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Understanding testing and certification Part 1

Written by Eamonn Ryan

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.

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 many would like to see a fair market system where market forces will ensure a balance between supply, demand and quality of service.

Herman Strauss, executive director of SA Watermark, 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.

“Omega Test House was started in response to requests by the industry for more testing facilities. Testing products is not a cheap business, it has high barriers to entry in that it requires heavy investment to have proper testing equipment. Furthermore, the volume of testing in South Africa is not really sufficient to warrant investment in the full range of products. This can only be overcome by ramping up the investment over time.”

That has been the advantage of SABS – it has been around a long time in a monopolistic environment and has able to slowly build up its inventory of testing equipment. New testing laboratories find it challenging to compete against that, and can only do so in a staged manner of acquiring the equipment for one type of product at a time and building clientele around that.

In the case of Omega, it commenced by implementing a SANAS/ILAC-accredited quality control system in addition to its laboratory. ILAC stands for International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation, meaning that Omega has international accreditation for its laboratory.

“This means Omega’s results on testing of taps and almost any type of valve will be accepted internationally for its specific methods. We’ve invested in more semi-automated equipment to help us cope with higher volumes of business, and are also in the process of expanding our testing services to SANS 198 (safety components) which we will be able to offer in a couple of months when we have accreditation.

“A service which we have started offering for which there is considerable demand is ‘desktop verifications’. Though we have equipment for a limited number of tests, we have experience in many more products that extend well beyond plumbing, including energy efficiency. We can offer, as a non-accredited process, is a product evaluation. If a company wants to import a product but is unsure whether it complies with the SANS standard we can do a basic, less expensive report which is capable of giving a very strong guidance to the potential importer. We know certain markings and characteristics which indicate that a product may not comply. This is proving to be highly cost effective to suppliers.”

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