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Product certification or product qualification is the process of certifying that a certain product has passed performance and quality assurance tests or qualification requirements stipulated in regulations such as a building code and nationally accredited test standards, or that it complies with a set of regulations governing quality and minimum performance requirements.
Certification of products may indicate their established suitability for a specified purpose (e.g., a computer system might be certified as being fully compatible with a large software package).
Products, once certified, may be endorsed with a quality mark or be eligible to display a certification mark.
Products must be used in accordance with their listing in order to perform as intended.
Everything starts with an authority that can accredit the following:
• national standards
• standards writing organizations
• certification organizations
• testing organizations
The product intended to be tested is packaged ready for transit, officially sealed and then sent directly to the laboratory where the testing will be conducted in accordance with the nationally accredited standard, by the subject organisation that is accredited nationally both for testing and for certification.
Once the product has landed in the laboratory, the seal that was previously applied by the inspector is officially broken and assembly of the item in a test rig may commence. This is a crucial phase. Certifiers must observe the construction of test specimens to avoid any possible cheating on the part of the submittor or parties affiliated with the submittor. The allure for an unethical submittor is to have a product certified that may be less expensive than what he or she actually had tested. As a result of documented abuses in this field, certifiers typically reserve the right to re-test as a cautionary measure to ward off such behaviour. While de-listing of a submittor is not an everyday occurrence, it has happened many time, the world over, which is the cause for having strict and mandatory certification regimes in place. De-listing has, at times, occurred, not necessarily as a result of deliberate wrongdoing, but, at times, because of a deterioration in the quality of certain product components or ingredients, particularly natural ones, such as mined ores.
If the test passes and achieves a rating, (e.g., a fire-resistance rating of a firestop, or an electrical safety rating for a toaster), a test report is issued which includes a certification listing. The listing is used by an Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), such as a municipal building inspector, fire prevention officer, or electrical inspector, to compare the product's use or installation with the intent of the rating by testing. In order to comply with the code, the listing must be "active", as products and companies can become "de-listed" as a result of improprieties or a business decision by the manufacturer.
An active certification listing indicates three things:
• The product is being made under a certification, or follow-up agreement that exists between the manufacturer and the certification organisation, such as OCU. This means that the certifier will conduct up to four unannounced factory audits per year, for the purpose of ensuring that the product being made and sold is still identical to that which was tested.
• The product's packaging, literature and the manufacturer's promotional information is authorised to use the certification mark.
• The listing is a matter of public record, not proprietary, and is listed in the certification listings directory of the certification organisation
The certification marks are easy to see and enable users to track down the certification listings to determine the tolerances that guide field use, and whether or not the listing is still active.
Where product certification is optional, one must rely on the ethics of the manufacturer that the item being sold is identical to the item that was tested, and that the item that was tested was in fact installed the way the test report reads. The test report by itself also does not afford its bona fide interpretation in terms of the tolerances that a certification listing would provide.