Who’s who and What’s what in conformity assessment?

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Here’s a definition of conformity assessment.

“Conformity Assessment is the demonstration that specified requirements relating to a product, process, system, person or body are fulfilled.”

This definition is taken from ISO/IEC 17000:2004. It was drafted by people like me who work in or with standards and conformity bodies. But, you wonder, is it really helpful for people who want to know what conformity assessment is and what it’s for?  I think it’s more helpful to discuss the subject with a set of questions in mind. Questions that root it in the real world.

Assessing conformity with what?

Conformity assessing means evaluating goods and services to determine if they meet standards. In the electrics industry, they are usually technical standards drafted by standards organizations like UL and the IEC.

Generally speaking, assessment to international standards guarantees conformity with the highest levels of safety and quality. But some local standards can be more demanding than international ones. In fact any specification can be used as a yardstick.

Who tests what to ensure conformity assessment?

It depends on the kind of conformity assessment. There are three:

  1. “Declaration of conformity” or first-party CA: an OEM tests its own product in house to assess its conformity.
  2. “Homologation” or second-party CA: the customer tests a product to assess its conformity acceptance.
  3. “Certification” or third party CA. An independent body tests and certifies products or services.

In the electrical industry, the main conformity assessment are declarations of conformity and certification.


How do you prove conformity assessment?

With a mark of conformity.

A product marked “CE”, for example, is one that conforms with European “essential requirements”. One that meets French standards could bear “NF” and Chinese standards will bear “CCC”.

Is conformity assessment mandatory?

It depends.

In some countries it is mandatory. China is one. The government requires goods, processes and plants to undergo conformity assessment by a body it approves. CA may also be “market mandatory”. That’s when final users demand it as proof of the pudding.

What are the benefits of CA?

For customers, the reassurance that a product matches their specifications and supplier claims.

For suppliers, a prime advantage is cutting through regulatory red tape.

Many conformity assessment bodies grant each other mutual recognition. They recognize each other’s testing competency. This reduces the number of tests and shortens times to market. Conformity assessment (CA) can be a powerful marketing tool. When suppliers regularly win customer confidence with conformant goods and services, they build customer loyalty. And voluntarily demonstrating conformity assessment can be a competitive advantage. In Europe, for example, a circuit breaker supplier that displays a national conformity mark, like VDE in Germany, will have the edge over one that shows only the mandatory CE marking.

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  • Dear Pierre,
    I was a bit surprised to read your Q/A “How do you prove conformity assessment? With a mark of conformity. A product marked “CE”, for example, is one that conforms with European “essential requirements”. ….”
    for the reasons given in the following.

    After more than 20 years of existence there is in fact wide evidence, even at the level of public authorities, that the “CE Marking” cannot in no way be considered a mark of conformity . And this is particularly true when the CE marking is affixed on the basis of a Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity” – of which in fact is the “synthetic representation” like for electrical equipment within the scope of the Low Voltage Directive.

    Having clarified this I think it correct to remind also the supportive role, at both technical as well commercial level, that is played by the since long time established marks of conformity of which I’d like to mention here only the ENEC and the HAR that were established respectively more than 20 and 40 years ago under the aegis of CENELEC. Thank you.

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