Most people don’t know that the UL stamp that appears on a product is from a privately held company. I like most, was under the assumption that it was a government agency that was there to protect the consumer. The latter is true, but it is mostly out to make money. Having said that, let us have a look at the world of consumer product testing.
If you have invented your widget, you finally got to sit in front of a big box retailer and left with a purchase order in hand then I say congratulations, but don’t open the champagne just yet. You’ll have to have your product safety tested.
Most of these tests are not a requirement of the government but a requirement of the retailer. The reason for this is that you can’t sue the government if your new heater sets your house on fire, but you can definitely sue the retailer.
Now I’m not saying that the testing is frivolous, but it can be a rabbit hole that’s hard to get through. Most retailers will tell you what testing is required and give you a list of labs that will test your item. They then provide you reports that you in turn give to the retailer. The sticky part of this is the standard to which your product might have to comply. A portable electric heater may be subject to ANSI/UL 1278. The ANSI stands for American Nation Standards Institute which is actually a nonprofit but the UL part of it, is definitely for profit. They weren’t always that way but in 2012 they became UL LLC, a private company.
So, here’s the rub, what the test procedures actually are is a secret, well that is until you pay. To get a copy of how they test your product, what actually is the standard, in this case UL 1278, you have to buy it, and it’s not cheap. Now, I don’t know how much the standard is but I’m sure it’s over $1000. The testing itself can be thousands as well and if your product fails for something like the wiring insulation doesn’t meet CA Prop 65, you’re up for retesting for more money. The good news is that usually they only retest for the failed item, so there’s some savings there.
Now let’s look at the factory testing and inspections. The factory must also pass inspections for things like security, safety, GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) and a host of other things. Most of these are out of your hands if you are using a contract manufacturer but a good factory will be used to these tests and inspections. That doesn’t mean that they won’t fail for some reason like “Not Saving Security Camera Footage” or some other infraction but as long as you leave time in your shipping schedule you can have these addressed.
Inventing a new item that will change the world is a great achievement, getting it through product testing and into the hands of the consumer, not so fun.