Many small buyers don’t know where their products can be tested in a laboratory in China. (Actually, many of them don’t even know that they are responsible for compliance with their country’s safety regulations.)
A handful of international groups have laboratory testing capabilities for the most common consumer and industrial products. I listed them below.
You can tell them what you are buying (with photos + a bit of context) and the importing country. They will give you a list of relevant tests with quotations. If you become a very regular customer, you can ask for a discount.
For a small customer, contacting the big testing houses directly can be hell, because these organizations are not designed to provide fast responses to small accounts. (I wish I could include the contact of a live human, but in most cases, you need to talk to different people depending on the product category you are buying).
Why lab testing for compliance is critical for your products
Most countries will have certain standards that they expect products to reach before they may be imported and sold in that market. The key concern is usually consumer/user safety, as we have seen numerous instances when defective products have placed people or property at risk which could, potentially, have been avoided had the products been tested more stringently.
Is lab testing mandatory?
While it may be possible to import products without testing, importers are liable for consumer/user injury or destruction of property (think of a fire in a building, or a car accident) and could face huge financial penalties and jail time if the products fail to reach the required standards. Skipping this testing is often illegal and is extremely unadvisable.
What certifications should I be aiming for?
This depends on where your products are headed. For example, for many products to be sold in the EU, compliant products require CE marking and all the related EU requirements. In some cases, the directive/regulation will require that an accredited lab (a “notified body” as they say) is involved, in other cases you have more options.
Another example is electronic products (with some RF function such as Bluetooth, wifi, etc.) imported into the USA — these will need to comply with FCC requirements. Therefore, you should conduct the lab tests required, with an accredited testing house, in order to reach these certifications.
My products were tested (and passed) by a lab before. Now we’re manufacturing a new batch with some small adjustments. Surely more testing isn’t required?
Actually, it may well be. Especially if anything (e.g. component, manufacturing process…) is changed in your product. A whole new battery of lab testing may have to be done to ensure you are not importing potentially non-compliant products.
When should lab testing be done?
Compliance testing is most often done in one of these two phases:
- On pre-production prototypes — to confirm the product design and its components are compliant. (Note: there are several approaches here, as described here.)
- On products coming off the line during mass production — to confirm this batch of products is compliant.
If my products reach the criteria to pass the EU certifications, can I import them into other regions, too?
Probably not. While the different regions’ certifications may have similarities in terms of which tests are conducted and which results are acceptable, the only acceptable certification per region is the one endorsed by its government. A professional lab should be able to advise you on which certifications you need to fulfill for your product type, but as an importer, you need to research this and be sure for yourself.
List of the largest third-party labs
As I wrote above, you may have trouble finding an account manager and getting responses to your questions if you are not a regular client. But here is the list of the largest testing houses with testing laboratories in China.
Intertek Testing Services (Head office: UK)
Bureau Veritas (Head office: France)
SGS (Head office: Switzerland)
Eurofins (Head office: France/Luxemburg)
TUV-Rheinland (Head office: Germany)
TUV-SUD (Head office: Germany)
UL (Head office: USA)
Other types of testing labs for compliance
This is a huge market, and you are bound to find many types of labs if you run Google searches.
If I had to summarize the situation, the main categories are as follows:
- Large international companies that use their reputation to sell testing and certification services (I listed the major ones above).
- Smaller companies that serve markets the large players don’t serve well. For example, if you want to import ladders in France, Laboratoires Pourquery is one of the only options, and even huge companies such as Bureau Veritas may be unable to help you.
- Local companies in China and Hong Kong. They often try to be cheaper and tend to serve mostly small/midsize customers (mostly local manufacturers). Note: they generally won’t be able to give solid advice on what testing is compulsory.
- Companies that sell reports intended to fool buyers, or that are “flexible” when a manufacturer is paying and needs a passed report. China has its fair share of these bad players, but they exist everywhere. See this warning from the European Safety Federation as an example.
What about performance & reliability testing?
That’s a totally different topic. The labs that focus on compliance testing are seldom the best options for reliability testing. You probably want more advice and less “reputation” in that case. Contact me if you need such services, as we have our own lab for reliability and performance testing.
– If you need to run very specific tests (on a product that is not often purchased in China), you will probably need to deal with a more specialized laboratory. A Google search might not be very helpful. The best is still to ask around.
– Most SMEs balk at the prices of all the “required” lab tests, and they end up paying for none. If you are in this situation, you should try to develop a testing plan that balances risks and costs. Doing no tests at all is seldom the best decision.