The European Commission's tidy-up of the CE Marking system ought to level the pan-European playing field for manufacturers and importers, but if not policed adequately it could have the opposite effect, warns E&T.
Since the early 1990s, more and more product types have needed CE Marking before they can be offered for sale within the EU and EEA. There are now more than 20 different directives, covering products from toys and electrical goods to explosives.
There are discrepancies across directives, though, leading to confusion in areas such as the requirements for technical documentation, who is responsible for the CE Marking of the product, and what information should go on the Declaration of Conformity.
In response to this and the claim that enforcement of CE Marking is uneven across the EU, in 2008 the European Commission published 'The New Legislative Framework' - and this starts to take effect this year.
Of course, while the intent was laudable - and no technical changes are required - yet more confusion will be generated in the short term. There are also significant cost implications in all the administrative, legal and documentation changes - the latter now in up to 23 different languages.
Most responsibility lies with the manufacturer; however, the changes will also require authorised representatives, importers and distributors to ensure that CE Marking is affixed and technical documentation available. Interestingly, if anyone brands OEM products, they also take on full responsibilities as if they were the original manufacturer and must comply with all the applicable legislation.
Hidden in the requirements is potential good news for small series production equipment and custom-made products, where the technical and administrative requirements will be alleviated. However, there can be no clear plan of how this will happen until each applicable CE Marking directive is updated.
Is the long-term gain worth the short-term pain? There is an argument that those manufacturers, agents and other economic operators who are doing things right now will suffer the most, since they already follow the rules, and those that ignore current legislation will continue to do so. Member states will therefore be required to perform market surveillance and police these directives in a unified way across the EU.
The UK has started planning to meet its obligations, and has produced an impressive-looking list of priorities for 2010. Compared to other member states, however, the UK activities seem somewhat trivial. For instance, Germany has an annual budget of £50,000 to police the EMC Directive alone - the UK doesn't have a specific figure, but it is unlikely to be anywhere near this.
So why increase the administrative burdens without increasing the funds for regulatory enforcement? Without active policing of the directives, some manufacturers will, over time, do the minimum avoid getting caught - safety will be considered to the point of not electrocuting people, but EMC will be ignored, since it is not directly related to safety.
In summary, uniformity across directives must be applauded, but the cost of even minor change will affect profit margins in the short term or push up prices. And without significant investment in enforcement, cheap (non-compliant) imports will continue, undermining the new rules.
Steve Hayes is managing director of TraC EMC & Safety