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Hardware Certification – Why it Matters

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: July 17th, 2020·4.4 min read·

Proof of hardware certification can be found on almost any electronic device, power supply, or charging brick. You’ll see them printed or etched on the side in a parade of tiny logos, bearing marks like “UL,” “CE” and “FCC.” These marks represent a big investment by the companies manufacturing the devices, as they prove that testing and review has been performed to ensure the devices are safe and reliable for the applications and geographies they are designed for.

Whether you are a hardware manufacturer, a system integrator, or the IT department of a large business, it’s important to understand how hardware certification can impact the deployment of products, especially across international borders. Certification comprises two areas of compliance:

  • Emissions compliance: Standards like FCC Part 15 and EN 55032 (for European CE mark) address radiated electromagnetic emissions and ensure that devices won’t conflict with nearby equipment. Other specs (such as EN 55024) ensure that devices won’t fail if used around radios or other radio frequency sources–a characteristic known as immunity.
  • Product safety: Standards like IEC 60950-1 (CB international safety) or UL 60950-1 (safety with factory inspections) address safety characteristics, from the touch temperatures of external cases and components, to the presence of sharp edges and pinch points, to the use of internal fuses and self-extinguishing materials to limit fire danger.

The Challenges of International Hardware Certification

Hardware certification compliance can be tricky. The process is relatively straightforward for domestic applications where computers are assembled of approved components. In the United States, FCC approval for IT may be a matter of sourcing all pre-certified FCC components and adding the correct messaging and labeling. The road gets tougher as you cross international borders. Specs like EN 55032 and EN 55024 require CE technical files, or potentially more formalized testing at approved facilities. And while the European Union offers a unified certification target for its member nations, other countries may impose specific requirements that force additional testing and review (though CB certification can help limit that). In short, it can get expensive.

Here are some common certification marks and their geographic reach.

Table Hardware certifications English

How to Approach Testing

Flexibility is key in a successful certification effort. Plan ahead, document thoroughly, and seek broadly applicable certifications supported by testing at accredited laboratories. When certifying devices, do so with maximal configurations, so that SKUs with fewer parts or lesser components (such as smaller hard drives) are covered under the tested profile. Also keep in mind that many countries build their requirements based on the same tests required for FCC, CE and CB so entrance to markets like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia is sometimes possible with little more than a paperwork submission and an application fee.

To maximize global reach, a good approach is to pull together certifications for FCC Part 15, EN 55032, EN 55024 and EN/IEC 60950-1 (this last one to be replaced with EN/IEC 62368-1 at the end of 2017, though products reviewed under 60950-1 are to be grandfathered).

6 Potential Hardware Certification Snafus

Hardware Certification is a high-stakes business that will grind projects to a halt if you don’t stay on top of it. Here are six common pitfalls that companies encounter and ways to avoid them.

  • Poor Awareness: Too often, companies embark on international projects with little understanding of local certification requirements. This can result in equipment being held up in customs for months. Know exactly what you need to pass muster in each country you operate in.
  • Procrastination Trouble: Certification is often a last-call item, brought up only when projects near completion, which is way too late. Put your regulatory team on the ground floor of any international project, so they have time to assess and procure required certifications. This can prevent show-stopping delays and painful budget overruns.
  • Design Change Snafus: A certified WiFi transmitter and antenna setup may not stay certified if you change the configuration–say by adding a second transmitter next to the first or moving to a high gain antenna. Plan changes carefully and make sure you are covered, especially with certifications that involve wireless.
  • Chasing a Global Standard: There are so many national and international requirements for radio devices that it’s tough to adopt a single configuration across geographies. Be ready to establish localized configurations to meet country requirements.
  • Trapped by Verticals: Some types of equipment–such as medical devices–impose heightened certification thresholds with specific testing and review requirements. Do your research and account for application-specific demands from the start.
  • Surprised by Change: Nothing lasts forever, including certification requirements. Be alert for amended requirements, since they may force updated testing and review of previously approved product designs. The switchover from EN 55022 to EN 55032 this summer is a good example, as is the move from EN/IEC 60950-1 to EN/IEC 62368-1.

Working with an experienced hardware partner who understands how to navigate the complex world of certifications can be invaluable. OnLogic offers services that can help to ensure your computer complies with any required certifications for your application and meet the necessary requirements. Visit our  Services section to learn more about we can help with testing and certification, or contact us to talk with with an expert to help you bring your innovation to market.

Note: This blog was originally published on Aug 17, 2017 and updated on July 17, 2020.

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About the Author: Rodney Hill

Rodney is the Senior Engineer and founding member of the team at OnLogic. He works as a peer mentor for the mechanical, electrical, and regulatory teams (when he's not writing fun blogs with Marketing). He has expertise in design and certification of medical, automation and control, robotics, and RF devices. He also spends a lot of time in EMC and Safety labs qualifying products for global markets. Rodney loves to talk shop on all levels about all things and enjoys telling the world why OnLogic computers are right for them. Rodney is a lover of morse code communication using homemade single transistor radios built into Altoid tins.