Certifications for Electronics Hardware: When, Why and How to Obtain Them

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Electronics Hardware Certifications

Obtaining all the proper certifications for electronics to be mass produced and marketed can be enough to drive you certifiably insane. ACDi is here to help you navigate these tricky waters.*

DID YOU KNOW?

  • 50% of consumer electronic products fail standard certification testing during their first pass.
  • Almost every certification test is expensive and time consuming and most products require multiple tests before they pass.
  • When it comes to being cost- and time-effective, your best bet is to consult an accredited third party who has the knowledge and resources to know exactly which certifications your product will require, what your product design will need to obtain them, and to provide the test lab, environment, and accredited regulator all in one place.

WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN GETTING CERTIFICATIONS FOR ELECTRONIC HARDWARE

You CANNOT ship to your customers until certain certifications are complete, so incorporate the potential time and cost the certifications can take into your project plan.

Don’t rush it. If you test too early and then make significant design changes, you will void the test and will need to spend time and money retesting. For example, don’t bother scheduling your certification tests until you have the bulk of your manufacturing figured out and at least 80% of your bugs worked out. Additionally, the regulation may require your instruction manuals with the test unit, so ensure you have a finalized manual before you submit for testing.

Lastly, different countries, and sometimes different states, require different certifications. Do your research or you may end up spending quality time and money on tests that are not required, while skipping ones you need.

MOST COMMON CERTIFICATIONS

  • FCC Certification
  • CE Marking
  • UL & CSA Certifications
  • RoHS and/or WEEE Certification
  • BlueTooth SIG

FCC CERTIFICATION

Will I need FCC certification?

  • My electronic product oscillates at 9 kHz or higher
  • I want to manufacture and/or market my product in the USA

Why is this required?

Because almost every electronic product with oscillating signals emit some amount of electromagnetic radiation—or radio waves—and the goal is to ensure these don’t interfere with communications.

Few products are exempt from FCC certification. You can determine applicable criteria by searching through the FCC regulatory documents or by consulting an accredited test lab.

Without FCC certification, it is illegal to import, sell, or lease equipment in the United States.

There are two classes of FCC testing: Class A and Class B. Class A is an easier test to pass, and is intended for products that will be used in industrial applications. Class B is for consumer products and requires stricter testing.

There are also two categories of FCC certifications: intentional radiator and non-intentional radiator, which are determined by whether your product incorporates wireless capabilities. Intentional radiators include cell phones, wireless connections, Bluetooth connections, etc. Unintentional radiators include television sets, digital cameras, microwave, etc.

Electromagnetic emissions are measured in a dedicated room with a specialized testing chamber called an anechoic chamber, which is outfitted with sensors for detecting electromagnetic emissions and designed to absorb all electromagnetic radiation. Chances are you don’t have an accredited in-house FCC laboratory. And the cost to rent a testing chamber can be nearly $1,000 per hour, with each testing session requiring a few hours at minimum. Most products require several sessions and several modifications to pass the emissions testing.

What’s the recommendation?

Consider hiring a third-party testing company to leverage their expertise if you will require this certification and to perform all the necessary FCC testing.

CE Marking

Will I need CE Marking certification?

  • I want to market and/or manufacture my product in Europe

Why is this required?

The CE marking ensures the product has met the safety, health, and environmental standards of the EU. The 28 member states of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Turkey require CE markings for products to be sold and used, even if they are being imported from outside Europe.

This process typically takes a month and the costs can fluctuate depending on what your product is as different types of products have different standards.

What’s the recommendation?

The manufacturer is responsible for affixing the CE marking when all the requirements are fulfilled and will be responsible for CE compliance, however a knowledgeable third-party test or certification body can help you obtain the certification or help you modify your product to meet the requirements.    

UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES CERTIFICATION or CANADIAN STANDARDS ASSOCIATION

Will I need UL and/or CSA certification?

  • My electronic product plugs directly into an AC outlet (This includes battery-powered products that come with battery rechargers)
  • My electronic product doesn’t plug directly into an AC outlet, but I want liability insurance and/or I want to sell it though a large retail chain
  • I want to market/manufacture my product in the US or Canada

Why is this required?

Technically, this certification is not required to sell your product in the US, but without it, you are liable for several safety issues. The UL certification will ensure you are covered if your product starts an electrical fire or other related matters. Think Galaxy Note 7. If that happened to you, having UL certification can help ensure you can obtain the right coverage.

And, while not nationally required, most large retail chains and insurance companies do require UL certification regardless of whether it plugs into an AC outlet as an extra safety measure.

CSA is an alternative to UL certification and is valid in both Canada and the US.

There are numerous types of UL certifications and it is quite complex to find the ones that apply to you. Because of this, many new products are sold directly to consumers online to avoid the number of UL certifications required to obtain insurance or retail store support.

What’s the recommendation?

Consider hiring a third-party UL expert to review your design even if you don’t proceed with UL testing.  Additionally, going through certification process with an expert—even if you don’t need it—is incredibly useful for identifying potential points of product failure that you may not otherwise capture.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances and Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Regulation

Will I need RoHS and/or WEEE certification?

  • I want to sell my product in California and/or the European Union

Why is this required?

RoHS certification confirms your product meets the restrictions on 10 hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. Fines and penalties are levied against the manufacturers of products that are not RoHS certified.

In the European Union, the WEEE regulation works in conjunction with RoHS. The WHEE regulation simply ensures the design of electronic products will perpetuate its safe disposal, ideally through environmentally safe recycling.      

What’s the recommendation? 

RoHS certification is both simple and inexpensive. Most contract manufacturers will take care of the requirements for you.

If your contract manufacturer will not, RoHS consultants can oversee compliance, ensuring all the components of your product have been tested against the RoHS guidelines and documented.

You can also send your product to a RoHS lab, which typically takes about two weeks. 

BLUETOOTH SIG

Will I need Bluetooth SIG certification?

  • I want to use the Bluetooth name and/or logo with or on my product

Why is this required?

Bluetooth SIG oversees the standards and licensing of the Bluetooth technology trademark. If you want to advertise your product uses Bluetooth, you will need to register your product, have it tested in a certified lab, and pay to use the trademark.

If you are a start-up (by which, you can prove your annual revenue is less than $1M), the fee for Bluetooth SIG is $2,500. For everyone else, the fee is $8,000.

What’s the recommendation?

For any device that can utilize Bluetooth technology, advertising that capability is vital. It is worth the investment.

IN CONCLUSION

These are just the tip of the certification iceberg depending on what your product is and where you want to manufacture or market it. There can be hundreds of others. For example, you may be exempt from ULA certification but then require UN38.3 certification or IEC 62281 certification because your product uses lithium batteries instead of plugging into an outlet.

To add to the confusion, these rules are often subject to change as new technologies are being developed.

Being diligent and staying informed can help. Good planning to incorporate the potential time and expenses of testing is another important move. Partnering with a company who understands what certifications your product will need and can take all the steps to acquire them for you is even better.

*At ACDi, we are primarily a contract manufacturer that also offers engineering services such as electrical, mechanical, and layout design. We also support various certifications for jobs we are doing, but that is not out primary line of business. When you are ready to build your product, please keep us in mind.

Please do not consider any companies we mention in this as an endorsement.

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