The UL certification is a North American Product certification that comes from Underwriter Laboratories. It shows that the product in question was tested by UL, and that it meets US and Canadian safety standards. Products displaying this mark are likely to meet standardized minimum requirements for safe operation and this can help with sales and marketing, while also avoiding a range of unfortunate incidents for consumers and any litigation for the manufacturer which may follow.
For hardware entrepreneurs then, the UL mark can be very worthwhile, but this does mean yet one more thing to worry about before you go to market and yet one more expense. So the question is, do you actually need the UL listing mark?
The UL listing mark looks like a ‘UL’ inside a black circle. It is most often seen on electrical appliances, computer equipment, furnaces, heaters and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – all things that makers might well be involved with. However, it is also found on sprinkler systems, life jackets, bullet resistant glass, and thousands of other products.
Specifically, the equipment addressed by UL includes the following main categories:
- Electrical components
- Electronic equipment
- Wire and cable
- Fire protection and fire suppression equipment
- Signalling alarms
- Equipment for use in hazardous locations
You view the entire list here on UL’s website. This means that UL is likely to be relevant to many of our regular readers who produce electrical appliances and gadgets, especially if they need to be plugged into the mains.
UL is actually just one of the many NRTLs, or Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories. There are numerous laboratories that fall into this category, but UL is the best known. Others include CE (though this is only relevant in the EU and doesn’t hold any weight in North America), FCC and CSA.
UL certification is a lengthy and costly process that is very thorough. The testing mainly revolves around fitness and durability, however this requires each component in the product to be tested individually to ensure it meets the intended purposes of the initial design. This might also mean testing under specific conditions involving heat, cold, UV resistance, longevity etc. depending on the initial design brief. What’s more, any change in the product’s design will mean using pre-tested components, or will require retesting.
You can find out more at the UL website here.
Any hardware entrepreneur who intends on selling his product in a retail store should know that most retailers will not carry a product if it is not UL certified or has a letter saying that UL does not certify the product you are selling. Having the UL stamp on your product is an insurance policy for you, the retailer and the manufacturer of the product. It will pay to research your niche or market in advance and see if UL is expected or not.
As ever, we’d love to hear from anyone with experience in UL certification in the comments section. Did you get the UL listing for your products? Why? Was it ultimately worthwhile? What experience would you share for fellow makers interested in UL certification?