Certification 101

July 26, 2021

About the author:

Tom Palkon, CWS-VI, is director of product certification for the Water Quality Association. He can be reached at 630.505.0160, or by e-mail at [email protected].

There are several reasons why companies certify their products, but which ones are important for your company? Some of the typical reasons for certifying products include regulatory requirements, competitive advantages and marketing strategies.

Why Certify?

Regulatory requirements. In the U.S., Canada and throughout the world, regulations have been adopted that require certain products to be certified before they can legally be sold. For example, California, Iowa, Wisconsin and Massachusetts all have specific regulations concerning the sale of drinking water treatment products, such as water softeners and filters, and reverse osmosis, ultraviolet and distillation systems. Each state’s requirements are slightly different; therefore, it is important that you contact them directly or consult with your certification body. Many certification bodies will offer assistance concerning the state registration process. It is extremely important to understand that if you are having your products certified in order to comply with a specific regulation, you need to make sure that your certification body’s test results will be accepted by the regulatory agency. Not all certification bodies are accepted by every regulatory agency.

Competitive advantages. Companies that have been making drinking water treatment units since the time testing standards were being developed often have entire product lines certified. New companies entering the market often find it necessary to have their products certified in order to keep up with these more established companies. New companies certifying their products in this manner should review the certified claims of their competitors so that they can make similar certified claims for their products. All certified claims can be found on the certification body’s website.

Marketing strategies. Companies also have products certified to enhance their marketing strategies. Third-party certification allows manufacturers to market the quality and reliability of their products to consumers, dealers and buyers. Certification has been used in the industry as a way for manufacturers to differentiate their products from the “fly by night” companies. If you are looking for marketing advantages of the certification mark carried on your products, conduct some consumer studies or research your target market to help determine which certification mark will provide you with the best marketing advantages.

Product Grouping

It can be extremely costly to certify every product you manufacture or distribute, but many times, certification agencies can group products by similarity in order to keep certification costs to a minimum. Companies should approach certification agencies with their “wish list” of products they intend to certify as if cost were not an issue. This allows the certification agency to determine the best way to group the different product lines according to design and function similarities. It also allows the certification agency an opportunity to determine the “worst case” system(s). The worst case system(s) test results can be used by the certification agency to certify entire product lines or for future product lines with similar design and construction. After the products have been grouped by the certification agency, the company always has the choice to reduce its wish list if the cost is still too high.

Testing Standards

There are a variety of standards that have been written to test and evaluate drinking water treatment products. These testing standards have been developed by several different agencies and adopted by different regulatory agencies throughout the world. The standards that have been adopted in the U.S. and Canada for water treatment devices are the NSF/ANSI Drinking Water Treatment Unit Standards. Each standard has been developed according to the specific technology for treating water.

Table 1 lists the different standards developed for the North American markets and the type of product to which the standard applies. The eight standards listed cover many of the drinking water treatment products sold in the marketplace today, but they certainly do not cover every technology being sold. If a company has developed a product based on a technology that is not covered under the scope of the standards listed, a new standard would need to be developed for that product type.

Certification Bodies

Now that you have decided why you want your products certified, how many products to certify, and which standards apply to your product lines, you need to answer the most difficult question: Which certification body do you want to use? Here are a few suggestions that may simplify the process.

Research all certification bodies that evaluate drinking water treatment products. The most common certification bodies in North America include the Water Quality Association, NSF International, Underwriters Laboratories, the Canadian Standards Association and the International Association of Plumbing Mechanical Officials.

Treat certification agencies as if they were just another service supplier. Each certification body will offer different incentives for using their services, just like any other service provider. Review each of the certifiers’ policies, fees, service, turnaround times, regulatory acceptances, procedures and use of their mark to determine which agency will provide the best fit between the certification body and your company.

Obtain quotes and timelines from each of the certification agencies to determine who can offer the best price and shortest timeline. Remember that you can switch certification bodies if you are unhappy with any of the choices you have made, but switching service providers will require additional work for your company. Most certification bodies have established agreements that allow them to accept each other’s test data. This acceptance of data between certification bodies makes switching a fairly simple process.

Start Early

Product certification for many companies is looked upon as an additional time delay before they can get their product to market. Companies that wait until they are ready to bring their products to market often are surprised to find out that it may take an additional three months to complete the certification process. Finally, remember: product certification takes time, so start researching each of the certification bodies as soon as possible.

About the Author

Tom Palkon

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