Have you ever been in a situation and thought: “Where is a police officer when you need one?” This happens to me sometimes when I’m in my car and someone else on the road is driving too fast or recklessly. For the most part, those kinds of things usually resolve themselves without anything more serious than a moment of frustration. It can be a very different story, though, when you find yourself asking: “Why isn’t there a PCB contract manufacturer that can handle my NRTL requirements?”
If you’re developing products that require testing and certification by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), it can be a painful process to get your printed circuit boards built by CMs that aren’t able to meet the NRTL requirements. Without the rigid processes in place to meet NRTL electrical certification requirements, these CMs aren’t able to provide the necessary assurance that the finished PCB can be used in your final product. This may result in a lot of extra expense and time to work around this problem to get the circuit board certified as required. Let me show you more about what I mean.
NRTL Electrical Certification for PCBs
To satisfy the requirements of regulatory bodies such as the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), products must be certified by an NRTL to show that they have been tested according to any applicable standards in that product’s field. For instance, any equipment or products that are designed to be used in the workplace must carry the required OSHA certifications issued by an NRTL for that product. As the creator of that product, you have the choice of using any third-party testing facility that has an NRTL certification.
The majority of circuit boards that are affected by NRTL requirements go on to be used in final products that undergo certification testing by an NRTL. This still means that the circuit board itself must be built to pass these specific standards of testing. To do this, the CM must exercise control over the components that are used on the board so that they can be documented for the final product certification.
In some cases, the PCBA itself will be the entire product that requires testing by the NRTL for its certification. In both instances, you will need a CM that is fully versed in the requirements used by NRTLs to bring your PCBA through the certification process. The struggle can be identifying a CM that has the capability to do this.
What You Need from Your CM for NRTL Electrical Certification
It’s important to work with a CM that fully understands the requirements of NRTLs for the certifications that your PCBA will need. Your CM should also have the processes in place and properly documented to enable the NRTL to conduct their testing without difficulty. Some of these processes would include:
- Component documentation: Your CM should have processes in place to document all of the parts used in the manufacturing of your circuit boards. For those boards that will require parts that carry specific certification, the NRTL will need to see the parts properly documented to confirm that they are within compliance.
- Manufacturing documentation: Your CM should also be able to provide to the NRTL documentation to show how your circuit board was manufactured. For those certifications that require precise process control, such as RoHS, the NRTL must verify that the processes used are within compliance with the associated standards.
- Testing and inspection documentation: The NRTL will need to see from your CM documentation that proves that adequate testing and inspection of the PCB has been completed. Components and manufacturing processes will require documented inspection reports, and documented PCB testing reports will be required as well.
With the necessary documentation in hand, the NRTL can proceed with its testing and validation of your PCBA quickly without being derailed by waiting for complete information from your CM.
Not All CMs are Set Up for NRTL Electrical Certification
If your CM is not set up with the documentation processes in place that will satisfy the NRTL certification requirements, you could be setting yourself up for a lot of problems. An NRTL certification may require compliance by using approved parts and materials, and without the proper documentation processes in place, these CMs won’t be able to verify that the parts and materials they used on your board are compliant.
Additionally, some CMs do not have a manufacturing process that allows for onsite NRTL inspections of their customer’s products. Without these, you may find yourself adding to the time and expense of getting your board through NRTL testing for its certification.
This is why it’s critical to work with a CM that understands what NRTLs will be expecting for certification and that maintains documented processes and procedures to ensure your PCB is compliant with the required testing standards.