How do you know that your product will not just fill a need in the market, but will also enable both markets and customers to accept and adopt your technology with ease? The answer: through the use of standards.

According to the Government of Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs: “Standards are technical specifications or other criteria that a product, process or service must meet.”

Standards are adopted and applied in markets worldwide in order to provide a common language and underpinning that enable global trade. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that standards and standard conformity directly affect roughly 80% of all world trade.

There are several thousand standards that affect almost every aspect of our daily lives, ranging from financial management and medical devices to furniture and cellphone circuitry. Standards address efficiency, compatibility and consumer safety, and there are many situations where demonstrated compliance with a particular standard is required before a product can be sold in a particular jurisdiction.

For example, the standard for the onsite reuse of water is governed by Standard NSF/ANSI 350 in both the United States and Canada. This standard defines the proper water-quality criteria for grey water reuse systems. The US Green Building Council LEED program includes criteria that provide credits for the inclusion of systems with this certification. An increasing number of state and local authorities also require adherence with this standard.

Key sources of standards in electronics, manufacturing, business operations and environmental protection are available through a variety of industry-focused bodies. In Canada, groups developing standards must apply to be included in the National Standards System, which is overseen by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). The SCC accredits more than 250 standards development organizations (SDOs), certifiers and testing systems to ensure they meet detailed criteria and procedures, providing common ground for the quality and rigour of standards in Canada.

Similarly, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a standards-coordinating body for American standards. It provides a list of SDOs that it has verified, including Canadian SDOs. ANSI-accredited SDO standards are used widely in markets across the globe.

Where do I find the relevant standard for my business?

It is worth knowing how standards can help your business and which ones are required for your product when accessing markets. This knowledge will require research; however, many SDOs include some consulting services and industry factsheets. Some of the key resources are explained below.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 

ISO is the largest developer of voluntary international standards. The organization covers almost every industry, including healthcare technology, manufacturing engineering, water, electronics and energy. However, the organization notes that information and communications technology is one industry that it does not cover as well as its counterparts—the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—for highly technical specifications.

ISO provides particularly useful industry-focused pages for the health, energy and water industries, with information on quantifying the use of standards, examples of recent applications of their standards and a listing of ISO standards relevant to the industry.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 

Besides coordinating and verifying standardizing bodies in North America, and representing the US at the ISO, ANSI also has a range of standards it develops, including information technology (IT) and IT security; lasers; plastics; automotive and aerospace; tolerances and measurements; manufacturing; energy; nanotechnology; electric vehicles; chemicals; biofuels; healthcare information; energy efficiency; defence and security; electronics and communication; machine safety; medical devices; quality management; and construction, among others. See ANSI’s Standard Packages and Selected Standards webpages for more information.

Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group

Industries covered by CSA Group include aerospace; appliances and HVACR; automotive; construction, buildings and infrastructure; energy and resources; hearth and grill products; IT and audiovisual technology; lighting; medical, laboratory and health care; personal protective equipment; plumbing; polymeric materials and adhesive-type labels; power and industrial control; sports equipment; tools and gardening equipment; and wiring devices and cables. Visit CSA Group’s Testing and Certification webpage for more information.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

UL provides a range of services, and both American and Canadian standard ranges are maintained for categories including appliances and HVAC; building materials; cleaning products; energy and industrial systems; food and beverages; high-tech; lighting; medical and laboratory; over-the-counter drugs and pharmaceuticals; plastics and components; plumbing products and systems; and wireless technologies. See UL’s Certification webpage for more information.

Further information on regulatory requirements and industry practices are available for additive manufacturing; electromagnetic compatibility; the environment; global market access; responsible sourcing; transaction security; and workplace health and safety.

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) 

Specializing in standards for manufacturing and trade, ASTM develops materials standards in areas including metals, paints, plastics, textiles, petroleum, construction, aviation, energy, the environment, consumer products, electronics, medical services and devices, computerized systems and homeland security. Visit ASTM’s Standards and Publications webpage for more information.

International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 

The IEC specializes in standards for electronic devices, energy management and production. The technology sectors covered are: smart grid, functional safety, smart energy, electromagnetic compatibility, renewable energies and colour management. See the IEC’s Technology Sectors webpage for more information.

NSF International 

NSF International’s product certification services are focused on water and wastewater products; sustainability; organics; non-food compounds; food equipment; dietary supplements; chemicals; biosafety cabinetry; automotive collision parts; and appliances and home products.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association 

Some of the popular topics covered by the IEEE Standards Association are electrical safety; electrical system measurement and engineering; software and system development; Ethernet; and smart grid. Additional information on the development of standards can be found here.

Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) 

The SSPC (formerly known as the Steel Structures Painting Council) specializes in surface preparation, abrasives, paints, application methods, steel, concrete, fibreglass and wood. Learn more about coatings industry standards here.

How do you get certified?

These and other standards bodies, along with regulators of markets, will provide the most up-to-date information on the appropriate standards to be aware of and to what level they must be adhered. In cases where best practice standards are used, it may be appropriate to reference or self-assess compliance with the relevant standard. However, to gain an edge over competitors or to meet the requirements of a regulator, it may be necessary to seek formal or third-party certification of adherence to a particular standard. This will involve maintaining the third-party certification and the use of the SDO’s brand with your product and promotional material.

When applying for a certification for the first time, a significant amount of documentation is likely to be required, and the testing and assessment processes can take anywhere from several weeks to a couple of months. In some instances, certification may also be costly, so it’s important to get a clear breakdown of the fee schedule for your project before commencing. The following is a common and basic process for obtaining certification with a particular standard.

standards process
The basic process for obtaining certification with a particular standard.

The requirements for re-certification will differ according to the complexity of the standard and the SDO. However, re-certification is likely to be a much easier process than the initial certification. Once the foundation for your product or system is laid, the benefits of certification can flow.

Standards are the foundation for product development, as they direct compatibility, interoperability and regulatory acceptance. Their use will speed up your time to market and streamline your design decisions. Standards also make it easier for businesses and consumers to compare competing products and identify products with more rigour. Sometimes, most importantly, they assist with credibility.

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Kelley Prowse

Kelley Prowse was an industry analyst at MaRS, providing market intelligence to cleantech and advanced materials entrepreneurs in order to help them grow their businesses. See More.