A closer look at Global Certifications – managing multiple priorities

A closer look at Global Certifications – managing multiple priorities

Producers who maintain a diverse product portfolio are often challenged to meet a wide range of regulations and standards in support of their global market initiatives. Here Len Swantek, Director – Global Regulatory Compliance, Victaulic puts global certifications under the microscope and examines those challenges in detail.

Meeting Diverse Requirements

While some manufacturers have the ability of focusing their product development and regulatory efforts on a particular market or industry, there are those producers whose product and market portfolio spans many global industries and end user applications. Collectively and concurrently meeting the testing, certification and auditing requirements in the fire industry, global drinking water systems, maritime and offshore markets, commercial and industrial pressure equipment safety as well as the oil & gas and energy sectors; poses unique challenges for these manufacturers across all aspects of their product development process.

As one can imagine, there are significant cost implications when a single product or model series must undergo multiple modifications to meet the performance requirements of various markets and industries. The design teams must match the products’ materials of construction and their known performance ratings with the range of temperatures, pressures, external forces and load conditions including vibration and/or seismic ratings, potential exposure to fire and explosion hazards, environmental challenges (weather and corrosive atmospheres) and other conditions present in these diverse markets and geographies. 

The structural elements and their materials that support forces and external loads must be carefully modelled and then be put through a series of laboratory tests to validate their capability under the most severe of these known conditions. The same holds true for any supporting electronic components and software, sealing materials, coatings, hardware and fastening devices. When the individual components come together as a complete assembly, that finished product will be taken through a separate series of qualification tests by each regulatory authority and in each market segment under a completely different set of criteria. As an example, a product intended for both fire protection systems and commercial pressure equipment will be independently evaluated by each of the governing agencies under their “rules”. In the event of a non-conformity at one agency, the manufacturer may need to alter the design or material properties, which could then adversely impact the product’s ability to meet the qualification requirements of the other agency’s standards for testing and certification.

This is where the concept of designing for compliance is critically important. Integrating the individual performance criteria into the design matrix enables the engineering team to fine-tune both the product architecture and the individual material attributes that will be necessary to achieve maximum performance during each stage of testing. This process also involves extensive experiments that evaluate material properties under a combination of temperature and load conditions. While in some cases the final product configuration can become expensive to manufacture, the benefits of not having to produce and maintain inventory and tracking of multiple configurations of the same product model offers significant cost advantages. 

When considering the efficiency and cost benefits of materials standardisation with suppliers, consistent factory assembly systems, uniform packaging and ease of managing logistics, creating a single product configuration that can fully satisfy multiple market requirements is a logical and sensible approach in today’s challenging global economy.   

Changing Requirements

Just when the markets are successfully utilising the new product, the certifying agencies can surprise all of us with a new set of requirements. As Regulators become aware of problems in the industry (these can be related to recent fire and other similar events, poor installation practices or inferior products and systems) their sense of obligation to revise standards and develop new compliance criteria creates an ever-changing set of rules for equipment manufacturers to follow. Looking back at the previous example, a significant change in any of the performance standards used to qualify and certify the original shut-off valve could now render that device (as a single design) no longer capable of being marketed across multiple industries. 

However, it is equally important to understand that each year, codes and standards committees meet in a wide range of forums around the world to review new proposals being put forth by the certifying agencies, compliance specialists, AHJ’s, insurance consortiums, installation contractors and special interest groups. The basis for these changes are usually logical and offer technical merit in improving the protection of lives and property from fire, ensuring the purity of consumable water, validating operational safety of shipboard systems and protecting the safety of those employed in hazardous applications associated with the mining, oil &gas and energy industries, just to name a few. 

These topics are often debated for hours and even days until a consensus agreement can be reached that satisfies all stakeholders. Additionally, it is important to understand that code proposals are being submitted for a wide range of systems and by a diverse audience. For example, hundreds of standards proposals are submitted each year to the various NFPA committees for their review and disposition during the code revision cycle. Some proposals address immediate and present dangers that can often arise from recent global events or from other hazards identified through routine system inspections. 

For the equipment manufacturers, they have the greatest challenge in determining how to best comply with the new provisions outlined at the committee level, without having to completely redesign the products they have successfully placed in these markets. 

Having a Voice in the Process

There is no doubt that some standards proposals can also challenge logic and seem to add a level of redundancy to already challenging qualification requirements. A change in the manner or method by which a product is tested can greatly impact both current and future designs, as well as the materials and their required properties and the overall manufacturing process and related costs. 

As active committee members, manufacturers also encounter proposed revisions to test standards that seemingly add no value for the producer, end-user or building and equipment owner. Playing an active role and having a voice in these decisions is vitally important. Otherwise, the task of meeting local and regional codes and standards can become increasing difficult and time-consuming. These delays adversely impact time-to-market and the manufacturer’s overall competitive position.

While we all have some differences in what we consider reasonable, it is the duty of the standards committees to carefully develop codes, standards and regulations that make sense for the specific application and intended end-use of each component, product and system. The expertise and real-world experience of each committee member is critically important to achieving balanced criteria that addresses known field scenarios and potential failure modes. 

Additionally, many requirements are based on years of testing iterations conducted by the certifying bodies and
through experimentation conducted on the research side of these organizations. Fire safety sprinklers, for example, undergo some of the most severe qualification testing and to some of the most exacting standards in the industry. This again can be a uniquely difficult challenge for the manufacturer to design a single sprinkler model capable of meeting multiple agency testing and certification requirements in various regions. As the global business world continues to experience abrupt and unexpected changes, we must all remain focused on designing for compliance and be fully equipped with new tools and strategies that support the agency requirements in parallel with our sales and business objectives.