How valid third-party certification reduces your risk to close to zero

There’s a whole lot of difference between buying products with valid third-party certification, or not.

Especially life-safety products such as fire curtains.

Without third-party certification there is increased risk that the product arriving on site is not identical to the tested specimen.

By choosing products with valid third-party certification you remove that risk from 100% sitting with you to close to 0% sitting with you.

Valid third-party certification really is the difference between 0 and 100.

Notified Bodies (or CABs, Conformity Assessment Bodies) are the providers of third-party certification. They are the manufacturer’s ‘police’.

Imagine our roads if there were no police. Would they be safer without the police deterring speeders and those that may drive dangerously? No, of course not.

Likewise with life-safety products, with no ‘police’, are products safe?

The difference in risk and potential for non-compliance between a product with valid third-party product certification from a Notified Body and a product without valid third-party product certification from a Notified Body is night and day.

In a competitive open market there is pressure…

  • to make an ROI from shareholders and stakeholders,
  • from lenders and banks to repay capital,
  • to service loan interest (rising),
  • from staff, management and seniors to ‘hit the numbers’ to ensure not only job security but also bonuses,
  • from existing contracts to keep on programme or else potentially suffer consequences in the tens of thousands or more,
  • to keep ahead in the market and get your product to market.

If a manufacturer has valid third-party product certification from a Notified Body, regardless of the pressures they have to comply with what the Notified Body has certified i.e. they have to make the products day-in, day-out the same as those audited in the last 12 months. Note, the audits of production methods and design and materials and components should be independently checked and verified at least annually.

If the manufacturer were to breach the agreement with the Notified Body and send something to site that was different to what they had certified and they were found out, not only would they face serious consequences financially in terms of penalties but the Notified Body would also likely refuse to work with them again (e.g. BRE and Kingspan1) and other Notified Bodies would also be very careful to work with them meaning they would effectively be out of business. Not many brands have the strength of Kingspan to ride out the ‘storm’ created in this situation.

As such, manufacturers with valid third-party certification from a Notified Body are highly unlikely to risk breaching the agreement.

In contrast, a manufacturer without valid third-party certification is answering only to themselves and their customer in terms of how they make a product meaning very little deterrent to keep them ‘on-piste’ when the commercial headwinds are pushing them ‘off-piste’.

You will see below how the simple yet thorough process of third-party certification that is governed by the likes of UKAS and monitored by Notified Bodies is invaluable to safety – especially for life-safety products such as fire curtains. Life-safety products are, by definition, to make the difference between life and death. Valid third-party certification is invaluable in ensuring the production of these products is reliable and the same as what was tested. In every way.

See how it works in real-life, day-to-day, and see some of the risks that production is susceptible to in a commercial organisation without the accountability that independent third-party certification provides.

This process ensures you can buy products from Manufacturer A with confidence that the fire curtains coming out of production are going through extensive and exhaustive independent impartial checks and controls to ensure they are the same as the tested specimen.

Typical scenarios that could lead to a deviation from the tested specification, design, and/ or processes; what happens in real life when:

1. The components that are normally used suddenly become hard to source, with a long lead time and increased costs. Does the manufacturer wait for the correct components to become available or do they substitute ‘like-for-like’ components to keep contracts on programme to avoid suffering:

a. delays and damages (can be in the millions per day on some projects)
b. reduced manufacturing profit margin
c. loss of goodwill and reputational damage

Example: “this motor is cheaper, and the manufacturer says it is fire rated and we can get them on next day delivery. It should be fine to use instead of waiting for the motors we had tested to come back into stock.”

2. The design used for the tested specimen is proving difficult to scale up for volume manufacture.
Does the manufacturer:

a. Go back through product design and testing, thus delaying getting the product to market by a year or two. This not only delays ROI and repayment of loans and interest, but also loses the opportunity of being ahead of the competition meaning they could be 2nd or 3rd to market with the product. They also may not have access to capital to fund the further development and/ or may not be able to service loans without the revenue from the new product?
OR
b. Modify the design with an internally deemed ‘equivalent’ design that can be volume-manufactured with relative ease using existing capabilities?

Example: “we can’t easily position the motor recessed in the barrel 200mm as we did to pass the hot motor test so just position it in the barrel at the end as we do with our other fire curtains.”

3. Inflation hits profits and there is a new competitor with a better product. Both threaten the profitability and potentially even the viability of the company.
Does the manufacturer:

a. Look at ways to improve their design and production processes so they can provide a better product that is higher quality and lower cost and take this new design and the processes through third-party testing and certification with a Notified Body e.g, over the next two years? 
OR

b. Hold a team meeting to find ways to make the product at lower cost and more quickly. These changes will save everyone’s bonuses or even the business and are deemed internally to create little-to-no impact on the performance of the product. Is it a solution?

Example: The new Adexon design which solves the three most prevalent headaches associated with fire curtains hits the market. What is more, Adexon have invested in automation of production and have incredibly well-run and lean processes making their vastly superior product equivalent or lower in cost!

These are just some examples of scenarios that threaten deviations to the tested components or design, or even the processes. Without valid third-party certification no impartial person or entity is checking. The likelihood is that if you buy, specify, or approve products from Manufacturer B or C, you have no guarantee and little-to-no certainty (unless you are a shareholder) that the ‘fire curtains’ coming out of production are the same as the tested specimen. Uncomfortably, the risk sits with you. There are no upsides to taking this risk.

An example of how difficult it is for a buyer to check they are getting products with tested components is the motor. Even though some motors look the same – even to a trained eye – they can have different torque ratings, different gearbox grease, different oils, different aluminium bodies and hand cranks (design or even more or less aluminium) which can lead to more flaming e.g. in the headboxes and high pressure back flow of hot gases which can ignite outside the headboxes. You could take five motors that are nigh-on identical (see Fig. 1), but they have different oils and composite buildups leading to problems. Without valid third-party certification to ensure the motor tested is the one being used in production day-to-day, you could get a motor that isn’t tested, and this could have devastating consequences in a fire.

 

References

1Bre ends relationship with Kingspan following Grenfell Inquiry (no date) Inside Housing. Available at: https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/bre-ends-relationship-with-kingspan-over-reputational-risk-following-grenfell-inquiry-revelations-82169 (Accessed: 21 March 2024).