If your electronic product is ready for the world to see, then the last step before it hits the market is to provide it with certificates. Electronic products certifications are necessary for a couple or more reasons. The foremost reason is to ensure that your product’s quality is up to international standards. Additional reasons are safety, legal mandate, and public relations. The type of certificate that your product needs will depend on which country it is from and which country you are exporting to.
Different Types of Product Certificates
Depending on which country the product is patented in, there are a number of product certifications. For electronic products, the essential certificates are CE, FCC, RoHS, UL, and WEEE. FCC and UL are applicable to products that are manufactured and used inside the US while the rest are European certifications.
CE is an abbreviation for Conformité Européenne, which is the French expression for European Conformity. The CE marking is required for specific product groups that are manufactured and/or sold within the European Economic Area (EEA). This area includes the 28 member countries of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Turkey and Switzerland.
A product with the CE seal means that product conforms to the EU directives. For electronic products, the common directives are as follows:
- Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive (EMC) – this directive requires the product to follow correct levels of electromagnetic radiations and emissions, very much like the US’s FCC regulations but includes the product’s immunity to electromagnetic emissions as well.
- Low Voltage Directive (LVD) – this applies to all products with the voltage rating of 50 to 1000 VAC or 75 to 1500 VDC. Basically, all products that utilize the mentioned voltages as input or output must ensure that they are safe to use. Products that do not use these voltage ratings as input or output but may generate such voltages within the product is not included. Products that use voltages lower than 50 VAC o 75 VDC must conform to the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD).
- Radio Equipment Directive (RED) – if your product contains radio and/or telecommunications equipment that needs to connect to public telecom networks then it needs to follow this directive. This includes frequency allocation and EMC standards that are followed instead of the EMC directive if your product falls in the RED.
RoHS and WEEE
WEEE and RoHS are also directives that are followed for CE compliance.
RoHS is the short term for Restriction of Hazardous Substances and is the directive for restricting the use of ten hazardous materials in electronic and electrical products.
This standard refers to the allowed level of those materials that must follow a maximum parts-per notation. Here are the ten hazardous materials and the required parts-per-million numbers:
- Lead (<1000 ppm)
- Mercury (<100 ppm)
- Cadmium (<100 ppm)
- Hexavalent Chromium (<1000 ppm)
- Polybrominated Biphenyls (<1000 ppm)
- Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (<1000 ppm)
- Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (<1000 ppm)
- Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) (<1000 ppm)
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) (<1000 ppm)
- Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) (<1000 ppm)
The above-mentioned substances are mostly found in paints, PVC, soldering, PCBs, camera lenses, lamps, batteries and integrated circuits.
The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive encourages electronic and electrical product manufacturers to develop products that are recyclable and have less electronic waste. WEEE works hand-in-hand with RoHS: the latter deals with pre-production standards while WEEE checks product disposal.
UL certification is issued by Underwriters Laboratories, a private American company, and is one of the first certifications you may need when your product is US-made. All products that get power from the electrical outlet can apply for a UL certificate. To acquire a UL certification, your product must conform to certain UL standards and pass safety tests performed in OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certified testing laboratories. UL certification, unlike CE, is not mandatory but having one will help convince consumers that your product is safe to use.
FCC (Federal Communications Commission) certificate is legally required for all products that radiate electromagnetic signals at the frequency range of 9 kHz or more. Your product may be classified as either an intentional or non-intentional radiator by the FCC. An intentional radiator is a product that emits radio wave through existing technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, LoRa, etc. Conversely, an unintentional radiator is a product that emits radio waves but is not part of its true function.
How to Apply for a Certificate in the US
If your electronic product’s market is the US, then getting an FCC certificate is your first target. Note that an intentional radiator certificate is much harder to pass than a non-intentional radiator. Electromagnetic emissions are measured inside an anechoic chamber that can be rented for about $1000 an hour. To avoid such costs, hardware developers often hire third-party companies for FCC testing or use modules that have already obtained pre-certification. If you are going to third-party testers, make sure you will be hiring FCC accredited companies by using this test firm search app.
UL certificates, as already mentioned, are not required by law but may help your product get sales. The first step to get a UL certificate is to request a quote at the official website. Once UL accepts your request and sends a quote, you may begin project planning and send all required product information as well as samples to UL. Note that UL certification must begin at project planning stage because it is easier to design with the certification in mind than to redesign just to comply with UL standards.
Of course, you need to make your electronic or electrical design production-quality first before thinking about acquiring certifications. Then make sure that certifications are part of the budget for your product because they do cost some money. If your company doesn’t have enough in the bank, it would be better to start production for one market first and expand later. For example, you can start targeting US and Canada markets since they share such certifications. Also, if you are from any EU member country, you can start there and gain a CE certification which is valid for more than 30 countries. Or better yet, utilize the services of third party companies to manage the certifications for you. Nevertheless, getting a certificate will really help your product gain ground in the world market.