Understanding testing and certification

Plumbing operates in an environment of strictly regulated standards in which suppliers need to have evidence that their products comply. Testing and/or certification is normally an important part of that process. Plumbing Africa aims to unpack this.

By Eamonn Ryan | All photos by Eamonn Ryan

Allen Scholtz , manager of Omega Test House. Herman Strauss, executive director of SA Watermark.Non-compliant products pose a potential risk to the consumer who may be unaware of differences that are not visually obvious. This can also be perceived by installers to be a competitive advantage as they benefit – short term – by gaining work. However, they lose clients in the long term due to product failure.

For many decades, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has been the bastion of standards and has been recognised as such internationally. Prior to 2000, SABS tested, certified and wrote standards, but thereafter, that responsibility was split so that its core function remained writing standards, while a new business was established to offer testing and certification. This business is today called SABS Commercial (SOC).

The private sector has – and indeed should – become more involved in certification, which culminated in the establishment of SA Watermark as a register of tested and/or certified products based on SANS standards. However, plumbers struggle to differentiate the new certification marks. Today there are any number of testing bodies and accreditation facilities including SAPCS, SABS, IAS, Omega, Bureau Veritas, AENOR, Agrément, SATAS, as well as SA Watermark and JASWIC. Some of these do both testing and certification, including SAPCS, SABS and AENOR, the others do only testing.

There is a perception that testing and certification should be done by separate companies, but the standard states it is preferable that a single company do both, says Herman Strauss, executive director of SA Watermark, and previously a senior manager at SABS. “The only restriction is that the standard states the ‘person’ doing the testing may not be the same person who makes the certification decision.”

Why do people test and certify?

Strauss outlines how we got to where we are today. “It is a legal requirement for any product to comply with the standard – but it is not a legal requirement for a product to be tested or certified. However, it’s a very good idea to do so as it is the most effective way of proving compliance because there’s a third-party involved. The need for testing and certification is also implied – because the law requires that you show evidence that the product complies with its standard. Certification is arguably the best evidence of compliance even though it is not a requirement.

“The SABS – which used to be the norm because it was the only testing and certification authority for plumbing components – is today one of several.

“There are two facets to the process of certification: the design verification (which is testing), and further verification that the manufacturing process will ensure consistent products that continue to comply with the requirements of the standard (which is certification). The product standard closely defines the design requirements.

A sample of Omega’s testing equipment.

“Compliance to a standard means 100% compliance – 90% is not enough, because a standard is a set of minimum requirements. A test report simply notes that the product design submitted complies – it is not a license to manufacture, as it says nothing about the manufacturing process, which has to be able to reproduce that product to the same standard time after time. The submission of a ‘golden sample’ for design testing is not necessarily wrong, because it confirms only the design and says nothing about the ability of the factory to continually reproduce the compliant design,” says Strauss. Users must beware that a test report does not mean that a product complies with the standard.

“Certification is the ‘ultimate’ because it verifies the ongoing manufacturing process. Certification consists of a process of drawing random samples over time and checking that it conforms to the original or golden sample. It also looks at the quality control system of the manufacturer, which itself governs consistency.”

Only then can a manufacturer stamp his product with the certification body’s logo to say the product on sale meets the standard, and the consumer can rely on that assurance. What that stamp signifies is that ‘there are reasonable steps in place to ensure that, in all likelihood, that product is the same and everything which comes off that production line will always comply.

Certification bodies can choose how long their certification permits would be valid for. Internationally, there are two practices: “The traditional method employed by many companies to this day is that the certification is perpetual; as long as the manufacturer continues to comply with the rules governing the certification process. These rules will include regular factory audits and random tests on samples. A second tendency that is relatively new is for the certification to last a defined period, such as three or five years, and after that you have to re-apply,” explains Strauss. This implies that instead of ongoing random testing, when the certificate expires, the full test and factory audit has to be redone for the next period. The rules governing certification are documented in the international standard ISO 17065. This standard does not prescribe for how long the certification permit should be valid, it confirms that this period is the decision of the certification body.

Every company which offers certification can also offer their registered trademark logo to be stamped on the product (like the highly recognised SABS stamp). Strauss says that whether such a stamp is as recognisable by plumbers as the SABS stamp is entirely up to the certification body to promote in order to gain market trust through credibility.

The Accreditation Act established SANAS as the South African representative of ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation) and this Act indicates that while accreditation by SANAS is not a requirement, it is recommended and promoted. This means a testing laboratory can test without being SANAS accredited. The accreditation process is thorough, and a laboratory can only be accredited once it has been in operation some time. Strauss likens this to a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma – “How does a laboratory get work if it is not accredited?” This raises the barrier to entry, as the owner has to effectively deliver free work to gain the required experience.

It was for these reasons that the plumbing industry came together and formed the SA Watermark, which is a register of products that have been tested or certified. The SA Watermark does not do testing or certification. However, it will verify the testing or certification status of a product before registering it on the SA Watermark register of products. This system respects manufacturers’ freedom of choice to choose which test or certification body they would like to make use of. This freedom of choice extends to international bodies. “The national legislation allows for this freedom of choice and the SA Watermark provides a platform for manufacturers to exercise their freedom of choice in a responsible manner,” explains Strauss.

Testing equipment at Omega Test House.

Testing houses

Omega Test House is being managed by Allen Scholtz. It is one of the new testing houses bridging the testing shortfall that has arisen in South Africa. “What differentiates Omega Test House,” says Scholtz, “is the ability to utilise latest IoT (Internet of Things) technologies into the testing procedures.” This also adds the ability to do product research and development (R&D). Its application for SANAS accreditation is being processed and is expected by year end, at which point it can broaden its offering. Omega is a SA Watermark approved test facility – this means it has been audited by third party auditors to the SA Watermark requirements – the objective of which is to promote confidence in the operation of laboratories.

Omega Test House seeks to add value to its clients by offering innovative solutions that go beyond simple compliance with regulations and standards, thus reducing risk and improving the performance of their products.

Scholtz is a qualified electrician and plumber, and held a technical signatory status at the SABS Alternative Energy and Fluid Technology Laboratories. Omega Test House currently has the equipment to perform all test methods encompassing the most common high-demand plumbing products: water taps, vacuum breakers, ball valve levers, non-return valves, single control mixers, metering taps, spring-loaded non return valves and more.

“The vision of the laboratory is to grow its functionality and capability to service the industry on all major products. Our competitive edge is on cost and great partnerships with IoT companies such as RCT (Rhizoo Christos Technologies). We have developed a model for constructing equipment which is more cost-effective and more durable. Most replacement parts are locally available, and this consequently reduces downtime.”

Once a product has been successfully tested, Omega Test House assists the client with the paperwork to obtain the SA Watermark, getting all the documentation ready for the submission. Once SA Watermark approves it, the product will be able to use the Watermark certification/ trademarked logo.

On the affordability of testing R&D products, Scholtz explains: “It’s a lot cheaper than a manufacturer continuing with development only to find at the end stage that it is not compliant – that’s when the expense becomes considerable. We recommend manufacturers do the testing early in the product development life cycle. We are then in a position to guide them towards the final end product. This saves enormously on the process of trial-and-error.”

Alan Scrooby, technical signatory / laboratory manager at Scrooby’s Laboratory, says, “Scrooby’s Laboratory is a fully-equipped chemical and mechanical testing laboratory. The laboratory is capable of testing a wide range of products from water to all different matrixes of metal as well as certain tests on plastics and polymers. Our major testing equipment includes, a spectrograph capable of analysing iron, nickel, copper aluminium and zinc bases.” It boasts three tensile machines ranging from 10N to 600kN, an ICP (induction coupled Plasma) for wet chemical analysis as well as an FTIR, hardness testers and an impact tester.

“The range of products is large: we have in the past tested baby nappies, soil, cosmetics and metals. If a customer can supply a test method or specification, we will look into what it would take to perform the tests as required by the customer,” says Scrooby.

Scrooby’s Laboratory was the first laboratory in South African to have SANAS accreditation for DZR testing, having worked closely with the SABS to get the accreditation. “We do not do certification due to the diversification of the laboratory. In order to supply certification you need to have dedicated personnel and instrumentation for that specific requirement. The laboratory has too wide a testing platform to accommodate that at the moment.

“We have SANAS accreditation for spectrographic analysis, tensile testing and dezincification resistance of brass. As more of our clients requested accreditation, we felt it would be in our best interests and those of our customers, to get the accreditation in order to remain competitive in this small industry of testing laboratories,” he says.

“We try and pride ourselves on a relatively quick turnaround time. These times are very dependent on the nature of the test, but our typical times are two to three days for spectrographic analysis, and five to seven days for most other testing. We are always open to discuss problems with customers; we do not necessarily offer consulting per se, but will gladly assist a customer in any way we can,” says Scrooby.

Gerhard Holtzhausen, director and test engineer at Test Africa, says, “We are electrical and electronic safety specialists – household/ audio & video/ IT/ medical/ switches/ laboratory & control. We do more than 2 000 products a year on samples supplied by our customers. We issue reports on completion of the testing, but don’t do certification. Usually our reports are used to obtain LOA/ COC from NRCS or Icasa. This gives our clients the opportunity to export their products to most of the world. Our average testing time is four to six weeks, and we apply for LOA through NRCS and help with CE declarations.”

Conclusion

The process of testing and certification in South Africa has evolved over time from a government-sponsored activity (under SABS) to a user-pays model, and Strauss says he would most like to see a fair market system where market forces will ensure a balance between supply, demand and quality of service.

Strauss summarises the testing and certification status quo:

  • Testing and certification is an important cornerstone to show that products comply to their national standards.
  • The landscape is changing in South Africa with new service providers offering these services.
  • The new environment leads to wider compliance with national legislation in a market where choice is respected.
  • The winner at the end is the South African consumer, who will get quality, safe products at competitive prices.

 

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