapore, SABS; the South African NCB; or Argentina’s IRAM. All are members of the IECEE scheme and recognise the CB test certificate of the others. The entire list of members can be found on the webpage www.iecee.org/cbscheme/html/cbcntris.htm. In addition to the CB test certificate being mutually recognized by the IECEE members, in certain other countries it is also considered valid by the various national authorities, regulators, retailers, purchasers and vendors which therefore grants immediate access to the relevant marketplace. The impact is one of an economy of scale with definite financial advantages. Eliminating the significant delays and costs that are incurred by multiple testing and approval cycles allows industry to bring a product to market faster and cheaper around the globe while providing the general public and governments with the reassurance that products operate as expected and are safe to use.
MULTILATERAL CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT – CA
So, how does the IECEE system actually work? How can industrial users and consumers in a particular country know with certainty that a product is guaranteed to be up to standard and therefore safe to use by individuals and without affecting the environment How can users be sure that the product they buy actually conforms to the criteria of an IEC standard?The word multilateral provides the answer. The IECEE’s conformity assessment (CA) schemes are set up using IEC standards and are intended to be truly global in both concept and practice. It is to be understood that the IECEE does not carry out the actual testing of products, but is a global administrator, leaving the conformity assessment operation to its members, those specialist bodies in each country that might be national bodies, independent associations, or testing laboratories. The IECEE’s product certification schemes provide the reassurance and an internationally accepted means of proving that a product has been independently tested by an IECEE Certification Body Testing Laboratory (CBTL) and then produced according to the safety requirement as specified in the relevant IEC standards. The schemes also help the user and the consumer. Technology is steadily becoming more omnipresent and more complex in everyday life. At the same time, end-users are finding themselves increasingly aware of their dependence on products of varying design and construction that are not necessarily within their own scope of understanding. In this type of situation, it is a great comfort for a purchaser to know that a product has been tested and found to be compliant with the relevant safety requirements.The quality levels of testing remain high as each test laboratory remains in competition with the other. If one laboratory fails in its assessment process, it will be judged by the others. Since assessment is carried out among peers, none can afford to be seen as the “weakest link” that damages the reputation of the whole. This concept of peer assessment forms an integral part of the CB scheme, in which testing laboratories are assessed regularly by an international team appointed by the IECEE Secretariat.
INTERVIEW WITH PIERRE DE RUVO, IECEE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
Q: How has the world of conformity assessment changed over the past 20 years?
A: There have been three big changes that are the result of globalization. All of them having to do with the need for faster market access, greater rigor and efficiency, and consistency among the NCBs and CBTLs. Regional and national markets have evolved into global ones. Conformity assessment is a tool that provides access to markets. Change, therefore, comes as a result of pressure from industry to access markets more easily.About 20 years ago, manufacturers had to have a conformity assessment mark for each country that they wanted to access. In many cases, conformity assessment was part of national regulations; but markets began to globalize, and the old system came to be seen as inefficient. Europe with its regional schemes began using multilateral agreements; and, in 1985, the CB scheme came into being. By 1995, globalization was in full swing; and the CB scheme, which had not been as active as it could have been, started to gain in importance. Since globalization began, there’s been a move towards simplifying things by means of a single test and a single certificate for entry into multiple markets. Along with globalization came liberalization. Markets moved from mandatory to voluntary testing. This trend means that it’s the participants in the market who decide whether or not to require certification. Since they’re free to do so, they recognize the value in choosing third-party certification. Globalization and liberalization are still evolving, and there are still different certification marks that are needed to access some markets, but CB Test Certificates play a great role in accessing these markets with their high acceptance and recognition by the relevant NCBs.As for greater rigor, the IECEE focused on ensuring that peer assessment really was in-depth and professional and not just something cursory. The strength of the system relies on the competence of its members so we have a fundamental interest in ensuring that each member measures up. We revisited our assessment procedure and have made it much more intensive. At the same time, we focused on the technical aspects and documented the entire process thoroughly.Thirdly, when considering the operational aspects of IECEE systems, we focused on manufacturer testing laboratories and made sure that we were consistent in applying IEC standards for product compliance. We paid particular attention to the issue of product safety. With globalization, manufacturers needed to access worldwide markets more efficiently and faster so we developed new processes for them to accomplish this goal: we supervised manufacturer testing at their premises, witnessed the actual testing, and recognized its validity. This change shifted more demanding responsibilities to the manufacturer, especially in terms of testing capabilities.
Q: Where is conformity assessment heading in the next several years?
A: Predicting the future is very difficult, but I think it’s clear to all that we will continue with two basic trends. The market is increasingly competitive, and the CB scheme means lower costs and shorter time-to-market. I don’t see these two trends stopping any time in the near future so the CB scheme will develop new procedures to remain responsive to industries’ evolving needs. At the same time, we’ll develop new business opportunities with the CB Full Certification Scheme (CB-FCS) and with the factory inspections/audits that are an important part of it.
Q: In 2000 the CB scheme issued 19, 600 test certificates. In 2005 that figure rose to over 40, 000. Why is growth this strong?
A: More and more purchasers and retailers are asking for proof of CB scheme testing and certification from their suppliers, just as some industrializing countries are insisting that imported goods be certified by CB scheme testing labs. Manufacturers find themselves required to show proof of compliance with IEC standards. It ensures that electrical products are safe and functional, and that’s good news for both manufacturers and their clients.The CB scheme is the global reference for certification, and good marketing by CB scheme members has a great deal to do with its success. When clients ask about the best way to enter new markets, our members tell them about the CB scheme. I suspect that some of our expansion has to do with our members’ clients talking to each other, promoting us by word-of-mouth. It’s a little like that ubiquitous brown soda in the red-lettered bottle; the CB Scheme has become a kind of “trademark” in its own right.
Q: From the international trade perspective, what is the added value for a manufacturer to seek certification under the IECEE scheme?
A: The CB scheme provides an international passport that gives faster access to markets and the assurance that the products comply with the IEC standards. Multiple testing and multiple certification slows down access to multiple markets. Having a single test and one or more certification marks providing access to multiple markets is far more efficient. In-depth peer assessment boosts mutual regard among members and increases confidence in test results.
Q: Taking that point further, many developing nations have aired concerns that they are the potential dumping grounds for unsafe electrical equipment. Can the IECEE meet these concerns?
A: Let’s make it clear that the IECEE does not manufacture equipment; it coordinates and administers a worldwide system for testing electrical equipment.For a country that has no electrotechnical industry and no recognized testing laboratory, the CB Scheme can still offer considerable value. These countries may wish to set rules for imported electrical products whereby only products that can show that they have been approved through the IECEE CB or Full Certification schemes can be authorized to access their markets. South Africa is an example of a country that requires imported electrical goods to be accompanied by a CB test certificate. The CB scheme can easily work with countries that have enacted mandatory certification and can assist in providing market access there.Once industrialization is under way, and there is a nascent electrotechnical industry, the CB Scheme has a great deal to offer since our test certificates will help to ensure the proof of compliance to IEC standards of both imported goods and local goods produced for export. An industrializing country with low labor costs and high-quality goods for export is in a very competitive position.
Q: How do you see the new IEC members benefiting from the IECEE? After all, if they are using IEC standards, should the next step not be the IECEE membership? What added value does membership bring to a country?
A: All the world’s industrialized countries are already participating members in the IEC. In the future, new members will likely be industrializing and developing countries—those with a nascent electrotechnical industry. Usually, to become a member of the IECEE, a country must be a member of the IEC. Still, having said that, it is possible to be a member of the IECEE and not yet of the IEC for an initial period of three years. The costs for opting for this kind of membership are higher than those for IEC members.What’s really worth noting is the very reasonable entrance fees and subsequent annual fees to maintain membership. Once a country is a member, it has access to almost all services and documents, can participate in all meetings, and can develop its expertise in testing and certification with its counterparts.There are very clear benefits to these privileges. Malaysia provides a good example. It started as a Member Body and then later added an NCB and an associated CB testing laboratory. By participating as a Member Body of the IECEE and learning about it, by meeting all kinds of people from testing labs and from industry, the Malaysian delegates developed a very good understanding of how it all works. They took this knowledge back to Malaysia with them and influenced government and industry there, so that now Malaysia is active in issuing and recognizing CB test certificates and has aligned its standards with those of the IEC. These developments mark a significant international expansion of technology and knowledge.
Q: How is conformity assessment carried out in different national contexts?
A:Essentially, the role of conformity assessment is to check to see if a product adheres to a standard. This checking may be carried out in any of three ways by:
- The first party (the vendor), who provides the supplier’s declaration of conformity; in other words, the manufacturer carries out its own in-house testing;
- The second party (the purchaser); in this case, does his own testing;
- A third party, who is neither the vendor nor the purchaser, but an independent testing service does the testing.
IECEE is a third party, but the schemes do not carry out testing themselves. Instead, they provide a valuable service to global trade by organizing independent testing laboratories into a worldwide system of mutual recognition of each other’s test certificates. This scheme promotes the intent of three different entities. Governments want to protect consumers so conformity assessment testing helps to ensure safety. Purchasers (usually wholesalers) want to ensure quality so IEC CA helps to certify performance. Finally, manufacturers interested in interoperability rely on CA testing to determine if their product will work correctly with the one being assessed.
Q: What are the advantages to manufacturers ?
A: The great advantage to manufacturers offered by the IECEE is that it helps to reduce manufacturing costs by eliminating the cost of multiple testing. What’s more, a single test opens up new markets faster. And every manufacturer knows that being faster to market provides a competitive edge.For importing countries, there are also clear advantages. IECEE testing helps to ensure the widest range of acceptable products for sale in a domestic market. Then, there is the issue of favoritism. Because the IECEE is neutral, no one gets special treatment. All suppliers, whatever their origins, are treated equally within the IECEE. Products must stand or fail on their own merits and not for some other reason.What’s also worth noting is that importing countries are assured that the laboratory issuing a test certificate has what is called “adequate and enduring technical competence”. This assurance comes from paragraph 6.1.1 of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Because the IEC has a close working relationship with the WTO, and because IEC standards and its CA schemes help to serve as the basis for the TBT Agreement; all test labs in the IECEE must attain a certain level of competence. Without this requirement, the quality of testing would be in doubt. Since the IEC’s reputation rests on its products and services, these must be—and are—of the highest quality. The means to ensuring this is peer assessment—i.e., one laboratory in the IECEE performs an audit on another one that is either hoping to join or that is already a member. Peer assessment is seen as the single best way to achieve the highest level of confidence in the quality of service that a laboratory offers.Finally, the IECEE provides importing countries with confidence in the compliance of the products they import. Testing to standards helps foil the dumping of poor-quality goods and the dodge of “hiding” behind false origins (e.g., a product built in one place but trans-shipped through another).All in all, IEC International Standards and its CA schemes offer the global market products and services that help industry to do business and to reassure governments about the quality of imports and exports. Ultimately, the IEC’s focus is on the consumer. As the last link in the chain, the consumer is the key figure because, as end purchaser, the consumer remains the final arbiter when it comes to products and services. Those that pass the test of quality and that provide consumers with what they want remain on the market. Those that don’t will ultimately disappear.
Q: What are your hopes for the CB scheme?
A: I have had the privilege of working with testing and conformity assessment for 25 years now, and the development that has taken place over these years has been quite amazing—from small, local and often isolated markets to regional markets, and now increasingly towards a global market.The CB Scheme is a successful example of the solutions that have been created to make global trade easier by using one test as the basis for market entry in several countries. Although most countries agree about the importance of joint standards as a way of creating trade without borders, we still have some way to go before this goal becomes reality.We need to have a scheme, with high credibility, that is flexible and market oriented. It’s easy to cite this goal, but the challenge is to use various elements in a consistent manner to retain trust among various entities— certification bodies, authorities, buyers and sellers. Moreover, testing must be accepted with confidence whether it is carried out in a third-party laboratory assessed by the scheme or at the manufacturer’s premises according to CB procedures.We have several important working groups that are evaluating expansion of the scheme, as well as simplification. We have the full certification scheme that also will include some factory inspection elements, and we also have started promising activities with ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation) to participate in assessments that call on the competence and capabilities of both the CB scheme and the national accreditation scheme.I am excited to be in a position that enables me to work on developing the CB scheme further and to be able to promote important issues that will make life easier for manufacturers and retailers by speeding up the process of accessing the world’s markets.
The INTERNATIONAL ELECTROTECHNICAL COMMISSION (IEC), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is the world’s leading organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies – collectively known as “electrotechnology”. IEC standards cover a vast range of technologies from power generation, transmission and distribution to home appliances and office equipment, semiconductors, fibre optics, batteries, flat panel displays and solar energy, to mention just a few. Wherever you find electricity and electronics, you find the IEC supporting safety and performance, the environment, electrical energy efficiency and renewable energies
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