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The ABCs of Conformity Assessment


What is Conformity Assessment?

The ISO/IEC Guide 2:1996 definition of conformity assessment is “any activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that relevant requirements are fulfilled.” In more tangible terms, conformity assessment refers to a variety of processes whereby goods and/or services are determined to meet voluntary or mandatory standards or specifications.

Why is Conformity Assessment Important?

The main areas of concern are user and product safety, consumer health and the environment. Conformity assessment encompasses the areas of:

  • Testing
  • Surveillance
  • Inspection
  • Auditing
  • Certification
  • Registration
  • Accreditation

Conformity assessment is important to suppliers, consumers, and regulators. It enables producers to demonstrate that their product(s) meet relevant design and safety standards and gives consumers confidence when selecting products in the marketplace. Those who require this confidence are “acceptance interests,” individuals or organizations that have an interest in conformity and whose confidence in conformity provides some tangible benefit to the supplier. The conformity assessment process used to provide this confidence must be as cost effective as possible to maximize its value for both the supplier and the consumer.

Are NEMA Members Impacted by Conformity Assessment Issues?

Of particular interest to NEMA member companies is the process of product certification. Within this sector there are generally two approaches employed, third party certification by an independent testing/certification organization, and supplier’s declaration of conformance (SDOC).

For low voltage distribution equipment, the most used of the two approaches is the third party certification, which is usually required as part of installation codes such as the National Electrical Code (NEC), for electrical products. In other areas, however, such as high voltage equipment (transformers and switchgear) and lighting products, industry and its customers have been using SDOC with great success.

For an overview of the entire conformity assessment process, refer to NIST IR 6014, The ABC’s of the U.S. Conformity Assessment System (April 1997), available on the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) website.

Sources of Third Party Certifiers

There are two publications available on the NIST website that list private sector and government organizations engaged in product certification activities.

  • NIST Special Publication 903, Directory of U.S. Private Sector Product Certification Programs (July 1996)
  • NIST Special Publication 739, Directory of Federal Government Certification and Related Programs (July 1999).

These documents list hundreds of different private sector and government organizations that recognize testing bodies as well as lists of standards used and products certified by the testing bodies recognized by the organizations. The organizations can be contacted directly to obtain the names and locations of the testing bodies that have demonstrated the ability to test products to published standards.

In addition, ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) publishes a Directory of Testing Laboratories. It is available for purchase under Product Code LAB01 on the ASTM International website.

NEMA’s Conformity Assessment Programs

Conformity Assessment Guide

An on-line conformity assessment guide is now available to facilitate the efforts of electrical and electronic manufacturers in introducing and marketing products in selected locations around the globe. It covers conformity assessment information for 40 countries throughout North and South America, Asia, and Europe. Topics also include the IEC CB and IEC EX schemes. Click here to subscribe.

Standards

Standards are the key to any conformity assessment activity. Standards are used to ensure that a product or service measures up to its design specifications and is safe for use. NEMA staff support the operations of 8 product divisions and 53 sections, all engaged in the development and maintenance of product standards. Refer to the document, NEMA Product Scopes (available to download from the right call-out area), to find a section engaged in areas of your specific interest.

NEMA’s Conformity Assessment activities follow closely the development of American National Standards (ANS) through ANSI, development of international standards, harmonization of U.S. Standards with international standards, and in the application of those standards through the Conformity Assessment process.

Facts & Figures

  • There are approximately 250 NEMA published product standards, including 52 NEMA/ANSI publications
  • Nineteen NEMA sections participate in 66 standards harmonization projects.
  • Twenty-two CANENA (Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standardization of the Nations of the Americas) technical harmonization committees and subcommittees (THCs and THSCs) fall under the NEMA sections' scopes.
  • Ten binational standards and 18 trinational standards have been published.
  • Forty-nine NEMA sections are involved in the work of 59 IEC technical committees (TCs) and Subcommittees (SCs) and 1 ISO technical committees.
  • NEMA holds 7 IEC and 1 ISO Secretariats and administers 48 Advisory Groups.
  • NEMA holds the Chair of the IECEE, and provides the Secretariat for the U.S. National Committee of the IEC Conformity Assessment Scheme (CB Scheme)
  • NEMA also provides the Secretariat for the U.S. National Committee of the IECEx Conformity Assessment Scheme (for explosive atmospheres).

Policy and Practices

NEMA takes an active role in the development of conformity assessment policy and practices and is a member of the ANSI Conformity Assessment Policy Committee (CAPC). One of the activities of that committee has been development of the National Standards Strategy (NSS).

The NSS describes a strategy to increase participation in international standards development by:

  • U.S. manufacturers
  • Consumers
  • Government regulators
  • Accreditors
  • Others interested in national and international standards development

The NSS also focuses on educating all parties regarding the benefits of consensus standards that are harmonized with international standards as contributors to increased trade.

When the NSS was developed, it was suggested that there should be a companion National Conformity Assessment Strategy (NCAS). Due to significant concerns expressed over the attempt to initiate development of the strategy, it met with considerable opposition. And, due to the wide range of activities comprising conformity assessment, and the variety of methods employed within industry sectors to assess conformity of products, the goal of a NCAS was questioned by industry, government, consumers and trade organizations.

ANSI conducted a workshop in September 2001 on the subject of the need to develop a strategy document, and it was decided instead to develop a document to describe the U.S. conformity assessment system as a tool to aid in gaining better understanding and acceptance of U.S. conformity assessment practices in the domestic and global markets.

As the document was nearing completion, it was decided to limit its scope to a set of U.S. principles of conformity assessment as a way to clarify U.S. compliance with the general principles found in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. The National Conformity Assessment Principles for the United States was approved by the ANSI Board of Directors on September 24, 2002 and is available on the ANSI website.

NEMA Position on Conformity Assessment
View the NEMA Position on Conformity Assessment

The NEMA International and Regional Standardization Committee (IRSC) and the NEMA Codes & Standards Committee (C&S) are mutually responsible for representing, supervising and coordinating all work of the association in the development and implementation of international, regional, and national programs that address conformity assessment systems. These include evaluation and promotion of specific conformance criteria through development of NEMA positions on required and proposed product marking systems and access requirements.

These committees collaborate with NEMA sections in proposing and implementing strategies and tactical programs that meet NEMA member company needs as well as the NEMA approved conformity assessment policies and strategies as directed by the NEMA Standards and Conformity Assessment Policy Committee (SCAPC).


Activities also include coordination between the IRSC, the NEMA Codes and Standards Committee and appropriate committees responsible for trade and government affairs. Of particular concern is the domestic and international impact of conformity assessment practices and their potential effect on market access for NEMA member products.

The NEMA C&S committee monitors developments of domestic testing schemes such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) Program while international product certification and recognition programs are under the purview of the NEMA IRSC. Both keep NEMA Sections informed regarding conformity assessment initiatives.”

International Activities

IECEE CB Scheme

NEMA provides the Secretariat to the U.S. National Committee of the IECEE (USNC/IECEE) and is the point of contact for U.S. applications for recognition as a National Certification Body (NCB) or Certification Body Testing Laboratory (CBTL) under the IECEE CB Scheme.

IECEx Scheme

NEMA provides the Secretariat to the U.S. National Committee of the IECEx (USNC/IECEx) and is the point of contact for U.S. applications for recognition as an Accepted Certification Body (ACB) under the IECEx Scheme. Details on the Scheme are found on the NEMA website.

International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC)

ILAC is an organization of 69 national testing and calibration laboratory accreditation bodies from 50 countries who have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate towards mutual recognition of each other’s accreditation programs.

The intent is to ensure equivalency of laboratory accreditations to the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025 and the operations of the accreditation bodies per the requirements of ISO/IEC Guide 58. ILAC has overseen the signing of agreements among national accreditation bodies recognized by regional cooperations such as the:

  • European Cooperation for Accreditation (the EA is a combination of laboratory accreditation interests, quality system registrars, and product certifier accreditors)
  • Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC)
  • National (U.S.) Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation (NACLA)
  • Interamerican Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC)

International Accreditation Forum (IAF)

IAF is an organization of registrars and accreditors concerned with the mutual recognition of programs related to quality and environmental management systems registration, and accreditation of product certifiers, inspection testing organizations and personnel certifiers.

The intent is to ensure equivalency of registrations using standards such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14000, and accreditations, using standards such as ISO/IEC Guide 65 (Product Certification), and ISO/IEC Guide 22 (Manufacturer’s Self Declaration of Conformance).

Much like the relationship between ILAC and regional laboratory accreditation organizations, IAF works with regional organizations such as the:

  • European Cooperation for Accreditation (EA)
  • Inter American Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC)
  • Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (PAC).

Short-Circuit Testing Liaison of the Nations of the Americas (STLNA)

STLNA is a liaison body that brings together testing laboratories and certification bodies concerned with the testing of medium and high voltage electrical power equipment. All major laboratories in North America with greater than 500 MVA direct testing capabilities are represented, covering the complete NAFTA region. The liaison members meet twice a year at the IEEE Switchgear meetings, to discuss harmonized measurement procedures, accreditation, test reporting and test implementation matters.

STLNA is a full member of the Short Circuit Testing Liaison (STL), which is a worldwide liaison body for the high voltage electrical power equipment testing community. STL has a mission to facilitate the production of equipment, by the use of unified interpretations of international and regional test standards, and harmonized methods of measurements. An overall objective is to develop the uniform presentation formats for test results and data, and common certificate front sheets, to make possible the operation of a recognized worldwide documentation system.