Jonathan Newell talks to UL in the UK about unravelling the certification puzzle to enable easier access to global markets.
The Internet of Things, an imminent expansion of consumer wireless devices on a grand scale and new technologies such as 5G looming on the horizon are all contributing to exciting challenges for UK technology suppliers but also present puzzling routes to navigate on the road to certification.
To understand more about what manufacturers can expect and how they can overcome the challenges of reaching global markets in a complex environment of regulatory approvals, I spoke to Phil Davies of UL, providers of EMC and Wireless test and laboratory services in the UK and seasoned experts in the field of certification.
Originally founded as Underwriter Electrical Bureau in 1894, UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has always been concerned with the testing and certification of products against important standards of safety.
125 years later, this is still a strong aspect of the US based organisation’s mission and with such a heritage, it is well known worldwide. Its fame is mostly associated with its role in standards and safety accreditation and as a provider of engineering expertise.
In 2010, UL acquired Basingstoke-based RFI Global Services and firmly cemented itself in the UK as an EMC and Wireless testing provider in the country. Since that time, the company has invested heavily and expanded both the facilities in which it operates and the expertise that if offers.
Getting products to market
Former client and SEE member, Phil Davies is now General Manager at UL Consumer Technology in Basingstoke. I asked him how the organisation can help the emerging masses of consumer technology companies to navigate the increasingly complex certification environment.
“Larger companies generally have a good idea of what to expect but the wireless world is expanding rapidly and there are lots of product sectors and small companies that haven’t previously had to be concerned about EMC or the Radio Equipment Directive for example,” he explained.
Davies went on to say that beyond the EU, different countries have different rules and UL knows these intimately and continues to stay abreast of them. Helping companies to understand these rules and abide by them is the core element of UL’s “Global Market Access” programme.
“Gaining accreditation in some markets is very complex, sometimes UL can act as an certification agent for these markets or guide prospective companies through the process they need in order to gain certification,” Davies tells me.
He went on to say that UL now has an online service to which companies can subscribe, which outlines the global standard landscape and is updated with any changes that occur.
“With this service, companies don’t have to maintain any local expertise in global standards, they simply refer to our online service,” Davies explains.
As part of UL’s investment in the Basingstoke facility, it has developed its own in-house software for automated testing processes that is primarily used for complex products of major telecommunications companies. Using automated testing processes enables all the modes to be tested with minimal setup. It is faster, more efficient, more repeatable and more consistent than test processes that are manually set up.
Currently, around 90% of the work at Basingstoke is attributed to EMC and Wireless testing but the company is expanding its capabilities into other areas to provide a single facility within the UK to serve the testing and accreditation market.
It currently houses the largest Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) testing facility in the UK and has expanded its footprint to 50 thousand square feet, with a doubling of its EMC and Wireless capacity. The campus is also destined to house, lighting, healthcare and cybersecurity testing facilities in the near future.
As well as certification testing, UL is also offering interoperability testing services. Interoperability is therefore a key requirement for the future, according to Davies, and this is important from client perspective in ensuring products perform functionally in different interoperable modes.
“We want to make sure that the emerging requirements for the services we offer are well catered for and our aim is to make it easy to gain access to first class engineering expertise and laboratory facilities,” Davies concludes.