Certification: Why Does it Take So Long?

The most frequent comment that certification agencies receive is, “Why does the testing and certification process take so long to complete?” Although there are many answers to this question, it is important for companies to understand that they actually have a lot of control over the timing of the certification process.

Most testing and certification delays are a direct result of poor communication between the company seeking certification and its certification agency. Miscommunication will be limited if companies follow the steps outlined below, and there will never be any surprises as to when testing and certification will be complete.

 

A Single Contact

Clear communication between the company and certification agency at the beginning of the project is the only way deadlines can be met. Companies that designate a single point of contact within the certification agency significantly reduce communication errors. Product certification is complex; it includes product testing, plant inspections, compliance to an industry standard and conformance to the certification agency’s policies.

If different people from the company are communicating with the certification agency, that is normally a recipe for inconsistent requests. This leads to confusion, resulting in a delay of the certification process, and can be frustrating for the company and the certification agency. Having one point of contact will eliminate this potential delay.

Many certification agencies will assign a specific project coordinator to manage the certification request. Another pitfall for companies is bypassing their project coordinator and instead speaking with an individual they personally know within the agency. This can cause a communication breakdown within the certification agency. Contacting someone besides your specific project coordinator who may not have all the information concerning the product will typically result in an incomplete answer that could slow the project down because it will inevitably need to be discussed again with the project coordinator.

If a company wants to communicate with other individuals within the certification agency or with others within their own company, the best solution is a conference call. This ensures that the single point of contact within the company and the specific project coordinator within the certification agency understand the exact request and understand the specific path forward.

The Water Quality Association (WQA) typically recommends weekly conference calls for international companies that are going through the certification process for the first time, as well as domestic companies who do not have a lot of experience with the product certification process.

 

Do Your Homework

Product certification is a complicated process, but each certification agency will have published policies that explain everything that is required. Reading certification policies is normally very low on the priority list for companies, especially if they have limited staff. By reviewing the certification agency’s policies, clarifying any questions and understanding all the requirements, companies can cut weeks or even months off of the time it takes to certify their products.

Although certification agencies develop their policies in accordance to the ISO Guide 65 requirements, they each have slightly different policies that can affect the certification time frame. If the company does not have the time to review the certification agency’s policies prior to beginning the certification process, it is wise to set up a conference call or meeting with the agency. During the meeting, WQA recommends that the certification agency reviews each policy with the company to ensure both parties understand all the requirements. The certification agency’s policies are the backbone of its program; without a complete understanding of the policies, companies will often find themselves surprised that a particular requirement must be met. Surprises could lead to delays in certification. Some important policies to consider when reviewing testing and certification agencies include the following:wq060708

  • How does the certifier allow the company to use its mark?
  • What are the annual testing and certification fees?
  • How often does the certifier require the company’s plant to be inspected? What are the minimum requirements for the plant inspection?
  • Does the certifier recognize test data from other testing/certification agencies? Are there restrictions on the test data it will accept?
  • How often does the certifier require retesting?
  • What are the certifier’s literature requirements? What pieces of literature are reviewed?
  • What documentation is required to start the certification process?

It has been said many times before: Product certification is a complicated process. Even when a company understands the certification agency’s policies, the company must also understand each of the certification agency’s forms that are required to certify a product. Each certification agency will require specific documentation to be completed before the process can begin. Many times companies will just send products to their certifier without completing any of the required documentation in order to begin the certification process. When that happens, the products will just sit in the certification agency’s storeroom until the necessary documents are completed. Gathering material formulation information, completing product specification sheets, and developing performance data sheets, data plates and installation manuals can take a signification amount of time.

Knowing what the certification agency needs to begin the process is vital. Typically the data plate, performance data sheet and installation/operation manuals can be developed while testing is ongoing, but product specification sheets and material formulation forms must be complete before testing can begin. WQA recommends that companies meet with the certification agency or hold conference calls with the certifiers so that they can guide the company through each of the forms that are required to begin the certification process.

 

Understand the Test

The standards that have been developed to evaluate drinking water treatment units, drinking water treatment components and additives are complicated. Companies must have a basic understanding of the requirements of the standard so they can provide the pertinent information about their product to the certification agency. Without this information, certification agencies may not even be able to quote the project because the company has not provided capacities, flow rates, performance indication information, etc.

Many certification agencies offer standards training. For example, last year WQA offered free training to all companies interested in certification of water softeners, RO equipment, filters, drinking water system components and additives. This year WQA will be repeating these free training seminars along with offering standards training for UV and distillers. With all the free training available, companies should make sure their staff has a complete understanding of the testing standards applicable for their product lines. By understanding the requirements of the standard, the company will know the approximate time each test will take to complete. This will allow the company to develop a Gantt chart for the product certification process. Gantt charts allow the company to determine the minimum amount of time it will take to complete the certification of a product or product line. If the company is developing a new product, the entire certification process can be added to the Gantt chart in order to determine when the product can be released as a certified product. Gantt charts can also help determine which tests can be run simultaneously. This will establish the shortest time frame possible to complete each required test. If the company’s point of contact does not understand the testing standard or how long the tests will take, unrealistic expectations for testing/certification completion dates will probably develop.

 

Send Proper Equipment

Certification agency typically have a testing queue. After test units are received they are scheduled into the queue and testing typically begins a few days or weeks from receipt, depending on the testing/certification agency bench space and workload. If equipment is sent to the certification agency without the proper plumbing connections, filter cartridge, valve timing, etc., the laboratory has no way of beginning the tests. This may result in removal of the system from the test bench, a request for the missing parts and placement of the system back into the queue. Companies must consider the agency as a final consumer (not a water treatment dealer) when shipping test units. Certification agencies do not keep specialized connectors, valve components or replacement cartridges in storage in case they are not shipped with the test request. More than 15% of the time, WQA has found that the company has forgotten to send a critical connection or component with the units that they shipped for testing. This type of mistake can cost the company days or even weeks of delay in total certification time.

 

Realistic Expectations

When beginning the product certification process, talk with the certification agency to determine realistic time lines for certification. If it is a new product or a product still in development and the company has not performed validation testing according to the standards requirement, it’s important to factor in time for unexpected problems or testing failures. For projects in which the company has performed prevalidation testing, unexpected problems or testing failure timing do not need to be factored into the Gantt chart. When a specific launch date is needed in a timeframe shorter than the agency’s typical turnaround schedule, the company should set up a meeting with the certification agency to determine if anything can be done to meet the launch date. Many times the agency can conduct different tests simultaneously, perform literature reviews during testing or use other recognized testing organizations in order to complete the certification process by a specified launch date.

 

Conclusion

Product certification does not have to be a long, drawn-out process in which the company has no idea when everything will be completed. As long as the company and certification agency communicate in a clear and consistent manner, both organizations will be pleased with timing of the certification process. The best way to ensure certification is moving as scheduled is to have a weekly discussion with the certification agency and understand all the certification steps necessary to complete the project.

Tom Palkon, CSW-VI, is director of product certification for the Water Quality Association. He can be reached at 630.505.0160, or by e-mail at tpalkon@mail.wqa.org.

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