What is better? UL Listed or CE Marked?
The two marks aren't comparable in that they are for different purposes. UL is a private testing laboratory and CE marking to create conformity across diverse European countries and languages for the common European market. UL began 80 years before CE for entirely different purposes.
There are testing organizations for products' individual and industrial safety in the US, Canada, Europe, and International markets that provide comparable standards across the globe. The end-use and market guide what testing certification marks are of value.
In the United States, we like to think if a product is UL listed, it has passed stringent testing to ensure it is safe in our households or commercial buildings. But is UL listed differently from CE marked in Europe, requiring no testing?
As a manufacturer, if I have a sample of my product tested by an outside testing agency to ensure it passes their stringent requirements, does that mean every product I produce, like the sample, passed the same test? NO. It only means that the piece passed the test, and as a manufacturer, I have taken the responsibility to ensure all additional products are constructed similarly.
In Europe, products must be CE marked, which means the manufacturer ensures that each product complies with the CE standards. Either way, as manufacturers, it is up to us to ensure that our products meet the standards that have been set out for the products to ensure the safety of the public.
There is also a SA certification, a C-UL Mark, and a CSA NRTL Mark used by Canadian manufacturers and for products sold in Canada or produced in Canada and sold in the US. ETICS, the European Testing, Inspection, certification system, and a few other acronyms to keep in mind! ISO, RoHS, ETL, WH, S, GS, ASTA, BEAB, and CCC are among the many agencies working toward product safety around the globe.
In a global market with logistic shortages, the products found in our homes or construction could come from anywhere. But unfortunately, not every manufacturer will go through the trouble of having the products tested or certified for every possible market.
What is UL Listed mean, and how did it originate?
UL or Underwriters Laboratories originated in 1890 during the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. William Henry Merrill, Jr, a graduate of MIT's electrical engineering program, was sent by the Boston Board of Fire Underwriters to assess the fire risks associated with the construction of the Expo. He proposed creating an electrical testing laboratory for the insurance underwriters he met at the Exposition.
The origins were based on the need for insurance companies to reduce their risk when underwriting/insuring construction projects. Although there have been several name changes, its mission remains the same: "to promote safe living and working environments for people."
While much of the UL testing involves electrical devices, the first standard for safety had to do with "Tin Glad Fire Doors ."The doors primarily used in commercial buildings like schools & hospitals needed to meet criteria to protect people in case of fire in the facilities.
With the origin of standards for specific products, UL began a label service to signify the products meet the standards of UL investigation and testing on the assembly line or in the laboratory. In 1909 UL certified its first motor-driven vacuum cleaner.
Many UL standards and certifications are related to the combination of building materials used in construction and how they would hold up to a fire.
What is the difference between UL certified and UL listed?
Note the UL Certification Mark for Canada and US in the screenshot.
UL Certified refers to 3rd party experts from UL who have physically inspected the product, process, personnel, system, or facility. Their experts certify that these categories meet the applicable standards and requirements.
Product certification standards for industrial control panels, medical devices, IoT, offshore oil and gas applications, semiconductor devices, components & control devices are a few of more than 200 testing services for certification. To have a product, process, system, facility, or personnel UL certified UL representatives must inspect or test to ensure compliance.
The term UL Certified doesn't mean that the tested item is approved for all applications, but only those specified at the testing time.
UL listed designation is for individual products where a manufacturer's sample has been tested against UL's appropriate standards and specifications. This standard is for potential applications and not a certification for any specific application. Instead, the product has a particular function tested to meet UL standards.
Even more confusing is UL is recognized for components that go into larger devices.
What is the origin of CE Marked?
The letter "CE" originated from the French phrase "Conformite Europeene" or European Conformity. Due to the nature of the diverse European market and the number of unique countries, languages, and products, the European Commission sought to standardize markings across the continent for consumer products.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that rules became more comprehensive and took a global approach to test and certification products sold across the European Economic Area. (EEA) A more detailed history can be found in this HBS working paper on the origins of CE Marking.
CE mark is a Self-Confirmation process.
Products sold in the European market need to be CE marked, indicating that the manufacturer has complied with safety and health standards in producing the product. It is the responsibility of the to ensure the products meet the standards.
Sample list of CE Marked directives used for industrial products
- Directive 2014/35/EC Low Voltage/LVD/Electrical Safety
- Directive 2009/105/EC Simple Pressure Vessels
- Directive 2009/48/EC Safty of toys
- Directive 89/106/EC Construction products
- Directive 2014/30/EC Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMC)
- Directive 2006/42 EC Machinery
You won't know which directive the CE mark on a product applies to without asking the manufacturer. At some point, the manufacturer did the paperwork required to use the making. At the point of sale, most won't know what actual directive applies.
Knowing what is covered by the directives and how they might apply to your application is essential. For example, regarding electrical products, the directives address the minimum required for the safety of personnel and property.
The types of properties covered for electrical installations might include:
- The minimum amount of insulation of wiring for voltages and environmental conditions.
- Grounding requirements for circuits
- The heat generated by components
- Propagation of fire or material properties
- Leakage current or operator safety requirements
- Fault testing
Are CE-marked products ok for use in the United States?
CE-marked products may be ok for use in the United States as long as their voltages and frequencies are compatible with the US power grid and receptacles. However, they have not been tested or approved by US standards.
Many products manufactured in European countries for the US market will carry the CE markings and UL Listing. Look for both or contact the manufacturer to adhere to your applications' regulations and standards.
What is the ETL Listed Mark?
Intertek is another testing laboratory with origins in the United Kingdom that offered independent testing and certification of ships' cargoes in 1885. The company combined with an independent chemical testing laboratory from Montreal, Canada, in 1888 and Thomas Edison's lamp testing bureau in (1896).
The testing and inspection services grew to include SEMKO from Sweden in 1925 and later steel testing, minerals, and lumber. Intertek continued to grow as a public traded company that, in 2018, had Cyber Security and Network Assurance Market.
The company has more than 1,000 laboratories and 44,000 people in 100 countries. In addition, Intertek's electrical product safety testing and certification services provide access to certification marks or documentation.
Example of industrial products with multiple marks
A DBK series thermoelectric cooler is a solid-state cooling device manufactured in Germany and sold worldwide. Its features are compact design, DC operation, solid-state construction, and ETL recognized and ROHS compliant.
These relatively small devices run on 24 V DC. Unlike AC, DC voltage is the same everywhere in the world, as is the measurement of current in amps and wattage.
The ETL Mark is proof of the product safety, which goes above CE marking alone, indicating the product conforms with product standards. The RoHS compliant mark shows that the product doesn't exceed the allowable limits of hazardous substances often found in the manufacturing of electrical products. In the European market, WEEE, waste from electrical and electronic equipment mandates treatment, recovery, and recycling of electric and electronic equipment.
The UL component mark for manufacturers.
Consumers will probably never see these marks. However, engineers or project managers designing and building electrical equipment need to look for these marks on individual components that go into the more extensive system or machine.
The C-UR mark is one of three variations for the US, Canada, or collective mark for use in both countries. Using these components helps manufacturers streamline the end-product evaluation system with UL.
See the UL-UR mark for Canada and the US printed directly on this German-made PTC fan heater to be installed into a larger machine or control panel.
Note the UL and Canada certification symbol and file listing.
DBK USA flexible heaters are examples of testing and conformity marks on the component product.
Confused about UL, CE, Component Marks, and other product certifications?
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