Counterfeit electrical products are a huge and growing problem. Counterfeit products worth billions of dollars enter the U.S. each year. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 13% of all counterfeit products seized are electrical products, ranking them second among all category totals.
The manufacture of counterfeit electrical products is popular because the profits are outsized, and it’s difficult to pinpoint where bad products are originally made, and who is responsible for exporting them.
Generally, counterfeiters don’t go to the expense of having products tested and verified by an approved third-party testing lab designated as a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL) such as MET Labs, but they will sometimes produce fake approval logos.
To lower costs, counterfeit products typically have substandard design, materials, and/or manufacturing quality. Counterfeit electrical products present serious health and safety risks to consumers and to the electrical industry. These products can overheat or cause short circuits, leading to fires, shocks or explosions that can kill people and produce considerable property damage.
Manufacturers, distributors, and installers of electrical products also face legal risks for trading in counterfeit products — even if they are victims of counterfeiters.
To protect yourself from the purchase of counterfeit electrical products, observe these 5 guidelines. If you are an electrical product manufacturer, encourage your customers to do the same – you never know when one of those bogus products will have your brand name on it.
- Buy from a reputable source. Purchase products from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or a known retailer.
- Examine labels, documentation and packaging. Check for certification marks from organizations that certify the quality and performance of electrical products. Avoid products that lack any identifying branding label or have poor-quality labels, missing owner’s manual, out-of-date product codes, and suspect packaging.
- Verify authentication. Use tools provided by the original manufacturer or certification organizations to verify electrical products are authentic. For a MET-safety-labeled product, verify authenticity in the MET Labs Online Safety Certification Database.
- Examine the product. Quality control is often lacking in counterfeiting operations, so you may be able to spot a counterfeit based on its workmanship.
- Avoid bargains. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If a product is suspected to be counterfeit, contact the brand owner and report your concern to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement: 1-866-347-2423.
Read about how the MET safety mark compares to UL.
There was much discussion about the E3 Program (Energy Efficiency, Energy Performance & Energy Consumption), covered in Compliance Today previously.
The U.S. initially opposed the E3 Program because there is a lack of harmonization. As it stands, there is no assured reciprocity and there is no certificate issued, just a Statement of Test Results (STR). It is up to the reader of the STR to decide to accept or not.
UL and CSA have recently published harmonized versions of IEC 62368-1. It will, however, likely be a long time before this becomes a NRTL standard due to OSHA’s workload and their likely objection to its inclusion of hazard-based analysis. Major labs will list to it, but if a product is going into the workplace, then 60950 or 60065 must still be used.
Only the U.S., Sweden and Denmark have adopted 62368-1 in the Scheme per the CB website. Canada is to participate soon, as is France. The Netherlands may participate soon.
More about IEC 62368-1 is found in this Compliance Today post.
China is not currently accepting EMC within the Scheme. China’s objection may be that this was once voluntary and that the Scheme adopted EMC as mandatory and have not given China time to revise its standards.
At least one manufacturer thinks there is a need for motors to be in the safety CB Scheme. The only place a motor standard is covered is within the EMC Scheme. NEMA’s 1MG Section is continuing its conversation regarding the inclusion of electric motors as part of the E3 Program.
Next meetings are May 22-23, 2012 in Vancouver, Canada, and August 7-8, 2012 in Orange County, California.
Stay tuned – Up soon is a corresponding post on EMC compliance resources.
Standards & Schemes
CB Scheme The international certification program managed by the IECEE, with over 60 countries participating.
IEC The International Electrotechnical Commission publishes consensus-based International Standards and manages conformity assessment systems for electric and electronic products.
CENELEC The European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization. It creates voluntary European electrotechnical standards (ENs).
UL Catalog of Standards UL has developed more than 1,000 standards for safety.
CSA Standards Canadian Standards Association Online Store.
BSI Standards The UK’s National Standards Body (NSB) and was the world’s first.
Standards Australia Australia non-government standards body.
Standards New Zealand New Zealand’s leading developer and publisher of standards.
ANSI American National Standards Institute is the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system.
IHS Standards Has a wide variety of standards available for purchase.
NFPA Codes & Standards National Fire Protection Association has developed more than 300 consensus codes and standards to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. Publishes NEC.
U.S. OSHA NRTL Program OSHA is responsible for managing the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program for U.S. product safety certification.
U.S. CPSC U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products.
U.S. MSHA Mine Safety and Health Administration works to prevent death, disease, and injury from mining in the U.S.
U.S. Laser Safety Regulations The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations outlines U.S. laser safety requirements.
Standards Council of Canada The SCC is responsible for accrediting certification bodies for the Canadian market.
EU Directives Includes links to harmonized standards references.
RAPEX The EU rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products, with the exception of food, pharmaceutical and medical devices.
CNCA Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Certification and Accreditation and Applying China Compulsory Certification (CCC) Mark
RRA National Radio Research Agency, Korea’s regulatory agency for KC Mark.
BSMI Bureau of Standards, Metrology & Inspection is the authority responsible for standardization, metrology and product inspection in Taiwan.
GOST Russia Federal Agency on Technical Regulating and Metrology.
Publishers: Magazines & Blogs
IAEI Magazine Magazine for electrical inspectors.
IN Compliance Magazine Formerly Conformity, covers product safety along with other compliance disciplines.
Product Safety Letter Digital newsletter and website.
Test & Measurement World Covers product safety occasionally.
Hazardous Area International Magazine Coverage includes hazardous location and explosive atmosphere compliance.
Compliance Today Blog The latest news and resources to help electrical product manufacturers comply with regulatory and buyer requirements, from MET Laboratories.
Certification & Test Blog Information, from TRaC Global, on testing and certification services, ranging from telecoms & radio and environmental, through to analysis, safety and EMC.
Directive Decoder Blog Analysis of European legislation.
NEMA Currents Blog Blog of the Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers.
IEEE The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation.
PSES Email Forum A lively Listserv made up of about 700 engineers and technicians. Sponsored by IEEE.
Testing Equipment Suppliers Published by IECEE.
ICPHSO The International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization.
What are your favorite online product safety compliance resources? Please leave a comment with a link to it.
In October, a European industry association published a strong-worded position paper that details how EU manufacturers suffer from the “malfunctioning of the U.S. certification market,” due to Underwriters Laboratories’ “abuse of its dominant position.” The paper’s author, Orgalime, is the European Engineering Industries Association that represents some 130,000 companies in the mechanical, electrical, electronic, metalworking & metal articles industries of 22 European countries.
The complaint centers on the certification of components like control devices, circuit boards, cables, electrical connectors, power supplies, and switching devices. Although component safety certification is not required under U.S. regulations as governed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) program, most component manufacturers do it anyway, to give confidence to end product manufacturers that are integrating the component.
There are 16 current NRTLs including MET Labs, according to the OSHA NRTL list. All the NRTLs have the same legal standing and are viewed as technically equivalent, if their scopes of accreditation include the same U.S. national standard. According to Orgalime, only one NRTL – UL – will categorically reject any component certification issued by another NRTL lab. UL will issue a certificate for a complete product in which electrical components are embedded only if UL itself has certified the electrical components beforehand.
This is significant because UL controls more than 50 percent of the safety certification market, due to years of enjoying a virtual monopoly position. The market was opened up in 1988 due to action initiated by MET Labs, but the legacy of market dominance continues.
According to Orgalime, this practice of denying recognition of component certificates delivered by other NRTLs causes a “de facto quasi-monopoly situation” from the component manufacturers’ viewpoint. “This behaviour not only restricts the freedom of choice of manufacturers, but also proves to be expensive and causes delays in the development process of a machine. Orgalime considers this situation as a classic case of market failure.”
Orgalime also points to UL’s anti-competitive behavior as a U.S. National Certification Body (NCB) within the International Electro-technical Commission’s (IEC) Certification Body (CB) Scheme. Within this scheme, members agree to peer-review audits and mutual recognition of CB Certificates. In this case, UL is obliged to accept test results from all participating NCB’s, but the price which manufacturers have to pay for permission to use the UL logo based on testing results by another CB is higher than the entire testing procedure by UL itself including the contract for the use of the logo.
In a letter to European Trade Commissioners, Orgalime asks the European Commission to bring these concerns to the Transatlantic Economic Council to encourage U.S. authorities to correct the lack of obligatory recognition among the accredited NRTLs of component certificates.
Read more about product safety testing and certification.
Product safety certification for healthcare & other laboratory equipment continues to evolve. Thirteen months ago, on January 1, 2010, all new products and alternate constructions of listed or recognized products were required to be evaluated to UL 61010-1 2nd Edition.
The Second Edition combines UL 61010A-1 for laboratory equipment, UL 61010B-1 for test and measurement equipment and UL 61010C-1 for process control equipment into a single standard.
On January 1, 2014, UL 61010A-1, UL 61010B-1 & UL 61010C-1 will be withdrawn, and all listed and recognized products must comply with UL 61010-1 2nd Edition.
Europe is on a different schedule. October 1, 2013 is the EU date of cessation for IEC 61010-1 2nd Edition. (IEC 61010-1 2nd Edition is aligned with UL 61010-1 2nd Edition, except for some U.S. national differences in the UL edition.)
IEC published the Third Edition of 61010-1 in June 2010. See the abstract here. Some of the major changes to the new edition include:
- Scope now covers both professional and non-professional products
- Test and measurement circuit requirements separated into a Part 2 standard: IEC 61010-2-30
- Reworked Clause 6.7 and added Annex K for clearances, creepages, solid and thin film insulation and molded and potted parts
- Temperature requirements modified due to EN563
- X-ray requirements modified to include intended and non-intended emissions
- New requirements for conformal coatings
- New requirements for risk assessment
- Added requirements for foreseeable misuse and ergonomics
The United States Technical Advisory Group (US TAG) and harmonization committee is working on the North American harmonized standards to IEC 61010-1 3rd Edition. They are completing the National Differences and plan to have the standard developed and issued by the Spring of 2012.
IT manufacturers shipping to Europe take note: Today is the last day for EN60950-1 1st edition. Beginning tomorrow, all IT products must show compliance to EN60950-1 2nd edition. Products previously tested to EN60950-1 1st edition will not be grandfathered.
In general, the second edition adds consistency through clarification of either terminology or test methodology. Here are some of the primary changes:
- Section 126.96.36.199 – Resistance of Earthing Conductors and Their Terminations – now reflects the North American National Differences in the present CSA/UL 60950-1.
- Section 2.3.2 – Separation of TNV Circuits from Other Circuits and from Accessible Parts – was necessary as the former standard did not match up with currently-accepted ITE handling of TNV circuits.
- Section 4.2.11 – Rack Mounted Equipment – has new requirements for evaluating slide rail designs. However, these requirements do not apply to sub-assemblies that are not part of a completed rack/system cabinet.
- Both Voltage Dependent Resistors (VDR) and Audio Components get expanded attention throughout the new version of the standard.
- Good news for manufacturers of IT equipment weighing less than 15.4 lbs, as the 10° tilt stability testing will be waived.