Like pretty much everyone else in the world of commerce, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is moving aggressively to expand its operations globally, most recently becoming the first organization to provide third-party product certification to Mexico. In fact, the group has issued its first Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (NOM) marks to global electronics manufacturing customers entering the Mexican market. With similar agreements with other countries, UL is pushing to add to its client list.
“Our growth right now is overseas,” says John Drengenberg, manager of Consumer Affairs at UL, and a member of the technical advisor group with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Drengenberg also represents UL at the American National Standards Institute’s Consumer Interest Council and at the International Consumer Products Health and Safety Organization.
In a global marketplace with multiple standard certifications, Drengenberg says companies need to be able to go through a single third-party testing organization for all their product certification needs to move products into the market more quickly. UL worked with the government of Mexico to obtain accreditation as a third-party product certification organization.
Nearly 2000 product categories—mostly electronics, but also household appliances—must undergo mandatory testing to the NOM standards by a nationally accredited body. Until recently, companies worked directly with the Mexican government to test and certify products. To quicken the process, UL has established subcontracted test data exchange agreements with testing laboratories in Mexico.
These agreements allow UL to conduct NOM testing that can be accepted and used to generate a valid test report. Products can be tested in the U.S. for multiple marks, including the NOM, with results verified by a laboratory in Mexico.
“The bottom line is to give manufacturers and designers just one organization to deal with to get a lot of different countries covered through one certification organization, which is UL,” says Drengenberg.
UL has already issued two NOM marks since becoming accredited. But Drengenberg says that for confidentiality purposes, it cannot disclose the names of its clients while the marks are in progress.
As an independent testing provider, UL does not get very involved in product designs. However, it does help clients understand the requirements for access to countries like Mexico so they can design products with the requirements in mind. Drengenberg says the major benefit of UL’s NOM accreditation is the way it speeds time-to-market for designers and manufacturers and provides a one-stop shop for their certification needs.
UL has also merged its Management System Solutions business with DQS, a global registrar in independent third-party management system certification services headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. Under the agreement with DQS, the new entity will operate as a separate, standalone organization, with UL maintaining an ownership share. Financial terms were not disclosed. UL also has several labs in China that mainly test products destined for export into the United States.
“It’s reality that in today’s global economy, the same product is marketed in many different countries,” notes Keith Williams, UL’s president and CEO. “By combining forces, we will achieve a top-five global market position in the management system certification industry, and we will have the capacity to serve as a leading provider of these services in every major geography.” The agreements with Mexico and DQS are expected to meet the growing market demand for a full suite of services to customers who are expanding globally.
UL de Mexico is accredited and authorized as a Certification Organization. The certification process is divided into two primary activities: registering the company holder of the certificate before the Certification Organization, and submitting the technical requirements to the Certification Organization to receive the final certificates.
Certification also involves a follow-up process that can vary depending on the certifier. The follow-up may consist of only periodic visits to the Mexican entity for a physical inspection and verification through testing.