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Streamlining third-party agency approvals to save time and money

March 09, 2005
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Companies spend a great deal of time and money securing approvals from third-party agencies such as UL and CSA. While the approvals process is designed to ensure a level playing field among competing products, the cost can be substantial. It is in the best interests of component manufacturers to streamline the approvals process, minimizing additional costs and labor hours. This article will offer strategies for a more efficient process.

What is an NRTL?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for regulating product and environmental safety for American workers and consumers. To that end, the organization administers the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program, designed to recognize private-sector organizations (certified as NRTLs) which meet the necessary criteria. NRTLs test products to OSHA’s safety standards. Each NRTL applies to be recognized for the specific testing it wishes to administer.

NRTL status is given to an organization which has submitted application materials; passed the extensive, on-site review process; and received a positive report and recommendation by the staff who conducted the inspection. The recognition lasts five years, after which the NRTL must apply for a renewal.

How do NRTLs serve the marketplace?

Third-party-verified products benefit customers in several ways. The most obvious benefit is knowing that the NRTL-marked product is built to operate within recognized safety parameters. Also, the process is meant to promote fair play in the marketplace. When a potential customer begins to research the best component for his or her application, products from several competitors can be evaluated based on factual, third-party-verified specifications.

The customer may be designing a product which will require NRTL verification, too. In this instance, it makes sense to purchase a component which is already marked, thereby ensuring that his or her company will not have to incur the extra time and cost of component testing before the final product can be approved.

For a component manufacturer, NRTL testing and marking can also be viewed as a valuable sales and marketing tool. The certified mark lets prospective buyers know that the product is safe and reliable, offering a competitive advantage.

Getting a Product Tested

While each NRTL has its own process steps for new submissions, there are certain milestones to keep in mind. These are:

  1. Internally, identify the project’s scope. Engineers should:

    1. identify construction requirements and ensure conformance
    2. identify and confirm performance requirements

This is meant to be a total product review, including how the product is made and how it is meant to work. It must cover every product model and option available.

  1. Open the project with the agency. Do this by contacting the NRTL’s customer service team, submitting the project details as previously identified, and contacting the project engineer as identified by the NRTL.

  2. Negotiate and determine sample requirements and the test regimen; confirm cost and lead time.

  3. Send samples for testing; follow up with the engineer throughout testing to check on project status.

  4. Work with the project engineer to create the documentation package (i.e., descriptive text and operating parameters for the product) to be included in the final report.

  5. Review the final report once it is submitted. If there are no problems with the report, the product can be marked immediately. If there are problems with the product, test results will be sent to the manufacturer and re-engineering will need to take place.

  6. Disposition samples as agreed upon (throw away or send back to the manufacturer).

Tips for a Streamlined Process

Ensuring a smooth testing process means less labor hours, a faster turnaround time and a more precise result. The good news is that there are ways to accomplish this, including:

  • Be a know-it-all. Perform tests internally to ensure conformance to construction and performance standards prior to beginning the approvals process. These agencies are not meant to qualify a new product. Neglecting to confirm the product’s conformity beforehand can result in wasted time and money during the approvals process. Or, if the product fails, the manufacturer must start from scratch. These delays can inflate the cost by even double or triple the original amount.

  • See the big picture. Take the time to understand the product requirements (physical, construction, and operation) and how they equate to the gamut of NRTL standards.

  • Sit in the driver’s seat. NRTL project engineers are often responsible for testing products within broad categories of industries. Therefore, he or she may have only a perfunctory knowledge of the manufacturer’s product. Take the lead by providing as detailed a product blueprint as possible at the beginning of the process. Also, take the time to fill him or her in completely on the product and the project, and answer any questions. Provide feedback while determining the test regimen. This will save a great deal of back-and-forth between the company and the NRTL.

  • Take a look. The same principles apply to the final report and supporting documentation for the product. Work with the project engineer to ensure that these are accurate and complete, forestalling rounds of revisions.

  • Make a friend. If a previous NRTL process was completed quickly and painlessly, ask to work with the same project engineer. Not all NRTLs will be able to honor this request; however, it is worth asking.

  • Stay in the loop. To prevent issues from developing, follow up with the project engineer throughout the process.

No one has more thorough product knowledge than the manufacturer. So, leverage that expertise to assist the test engineer throughout the process. Detail, organization, and clarity from the beginning of the NRTL approvals process can mean an easier road to success.

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