Why Right First Time is a Good Thing
There is no doubt that one of the more difficult aspects of getting a product to market is meeting market Design Standards. You have to pass a battery of tests to produce the evidence. The evidence is needed for your product technical files so that your product can be legally placed on the market. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases these tests are available, often for a small fee, from places like the:
- British Standards Institute (BSI)
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the form of product standards.
It continues to amaze me how many companies ignore the design standards. They dive straight into product development and then hope their product passes the tests at the end! I know from personal experience that reading, highlighting, marking up and making notes on some fairly dry and technical documents isn’t the most exciting activity. However it does help immensely at the approvals stage. Knowing what criteria products need to meet allows important design decisions to be made early on. It allows an internal test program to be developed to gain confidence that the product will pass the tests. There are benefits in knowing the contents of the standards almost as well as the test house approving the products. You can have much more meaningful conversations about the overall test programme, required test modes, and test failures.
How are Design Standards Developed?
The standards have been developed over time. Mostly this was by manufacturers within standards committees. Think of it as a collection of best practise and a definition of what a good product looks like. The standards can often be used as a checklist. It ensures the key aspects of the product have been included to ensure compatibility and safety.
There are a few downsides to standards however. Although standards are prescriptive, with a defined test setup and method, there is still some room for interpretation. This means that different test houses sometimes apply the rules slightly differently. Where your product would pass with one, it can fail with another.
Due to the necessary process of drafting, reviewing, commenting and issuing standards they take years to produce and update. In fast changing areas of technology there may not be a standard which adequately meets the needs. Taking Europe as an example, in these cases the route to compliance can be taking relevant parts of partially applicable standards and working with a Notified Body to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the objectives of the directive. It is useful in these cases to collate a good description of the product and how you intend to CE mark it. Then you should meet with a Notified Body to work through the description, identify areas of concern and update the product description accordingly. This can be a painful process but is much more preferable to spending significant amounts of money. This will include money spent on electronics design, product identity, injection mould tools, firmware, and software. To then find there are fundamental reasons that the product cannot be approved and needs to be fundamentally changed would be painful.
Standards can lead to a glut of me-too products. It is important when designing to meet the standards that the purpose of the product, its intended use and the needs of the end users are kept firmly in mind. Combining the requirements of standards with the needs of the customer and your own unique selling points is the key to bringing new, innovative, compliant and successful products to market.
If you need help with design standards ask us a question.