Volume 2   Issue 3               Fall 2001

No More Borders

As the United States and Canada Move Towards Harmonized Testing, Understanding of the Certification Process is Crucial
by John G. Kent

Although standards exist that speak to important responsibilities and key elements involved in certification, a certification process is customized generally to meet industry and marketplace demands. Developing somewhat different solutions, the insulating glass (IG) industries, both north and south of the border, have done a great job of responding to those market needs. 

But that border is getting a little blurry. Work is nearing completion on a harmonized U.S. Canadian test method, and the IG trade associations for the United States and Canada have merged. As this move towards harmonization continues, the parties involved will be forced to understand the process of certification and testing perhaps a little more deeply than before.

Keys to Certification 

What we really are looking at when we speak of testing and certification is the “compliance process” or “conformity assessment.” It is a process whereby a seller, in this case an IG fabricator, provides assurance of the performance or durability of its product to a customer or buyer. Although a seemingly simple task, there are many organizations involved, each having its own requirements that can confuse and cloud this core process. Within the IG industry, by far the most common way for an IG fabricator to demonstrate the compliance of its product to a buyer is through participation in a certification program or process. 

The three key elements of a certification process are testing, inspection or audit and labeling or communicating the certification. Each of these occurs under a series of established policies and guidelines. Also involved is licensing and authorization, committee meetings, laboratory and inspector approval and training, production of directories or lists of parties meeting the requirements of the process, resolution of interpretive issues, financial management and enforcement of the requirements. Formalized certification accomplishes the following benefits:

1. Creates a level playing field. All participants are using the same rules;

2. Elevates industry perception or level of acceptability. A fogged IG unit for one company is a fogged IG unit for the industry. By selling certified and test proven units, the bar is raised for everyone;

3. Efficiently communicates agreed levels of performance. You don’t need to explain every aspect of testing and inspection. You simply say, “We’re certified.”;

4. Serves as a mechanism to police the industry. If certification was mandatory, every product would be tested and inspected; thus, inferior products would be filtered out.

Third-Party Certification

Most often certification is thought of as third-party certification. Who are the three parties? Third-party certification provides an independent, impartial link in the compliance process between the buyer and the seller. Therefore, the three parties of third-party certification are the buyer, the seller (IG fabricator) and the certifier or “the program.” There are three key roles involved in the third-party certification program: sponsor, administrator and validator. But first let’s look at what drives the need for third-party certification.

A fabricator or seller typically will not certify via third parties voluntarily. Some external influence usually will encourage or mandate certification. Certainly a customer, potential customer, buyer, architect or specifier looking for added assurance of the seal durability performance will drive an IG fabricator to pursue certification, but other influences are often involved. In Canada, the Canadian Construction Materials Council and the National Research Council were early drivers. Later, entities such as Ontario Hydro were strong proponents of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Association of Canada (IGMAC) certification program. In the United States, the Department of Housing and Urban Development was the primary driving force.

The sponsor of a certification program is the legal entity or owner of the program. The sponsor is the owner of the certification mark or logo and is responsible for making the rules and guidelines, setting policy and accepting overall responsibility for the certification program. In Canada, the newly 
created Insulating Glass Manufacturer’s Alliance (IGMA) owns the IGMAC certification program. In the United States there are three major sponsors of certification programs: Associated Laboratories Inc. (ALI), Insulating Glass Certification Council (IGCC) and the National Accreditation and Management Institute Inc. (NAMI).

“Within the IG industry, by far the most common way for an IG fabricator 
to demonstrate the compliance of their product to a buyer is through 
participation in a certification program or process.”

The administrator of the certification program implements the program rules and policies and manages day-to-day activity. In Canada, IGMA contracts the Canadian Lumberman’s Assoc-iation to administer the IGMAC certification program. In the United States, ALI and NAMI both sponsor and administer their own respective certification programs. IGCC contracts Administrative Management Systems Inc. to administer its certification program. 

The certification process is based on products meeting certain requirements. Inspection and testing are used to validate initial and continued compliance to these requirements. There are currently two laboratories accepted for certification testing in Canada. In the United States there are nine independent laboratory locations performing certification testing. Both in the United States and Canada, inspections are performed by either employees of the administrator or contractors to the administrator.

Under this basic structure each certification program in the United States and Canada has developed and evolved in different ways. IG fabricators should be encouraged to take advantage of the benefits of a third-party certification process as the industry works together towards higher levels of standards of performance. A specific comparison of IG certification programs is listed in the tables found on pages 34-35.

John Kent is administrative manager for the Insulating Glass Certification Council.


DWM
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