The Significance of Certification

Have you ever looked at the underside of a pedal or the rear of a guitar amplifier and wondered about all those little symbols such as FCC, CE, CSA, TUV or UL? Why is it that we typically see those on products from the big players, but not on the boutique devices? What exactly does ‘This equipment has been tested and found to comply with the FCC Part 15 limits for a class B digital device’ mean exactly?

The short explanation is that these are marks indicating that the products comply with various safety and performance standards around the world. The standards vary quite significantly between different nations, which is why we often see many different marks on one product. If the manufacturer is expecting to sell their product around the world, they will often indicate compliance with multiple standards with labels on the device. The European Community has a set of harmonized standards for different types of devices. The CE mark that you see on many products indicates the manufacturer is confirming that their product complies with these standards.

An interesting thing about the United States is that the majority of the standards bodies are independent groups. There are often few laws requiring compliance to these standards to be able to sell a product. So, this largely answers our question about why we typically don’t see these marks on things such as boutique effects pedals: There is no law that says they must comply, and complying is a significant undertaking. The standards are often complex and difficult to follow. Testing requires hugely expensive specialty facilities with vast arrays of costly equipment and expert test engineers.

If certification is not compulsory, it begs the question; why do the larger manufacturers even bother? This usually comes down to a couple of things. In some countries, certain levels of compliance are compulsory, so a manufacturer will at least need to test those if they expect to sell into those regions. Some standards bodies will recognize tests of other groups, so if you have to do compliance for one location, then some others may come almost for free. Some distributors or resellers may require compliance in order to resell a product, so that might have an influence. Lastly, it just makes sense for larger manufacturers to develop and test to standards. It can help with design decisions and quality control, minimize support and legal issues, and most importantly, give the company and their customers reassurance that the product they have made is safe and functions reliably.

If you are manufacturing a digital device though, one set of rules in the US that you WILL have to comply with is the FCC Part 15. This recognizes that certain digital devices emit radio signals, even though this is not part of their intended operation. We refer to these devices as ‘unintentional radiators’. The radio frequencies that these devices emit have the potential to cause interference with intentional radiators, and its part of the FCC’s job makes sure that your whizz bang digital delay does not result in your neighbors cell phone being blocked or an aviation accident in your backyard.

I was involved in testing some Mission products for FCC compliance so I thought I would share some of the photos from the day.

We had a very informative and productive day at the lab. Thanks to everyone at EMT Labs for helping us out and completing our testing within a day. I’m happy to say we passed all our FCC emissions tests.

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