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Why Product Certifications and Standards Should Be Important to You

Product Certifications

When deciding on a LED ticker display, one of the most underrated and often ignored topics is a manufacturer’s testing and product certifications. There are basically 5 reasons that manufacturers should want to get their products certified. Each of these reasons should also be just as important to resellers as they select products for their projects.

  1. To Gain Marketing Advantages – A certified product may display the trademark indicating that the product has undergone evaluation and testing to verify that the product will perform as indicated.
  2. To Meet Regulatory Requirements – Some states or local cities have specific regulations permitting only certified products to be sold in their jurisdiction.
  3. To Earn Business Deals – Some resellers prefer or require the parts/systems they sell to be certified.
  4. To Ensure Consistency – Certification bodies conduct consistent inspections to verify that manufacturing practices remain consistent over time.
  5. To Protect Consumers – Allows consumers to confidently target products certified to address their specific needs.

Let’s begin with the Business Dictionary definition of a certifications. They are a formal procedure by which an accredited or authorized person or agency assesses and verifies (and attests in writing by issuing a certificate) the attributes, characteristics, quality, qualification, or status of individuals or organizations, goods or services, procedures or processes, or events or situations, in accordance with established requirements or standards.

Certifications are closely tied to quality standards so let’s begin there. Quality standards are defined as industry agreed upon documents that provide requirements, specifications, guidelines, or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose. The key phrase here is “fit for their purpose”.

The adoption and adherence to globally recognized quality standards are a must for quality-oriented manufacturers. The best-known example of a quality standards program is ISO 9001. It is defined as “the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system (QMS).” Organizations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. It provides organizations with “the shared vision, understanding, procedures, and vocabulary needed to meet the expectations of their stakeholders.” By definition, “standards present precise descriptions and terminology, they offer an objective and authoritative basis for organizations and consumers around the world to communicate and conduct business.” Organizations that adopt and comply with quality standards such as ISO 9001 utilize their guidelines, definitions, and procedures to help their organization to achieve objectives such as:

  • Satisfying their customers’ quality requirements
  • Ensuring their products and services are safe
  • Complying with regulations
  • Meeting environmental objectives
  • Protecting products against climatic or other adverse conditions
  • Ensuring that internal processes are defined and controlled

The use of quality standards is voluntary but may be expected by certain groups of stakeholders. Additionally, some organizations or government agencies may require suppliers and partners to use a specific standard as a condition of doing business. Is the manufacturer part of a recognized quality control program?

Now we turn our attention to safety standards. It all begins with testing at an NRTL. The acronym stands for a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. It is an independent laboratory recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to test products to the specifications of applicable product safety standards. An NRTL’s function is to provide independent testing and certification of any electrically operated product. The NRTL Program seeks to ensure that products are safe for use in the U.S. workplace. OSHA’s recognition of an NRTL is an acknowledgment of the organization’s ability to perform product safety testing and certification within scope.

There are two safety standards to consider, UL and ETL. It’s not uncommon to have questions about these standards — What does UL listed mean? What does ETL listed mean? What’s the difference?

  • What is the UL Standard?
    • Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an NRTL recognized by OSHA. As an NRTL, UL devises, publishes, updates, and maintains minimal standards that certain types of products (i.e. electronics) should maintain.
    • When a product has been UL Listed, a representative sample has been tested and found to meet all relevant UL-published Standards for Safety as a product in its own right.
    • UL Recognized products are products designed explicitly as a part of a larger product that meet all standards that are relevant to it in its particular end use.
  • What is the ETL Listing
    • Thomas Edison started the Lamp Testing Bureau to test lightbulbs for safety in 1896. Later renamed Electrical Testing Laboratories (ETL), the company expanded to include testing for Standards for Safety for a wide variety of electronics components and products.
    • ETL is currently a division of Intertek Testing Laboratories. Intertek ETL is, like UL, an OSHA recognized NRTL. Unlike UL, ETL does not publish their own standards; instead, they test parts and components to the published standards of other NRTLs, including ASME, ASTM, and, of course, UL.
    • Products that are ETL Listed have been tested at an ETL laboratory and found to meet all applicable Standards for Safety published by relevant NRTLs.

It is important to note that there is no difference between UL and ETL listing aside from the body that issues the listing. Because ETL tests products to previously published UL Standards for Safety, products marked as ETL Listed meet exactly the same criteria as those marked UL Listed or UL Recognized.

There is one other testing compliance to consider that is actually mandated by law. This refers to the FCC. The FCC is an independent US Government agency that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states and US territories. All electronic devices used in the USA must be tested to comply with FCC guidelines. This testing certifies that the electromagnetic interference (EMI) from a device is under the limits approved by the FCC.

The FCC requires that electronic equipment, such as LED ticker signs, be tested to ensure they are not radiating EMI interference that impacts the performance of wireless devices such as cell phones, and the emergency communication for first responders. If there is a violation of the standards, a cease and desist order from the FCC can be expected. To comply with the order, the owner will need to shut down the displays as adjustments can’t be made in the field.

What we are experiencing is that most overseas LED ticker manufacturers use a controller unit called a ‘receiver card’ which sits between the main controller and the LED panels in the display. This design focuses on delivering a low-cost product, but unfortunately it delivers harmful emissions that prevent the display from meeting the FCC standards.

FCC regulations place the burden of responsibility for remediation of electromagnetic interference, on the display owner. If a business owner buys an LED sign that is not FCC compliant and there’s a complaint, it’s the business owner’s responsibility to shut down the sign, correct the issue, and pay any fines levied by the FCC. It is unlikely that the overseas manufacturer is going to take responsibility and help resolve the issue.

It is important the displays you purchase are verifiably certified with UL and/or ETL and especially the FCC. A number of pop-up LED “manufacturers” quickly assemble displays and sell them without subjecting their products to rigorous testing. These manufacturers forego the associated cost and time required for proper safety inspection. Purchasing from one of these manufacturers puts your organization at risk. A non-compliant product is in violation of the National Electric Code (section 410.6).

Ultimately a buying decision of an LED ticker or any electronic product boils down to full disclosure of product information that may positively or negatively affect you…in other word risk. There are 4 approaches to risk:

  • Avoid – Eliminate the threat normally by removing the cause of the threat altogether.
  • Transfer – Shift the impact of the threat to a third party.
  • Mitigate – Reduce the probability or impact of a threat (e.g., requirements review, testing).
  • Accept – Acknowledge the risk but take no action unless the risk occurs.

Obviously, the best course of action is to avoid risk, but risk can be mitigated by transferring the risk to someone you know you can trust.

There are key risks in buying an LED ticker from a random company. First, you don’t know how well-made the products are. Are they made in an ISO 9001 participating facility? Are they certified by UL and/or ETL? Are they really FCC complaint and do they have proof of that? If full disclosure of testing and certifications is not there, avoid that manufacturer at all costs. Our objective is to make you aware of what should be important to you and risks that could be avoided. Keep in mind that if you buy a LED ticker that is not compliant then inspectors could cite you for a violation using a non-listed fixture in your facility. Let the buyer beware!

this article contributed by Alan Brawn