Why laboratory tests? Basic knowledge for importers and retailers

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How can you show your customers or authorities that your products are safe and comply with applicable regulations? An overview of laboratory testing and certification.

Certifications and test reports prove that products meet certain requirements, which may be defined by standards, for example. Many of these requirements are prescribed by law, for example in national laws such as the German Product Safety Act (ProdSG) or in directives and regulations at EU level. The latter include, for example, the REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 on chemicals used in products, the RoHS Directives on the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical equipment, the EU Toys Directive 2009/48/EC or Directive 2014/30/EU on electromagnetic compatibility (EMC Directive). Other tests and certifications confirm the safety and functionality of goods on a voluntary basis and, last but not least, strengthen the confidence of consumers, buyers and retailers. Why is it necessary to pass laboratory tests in order to place products on the EU market? Here is an overview.

Why do products have to undergo laboratory tests?

Without compliance with applicable regulations, it is not possible to sell products in regulated markets such as the EU single market or the USA: in order to legally distribute goods, the legal requirements of the target market must be met with regard to various factors such as safety, pollutant emissions or environmental protection. Therefore, comprehensive laboratory tests usually precede a market launch. Depending on the product group and the respective requirements, these have different objectives:

  • the demonstration of consistent quality, performance or reliability of a product,
  • ensuring that the product design meets current standards required by law; or
  • proving that the production meets official standards.

Laboratory tests are also possible after a market launch. They are carried out, for example, to testify that the product continues to fulfil the necessary properties after a certain period of market presence. If parts or other components or standards for them change, follow-up tests may also become necessary. Legal requirements that certain product groups have to fulfil - and for which laboratory tests are usually required - include, for example, as mentioned at the beginning, the REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 on chemicals used in products and the RoHS Directives on the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical equipment. RoHS certification allows retailers, for example, to prove that maximum limits for harmful substances are not exceeded in the products they offer. Another important type of certification outside the EU is the FCC certification in the USA. The latter is usually required for approval of electronic devices with radio technology. Important in this context are, for example, EMC tests as proof of the electromagnetic compatibility of products.

In the EU, product conformity must often be proven by a test report or certification before a product is launched on the market in the target country. For importers, retailers and manufacturers, however, it is sometimes complex to keep track of all the necessary standards, regulations and legal provisions - also because standards and certification requirements change again and again due to new legislation.

What is the difference between a certificate and a test report?

Both a test report and a certificate generally serve as proof that a product meets certain requirements. However, there are fundamental differences in the process for obtaining the two types of documents.

The certificate

A certificate confirms compliance with defined requirements such as standards and legal requirements based on a defined certification process. Certification is carried out by an independent body and follows specific certification programmes. These specify the areas of application, test criteria and evidence as well as relevant test procedures. The contents of the certification programmes are derived from various sources, including EU directives, laws and regulations. One example is EU type examination certificates, which are issued by so-called Notified Bodies of the EU as part of certain conformity assessment procedures. Before such a certificate can be issued, the respective body checks, for example, existing test reports and the technical documentation of a product.

In addition, a certificate generally always specifies the requirements for its validity, which result from the individual certification programmes. The certification process itself also follows certain standards. The principles for the certification of products are laid down in the standard DIN EN ISO/IEC 17065. General requirements and rules of application for the declaration of conformity of suppliers are described in DIN EN ISO/IEC 17050-1.

The test report

A test report confirms that defined test criteria were met by a product at the time of testing. However, these are not necessarily defined by a higher authority. The client, for example a retailer who wants to perform quality checks on shipments of goods, decides alone on the factors to be evaluated and can also specify the corresponding target values individually. Standards or parts of standards can be used to determine these requirements, but they do not have to be.

As with the certificate, certain standards are applicable for the preparation of a test report. These include the quality management standard EN ISO/IEC 17025 (Requirements for the operation of laboratories). Regardless of whether the test report follows a certain standard or not, it usually contains information on the following points:

  • Test object: Which product, material or other object was tested?
  • Test method: According to which test methods or standards was testing carried out?
  • Test bench: Which devices were tested with?
  • Test results: What values were measured? Do these comply with specified limit values? Were partial tests consequently passed or failed? How is the test result to be evaluated in its entirety)?

Criteria for laboratory selection

To ensure that a testing laboratory can meet the necessary testing requirements, the following criteria, among others, can be used:

  • The laboratory should ideally be accredited to ISO 17025 and its accreditation certificate should list the test methods by which the test object is to be tested.
  • The supplier is familiar with the specific requirements of the product as well as the test procedures, and has ideally already carried out corresponding tests in large numbers.

Test marks, test reports, certificates

In many cases, products are already provided with test marks such as the GS mark by the manufacturer (or importer) upon delivery. If there are doubts about their validity, importers and retailers can have the documents underlying the respective marking checked by independent institutions. No matter what testing and certification challenge lies ahead of you: Get support quickly and without obligation by submitting a request on testxchange. There you will promptly receive help from independent laboratories for your product tests and certifications.