The Big Certification Picture

Nov. 27, 2007

About the author: Rick Andrew is operations manager of the NSF Drinking Water Treatment Units Program. Andrew is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Water Quality Products. He can be reached at 800.NSF.MARK, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Most of us tend to think of product certification in terms of testing. Product testing is, after all, one of the cornerstones of product certification. However, there are many other requirements for product certification that must be taken into consideration by those manufacturers engaged in or contemplating working with a product certification group. With this in mind, let’s step back and examine the full spectrum of requirements associated with certification of point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) products—and of course, we’ll include testing.

Certification Starts with Documentation

Paperwork: No one really enjoys it, but it is a necessary part of product certification because of the strict requirements of the standards. Various characteristics of the product must be documented to facilitate the certification process. One of these characteristics is a complete listing of water contact parts and suppliers of those parts—known in certification jargon as a “wetted parts list.”

From this wetted parts list stems additional documentation of complete formulations for each material in contact with drinking water. This documentation can be one of the most onerous tasks related to certification because it requires the cooperation of all of the companies who formulate materials that contact water in the end product. And although this requirement is difficult and time consuming, it is required by Section 4 of all of the NSF/ANSI DWTU standards (see Figure 1).

Additional documentation requirements can potentially include information such as flow rates, capacities, pressure ratings and contaminant reduction claims made by the manufacturer. These requirements depend on the specific product being certified and the scope of the certification.

Facility Audits

What fun would certification be without audits? Facility audits are a part of all certification programs accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The focus of these audits is first and foremost to verify continuity in production of certified products. Manufacturing inventory, including raw materials, work in process and purchase records are checked against product documentation to ensure that no unauthorized changes to the certified products have been made.

Additionally, audits involve verifying proper use of certification marks or logos, proper lot and date coding, and other areas related to requirements of certification that can be verified at the manufacturing location.

Product Literature Requirements

The NSF/ANSI DWTU standards require specific documentation be created for complete water treatment systems. The intent is to ensure that consumers purchasing these products are equipped with the tools necessary to understand the installation, functions and maintenance requirements for their POU and POE systems.

As part of the certification process, this documentation must be reviewed and approved as meeting the requirements of the standard by the certifier. In order to facilitate the process, this review is usually performed on electronic art files as opposed to actual printed materials.

And of Course, Testing…

The fundamental foundation supporting POE and POU system certification has always been and will always be product testing. Testing can be roughly broken down into three categories, as described in Figure 3.

Complete POU and POE systems can be certified, as well as components of these systems. Examples of typical certified components include filter cartridges, filter housings, reverse osmosis elements, reverse osmosis low-pressure storage tanks and ion exchange resin tanks, although there are many others.

All certified products are evaluated for material safety. All certified pressure-bearing products are evaluated for structural integrity, and all certified complete water treatment systems must have at least one certified contaminant reduction claim. Ongoing testing is also a part of any ANSI-accredited certification program. Typically, POU and POE systems must be retested every five years in order to maintain their certification.

The Big Picture

You now have the “20,000-ft view” of POU and POE certification. There is much more to it than product testing alone, although that is an important part of certification. Documentation, audits and product literature requirements, in addition to testing, also make up the major elements of product certification.

Each of these requirements has a significant level of detail associated with it. All of these details are important to product certification and can bring themselves to the forefront of attention in certain situations. However, just as all of these details are relevant, it is equally important to keep in mind the big picture to make sure we are not losing the forest for the trees.

Especially for manufacturers who are considering product certification and starting from square one, the big picture is critically important because it is easy to focus on certain aspects or requirements of certification and forget about others. It is my hope that this overview will provide you with a tool to keep the big picture always in focus, so as not to be overwhelmed by the details.

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About the Author

Rick Andrew