Product Safety Certification and my ordeal with Intertek

Although IoTaWatt is classified as a low-voltage device, it is used in proximity to high-voltage. As part of my due-diligence, I wanted to get a professional evaluation as to product safety. It’s not required in the US and Canada, it is in Europe.

There are a set of standards for this, UL 61010-1… and UL 61010-2-030… that have similar incarnations as Canadian standards (CSA) end international (IEC). For the US and Canada, you can have these tests conducted by any Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), and for Europe, by a Notified Authority.

UL is an NRLT. So is MET labs and Intertek and there are quite a few others. I received proposals from several, and decided to have Intertek do the testing on IoTaWatt. The cost was $9,900. It took them about two days to complete their testing. There were no issues and the device was found to be in full compliance with the standards. I have reports to indicate that.

Now comes the fun part. Intertek has registered mark that you can put on the device to certify that the device that you buy conforms to the applicable standards, and that the device you are buying is certified to be the same as the device that was tested. That’s a good consumer protection, but the devil is in the details.

IoTaWatt is manufactured by a local reputable contract manufacturing facility here in New Hampshire. When I want to build some, I send them a purchase order and about a month later, they spend a week producing them. If all goes well, they may build one more batch this year.

Intertek has fees to setup your compliance agreement, and they charge an outrageous fee to make labels for you with their mark, or to a separate unreasonable fee to allow you to print the mark directly. OK, that’s once per year and manageable. I estimate that will add maybe 50 cents to your cost for the product.

The other part is that they require quarterly inspections of the “manufacturing facility” to the tune of $800 per inspection, or about $3,200/year. So in order to “certify” say 1,000 IoTaWatt produced over the next year, inspections of a manufacturing facility that isn’t manufacturing the product will add about $2.40 to the cost of one IoTaWatt. That’s not counting the cost of the original testing, the “imprinting” fee or the general account setup fee.

Due to the circumstance of IoTaWatt not having a continuous manufacturing facility, I proposed to Intertek that they simply charge the inspection fee for each batch produced, and actually inspect that process, while the devices are being manufactured. If you think about it, doesn’t that do more to certify that the product you are buying is the product that they tested than randomly inspecting a facility that is not, in all likelyhood, actually manufacturing the product?

Their policy does a disservice to you, the consumer, because the inappropriate inspection fees must be added to the price, and because the assurances that their mark is intended to convey are not based on actual product inspection.

The reality is that their policies are more focused on using their trademark to create a recurring revenue stream rather than assuring product safety in this instance. The Europeans, with their CE marking system, are much more reasonable and effective. CE requires that the manufacturer have the tests conducted, and then maintain a portfolio to document compliance. The CE mark can be applied, subject to challenge. There are no ongoing fees.

So it may be that IoTaWatt will not carry a certification mark. I can document that it complies with all of the standards, and self certify that the product what was tested. I’m still trying to get clarification from Intertek about their one-size-fits-all policy. It’s a shame that after paying nearly $10,000 to this outfit, they won’t take a minute to consider the appropriateness of their policies and what it means to the ability of a small business to put a new product to market.

Intertek is costly; however without it I cannot use your product. Canada in particularly is going through a policy change to incent energy monitoring. If I can’t get a certified sticker on the product, my clients and their electricians won’t install the devices. If you need re-price your device, I would so so. Otherwise your market is limited.

Another option is that we can partner to gain access to grant funds to cover-off your certification as you scale up manufacturing. Feel free to reach out to me directly to discuss. I was really hoping you would get UL certified.

UL was $20,000 for testing. Yes, not having the mark limits the market. That’s all part of the reason it’s so expensive.

Understand that the product has been tested to be fully compliant with all applicable US, CSA, EU, FCC standards, at great expense. Now Intertek wants to be my business partner and charge me to “certify” those tests by applying their trademark based on costly random inspections of a facility that will not be actually making the product. It sells the public and the client short. It says volumes when Intertek will not defend the rational of their program, and just fall back on a “that’s the way we do it” argument.

I’ve not finished negotiating this and it may be that I can come to accept Intertek’s unjustified fees, but I’m continually exploring alternatives. There may be ways to reduce the fees, but getting information from them is like pulling teeth. It’s just another big bureaucracy. The Europeans have a much better approach.

I guess every country will be different. Australia is similar to Europe.

It depends on the device but something like this would most likely not require mandatory safety certification and compliance marks but a manufacturer would be responsible to ensure that appropriate Australian standards or other appropriate international standards have been met and would be required to demonstrate this if challenged. The testing that you have conducted seems appropriate due diligence given the assessed risk of proximity to higher voltages and the test reports would be suitable evidence. It is an obligation on the supplier to ensure that products manufactured in future are materially the same as the product tested.

Interestingly the AC and DC plug packs are declared devices and must be tested in a NATA certified lab and have a certification mark applied though there is no need for factory inspections, again the manufacturer/importer needs to ensure that any future product is materially the same as the certified and tested product.

EMC (FCC type requirements) for a device like this would require the manufacturer to identify appropriate Australian standards, test to those standards and self certify compliance by an Australian based business with registration on the ACMA database and have reports and evidence on file to provide to ACMA on request.

You proposal seems reasonable and practical, but Intertek seem to be leveraging the situation to make an unreasonable request. Hopefully they are open to sensible negotiation.