Quality Management and Product Certification

Dr Jeremy Hodge, Chief Executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) explains the difference between quality management and product certification.

Dr Jeremy Hodge, Chief Executive of the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) explains the difference between quality management and product certification.

Most manufacturers, distributors and service providers now operate with formalised quality management systems.  These give specifiers and customers a degree of reassurance that the organisation has procedures and processes in place that will assist in the delivery of a product, process or service that conforms to expectations, and that if things go wrong then the organisation will respond appropriately.

Many products and services also carry separate certification or approval, which demonstrates that the product itself complies with a particular specification.  What is the link between these two very different systems, and how can specifiers and customers ensure they are getting what they expect?

Quality management systems emerged after the second world war, and were developed by large industrial companies and government organisations in an effort to bring consistency to manufacturing.  The approach was formalised in a world-first British Standard, BS 5750.  This eventually became widely accepted and developed at international level as ISO 9001, and this is now the main specification for quality management systems globally.  Many tens of thousands of organisations are now certificated to this standard.

Although it forms a good framework for performance, ISO 9001 does not provide a guarantee that products, processes or services actually conform to expectations.  This is the role of product certification.
Product certification, which can be applied to an actual physical product (such as a cable), to an industrial process (such as chrome plating) or to a business service (such as electrical installation), takes a detailed specification and provides a system of conformity assessment, checking that it conforms to the specification.  For physical products this usually involves testing the product (such as the cable), and for services it often involves the inspection and checking of the outcome (for example, the NICEIC registration system).

Operating a quality management system is often a pre-requisite to obtaining product certification, but it is not sufficient in itself to ensure compliance. Many product certification schemes, such as BASEC's scheme for cables, involve additional requirements and regular checks, including re-testing and re-appraisal of the product or service. However, this leads to possible confusion for specifiers and customers. What credit should be given to organisations holding just a certificate for their management system as opposed to a certificate for their product or service?

BASEC’s advice on this is that if a product, process or service is being procured look for product certification to a detailed specification of the product or process, not general quality management. For this reason, BASEC is introducing new logos for quality management certification, and for other management systems.

BASEC product certification, identifying fully approved products, will be clearly identified by the use of the familiar circular logo, while organisations only holding a certificate for their quality management system will use a different, rectangular logo.  Specifiers and customers seeking approved cables should check for the presence of the circular BASEC logo on packaging.

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