As a member of the conformity assessment community, I get asked: what’s the difference between conformity assessment, standardization and certification? Actually, they’re different things.
Broadly speaking, I’d say this. Certification is part of the conformity assessment process, which includes declarations of conformity and homologation. It is the process by which a third party judges whether or not a product or service meets an international or national standard. If it does they certify it.
To me it’s clear, but that’s my job. So let’s get things straight.
What is standardization and why?
Standardization is a voluntary, consensual process. Authorities, standards officials, customers and manufacturers meet to consider mature and emerging technologies. Their goal? That they should operate to a frame of reference specifications.
Take mobile phones. They’re governed by standards so work wherever you are. But not plugs and inlets. Why? Because when they were first manufactured, there was no regional or international standards. Only national ones, which explains the situation today.
Standardization professionals work ahead of the market, imagining new trends and requirements and taking into account the existing ones. I would say a standard is the touchstone of technology. International standards bodies like ISO and IEC establish the consensual state of the art for mature technologies.
Standards also make marketing sense. They improve your products and open up markets. But you need to supply proof. That means having them assessed and certified to standard.
Imagine you make low-voltage switchgear that complies with IEC 60947-2. You need to demonstrate its conformity. That involves submitting to certification by a third-party organization that issues a certificate.
What’s a certification body?
One that’s different from a standards body. It assesses and certifies conformity with standards. Take China.
Its conformity mark is CCC (China Compulsory Certification). The third party that carries out conformity assessment is the China Quality Certification Centre (CQC). It delivers certification to the Chinese national standard, GB. So far, so good.
But the picture clouds in the US. There most customers want products that meet the US national standard, UL (in the electrical industry). For them, that means with the UL conformity mark on the package. They mix up standards and certification.
UL is the technical standard of reference. But UL is also a private company that does conformity assessment. It’s just one of 18 nationally recognized test laboratories on the US market which provide conformity assessment service in the electrical field.
What does certification cover?
Products, quality, safety, manufacturing processes, etc. But not “solutions” (systems) in areas of growing importance like energy efficiency.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders to decide if certification can add value to such markets and, if so, to build the right certification schemes.
In fact, all stakeholders (big and small) should be involved in conformity assessment and certification and work closely with regulators. Big companies are already a driving force in standardization. I believe we all have a similar role to play in conformity assessment and certification schemes.
Any thoughts or experience you’d like to share?