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One of the parts of new product design that most inventors do not realize is the need for certification of their product. What certification, you ask? Well, that depends on what your product does and how it will be used. Before we jump into individual certifications, I want to point out that there are specialists, not only in certification, but in the specific certification that you need. A design engineer is not your best source of guidance. You should hire the right person for the job. This person will help identify the tests your device needs to pass in order to be sold. The person who actually does the testing is usually a test engineer. This person sees that the product is tested according to the prescribed tests but does not decide which tests are required.
Federal Communications Commission (The FCC)
I want to start here because most people these days want a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth device because IoT has become such a key element in our society. They require all devices that oscillate at more than 9000 Hz (9Khz) to be certified. This is often referred to as EMI/EMC testing. There are two types of devices that emit radio waves, intentional emitters and unintentional emitters. Radios (like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) are intentional emitters and the power that they transmit at is regulated. Unintentional emitter, are everything else. If you have a 25Mhz clock on your MCU, you are emitting radiation. The FCC requires that you not emit too much interference. That is what the certification states.
There are two types or classes of testing done by the FCC. They class A and Class B. Class A testing is done for industrial applications, while Class B is done for consumer electronics and is much stricter.
The facility that is capable of doing this testing is not cheap. Plan on $1,000 per hour for the test facility plus the test engineer who will oversee the testing and write the test report. Each test will take at least a few hours or could take a few days, depending on the specific regulation you are trying to meet. If you don’t pass you will need to make changes and then repeat the testing.
Underwriter Laboratories (UL)
If your product is plugged directly into an AC outlet you must have a UL certificate to sell it in the United States. There are other certification agencies for different parts of the world. This certification is primarily concerned with safety. They want to be sure that your product will not catch fire and harm people or property. Some people will tell you that you really don’t need to get UL certified, but if you don’t and your product causes damage or death, you will be held liable.
The process of UL certifying has other benefits as well. They have been certifying products for a long time and the changes that they will require will make your product more robust and less likely to experience failures in the field.
You can sometimes get around the certification by not dealing directly with the AC outlet. For example, if you use a wall adapter that provides a low DC voltage to your device then that product must me certified but your product may not. Even so, some companies may require you to have UL certification before they will carry your product.
How do you even pronounce RoHS?
First off, this is an acronym which stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. Most of us know this because it means the parts are not soldered using lead (lead free). But there are many other substances that are harmful and are covered under this regulation. For example, Mercury, Cadmium, CrVI, PBB, PBDE, DEHP, BBP, DIBP – you get the idea. While you must have this to sell in the EU and California, most devices are moving toward RoHS compliance.
Bluetooth SIG
This is not actually a certification, more of a license. In order to use the Bluetooth name/logo you must pay a license fee to use the trademark. They require your product to be certified before they will let you use the Bluetooth emblem.
More and more and more
Yes, there are other certifications. If you are selling toys, there are a host of tests and regulations you must demonstrate compliance with before you can sell it. And if you are going to sell a medical device or a device that come in contact with food, be prepared to deal with the FDA.
Is it worth it?
People sell products all the time and make money doing so. So yes, it is worth going to all the trouble. The point is that you must plan on the time and money associated with getting your product through the necessary hoops.
Final thoughts
This newsletter is sponsored by Celtic Engineering Solutions LLC, a design engineering firm based out of West Jordan, Utah, which can be found on the web at: You can find the newsletter on the company blog, LinkedIn or in your inbox by subscribing. Send your emails to The Celtic Engineer at: [email protected], with the subject line SUBSCRIBE.
Credits: The featured image was created by Andrés Nieto Porras.