Safety and quality. If those two words aren’t at the top of every product manufacturer’s checklist there’s a problem. But who’s in charge of monitoring, testing and pronouncing everything A-Okay? That’s where Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) comes in.
Who, What and Why
UL is a global independent safety science company that’s been around for more than 100 years. Here's a video of how UL tests hurricane doors. (There are a lot of testing videos. They're almost as addictive as cat videos.)
To quote the company’s website, “UL helps safeguard people, products and places in important ways, facilitating trade and providing peace of mind.” UL-certification is available across a spectrum of industries including electronics.
While UL marks aren’t required on every product that’s manufactured, it turns out that consumers are willing to pay a premium to see the UL certification mark on the products they buy. Companies developing products often factor in the marketing value of going through the UL certification process to have the mark on their products.
Typically, UL customers send their product to be tested to a UL lab, a process that inevitably adds to the time it takes to get a product to market. The UL website offers a step-by-step FAQ that you should take a look at if you want to send your product to UL directly.
Some companies opt to participate in UL’s Data Acceptance Program (DAP), which allows UL customers to use their own or third-party facilities for product testing. Per the UL website, “participating test facilities are required to have the appropriate physical resources, equipment and qualified personnel needed to conduct testing, equivalent to what would be used in UL's own laboratories for the same testing. Additional programs (TCP and PPP) allow the customer to conduct a large portion of the engineering evaluations on behalf of UL.”
For example, if you’re using a contract manufacturer (CM) with a UL-certified lab, the CM performs the required UL-testing and submits those reports to UL. After reviewing the test results, UL issues approval or perhaps requires more tests.
I asked one of our engineers to describe the benefits to the customer working with a CM that has UL testing capability. He told me there are two primary benefits: speed and expertise.
The CM doesn’t have to jump through hoops on UL submissions since they already have a clear path — they’re already UL-approved — saving the CM customer the time and hassle of shipping off your product with no clear view of when the testing will be done and reviewed.
Over time, a CM with a UL-certified lab has a better idea of how to make products that will easily meet UL standards. Our engineer added that UL certification is generally straightforward for most products, but it can depend on the application and design. With experience and good planning, your CM will be able make the process as simple as possible.
There are five different types of DAP depending on the customer’s need. UL provides downloadable worksheets to tell you exactly how to determine your DAP needs. Negotiating your product's path to UL certification can be a challenge, but working with a CM that has experience with the process can definitely smooth out the rough spots.
Are you ready to grow? Click on the download below for information on selecting your contract manufacturing partner: