Sofeast’s head of New Product Development and resident product reliability expert, Andrew Amirnovin, provides this introduction to UL certification. You’ll learn what this testing is for, the kinds of products involved, who requires it, and more.
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What is UL?
UL focuses on evaluating product safety. We work a lot with consumer electronics, and so electrical/electronic safety is a critical concern due to the risk of harm if things go wrong. As we wrote on Sofeast.com’s blog:
UL is one of the most commonly sought-after certification organizations as it applies to testing and qualification on a wide assortment of electrical components and products as mentioned within the list below.
The UL Mark is a compliance designation that provides assurances to consumers that the safety and performance claims of products and components have been thoroughly and rigorously evaluated.
01:51 – What kind of product might be seen as a safety hazard?
The exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone is a well-known example of a product safety failure. Therefore, consumer electronics with Lithium-ion batteries or that plug into mains power are technically potential hazards for consumers due to their ability to cause fires and injury when faulty and will likely require UL testing and certification. But safety hazards can be anything that could harm a person or property, so this could include toxic elements, etc, too.
Examples of technologies that UL typically investigates for compliance:
- Electrical and Electronic equipment. (Appliances, Power supplies..etc).
- Electrical and Electronic components. (Circuit breakers, Fuses, Relays..etc).
- Alarm signaling devices. (Smoke detectors, Fire suppression and Alarm monitoring).
- Information Technology. (Computers, Security and Access control).
- Wire and Cable (Appliance and Extension cords).
- Any equipment that is intended for use in hazardous environments. (Oil, Gas and Intrinsically safe).
- Life safety and protective gear. (Life jackets, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Flame retardant clothing). (Also from Sofeast)
Where is UL usually required and is it mandatory?
UL is usually required for the US market only, but importers to other countries may benefit from putting their products through UL safety testing. UL is actually NOT mandatory, however, most retailers will demand UL certification before they buy products from manufacturers and not having the certification can open you up to litigation if things go wrong. (02:48)
Risks if you do not get a UL certification.
This is an expensive certification, ranging from two or three thousand dollars, up to over one hundred thousand, so some importers may not want to do it to control costs, but there are risks.
- You may be liable to costly lawsuits if a non-compliant product injures someone or damages their property.
- You will be blocked from selling or possibly even importing in the USA because UL certification is so widely demanded by retailers. (05:53)
How long does a UL certification take and what does it cost?
A small and simple product could cost between $2-5k, requiring several samples per test, and take about 3-4 weeks to complete the testing.
For larger, more complex electronic products UL testing can cost more than $50k and take over a month. (07:48)
Do you need to re-certify a new version of your product?
Once a product has gained UL certification, it will need to be re-certified if there are ANY changes to the product. (13:00)
When should you start working on UL compliance testing?
The best time is when prototyping has been completed and you have a locked design and the product is ready to go into mass production. Doing other product testing and validation and the pilot run at this time will prepare you to go straight into mass production as soon as the UL certification result is available. (15:36)
Some ideas to help avoid doing a full UL certification.
UL compliance is a must for a good percentage of consumer products being sold in the USA simply because it is not worth risking putting consumers in any danger. However, because it’s costly some importers may want to know if there are ways to avoid it or at least reduce its costs. Here are some tips, although we don’t endorse skipping UL certification in most cases:
- Select components inside your product that are already UL-certified.
- If electrical products need to plug into a wall socket, make sure that the socket is UL-certified to avoid needing to test it.
- Try to use a USB charger instead of mains power, then the adapters can be UL-certified by the supplier, and you won’t need to worry about UL certification for the power aspect of your product.
Some importers who sell independently online in small quantities and do not sell through retailers might not need to do UL certification, but you need to weigh up if the product could be a safety hazard. (19:40)
Why UL compliance is important, which labs you need to use for the testing, and the kinds of advice and support we usually provide to help clients comply.
UL compliance is not just for electronics, it’s important for any kind of product that could possibly pose a safety risk or consumers.
Importers don’t always have a thorough understanding of product compliance, we help guide them through the process and can make product design suggestions to make a product more compliant and can put them in touch with the right UL-accredited lab because you must use one for the testing and certification.
A point to note is that UL testing labs probably won’t provide much product feedback, their role is to test to see if the product complies. So you can work with other partners, like our company, to screen the product in advance to assure that it will pass the certification before you make the large investment into the testing. (24:13)
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