We are living in the century of quality. Hand-in-hand with quality, for society as well as sound business practice, goes safety. Born from the need to address these concerns, the field of compliance engineering is at a crucial moment in its development. What happens next will have a deep impact on the larger world of technology.
The main challenge in this moment is twofold. Of primary importance is the lack of capacity at the university level to educate young engineers versed in the intertwining, interdisciplinary problems surrounding compliance. The discipline of electrical compliance in engineering is integral to the reliable functioning of our world. As such, a curriculum of advanced study with defined levels of mastery needs to be established with the input and agreement of various involved branches of engineering. This course of study should be jointly developed with the private sector as well as disciplinary chairs of representative universities, since the field of compliance usually covers a broad range of the engineering disciplines. Furthermore, the study of compliance engineering should be available as both a major course of study and as an elective to broaden the understanding of students of other engineering disciplines.
The second challenge to our industry is that, though standards themselves continue to be refined, testing equipment is not universally regulated. One problem is that China’s continued growth as a global industrial power now includes the production and distribution of test equipment to the international market. This low cost equipment is sometimes of low quality that does not necessarily meet mandatory requirements. It is paramount that all test equipment in the certification market be approved by qualified auditors to meet global standards. We cannot accept a distortion of the standards that results in validation of low quality and safety levels.
Over the course of compliance engineering history, a false sense of security has arisen from the belief that the larger portion of the products offered to the market are compliant with accepted standards. If these standards are compromised, we will all suffer. A remedy to this situation is that small manufacturers around the globe must have access to testing equipment with the highest technical excellence for evaluating compliance. Slowed by the current economic climate but regardless of this global pressure, big corporations continue to furnish their test laboratories with the latest European test equipment. They consider this an investment in their ability to remain market leaders. On the other side, small businesses, particularly in developing countries, continue to struggle to buy the tools needed for testing their products. Whether it is because they are forced to use less reliable testing equipment mass produced in China or refurbished European test apparatus that does not conform to current standards, any “approved” products put into the marketplace by companies without fair access to reliable test equipment undermines consumer confidence in the entire industry.
As has happened before during remarkable moments in history, the present international compliance crises can become the opportunity to bring forth a reinvention the engineering landscape. In this case, the revolution in thinking will be not only in the technological process, but primarily in newly created and refined mechanisms that provide the field with improved and more accessible tools. Even if these developments seem to temporarily work against the interests of larger members of the compliance community, the end result will be the trust of the consumer, greater confidence in our own products, and a better environment for us all. In another context and another time Charles B. Dudley, the driving force behind the creation of the American Society of Testing Material (ASTM) was considered an outsider by the steel manufacturers. However, his chemical studies, by improving steel quality and ending the frequent breakdown of rail line materials, led to standards that changed the face of the American railroad industry and made the fortune of more than one railroad tycoon.
Worldwide, we have the best institutions for standardization and the continued industry commitment for voluntarily standards improvement, established norms as well as the creation of new ones. But, in my opinion, we need more than that. We must foster the conditions that allow small companies to be viable members of the compliance world. We must provide universities with test equipment and protocols so that students are equipped to meet the challenges they will face in the compliance environment. And, as the human resource in this equation, we must truly prepare ourselves and generations to come to instill our continued commitment to quality and safety of products worldwide.
Magnus is a Machinery and Test Equipment Designer in the areas of electrical safety & quality control. He is an inventor in the areas of alternative propulsion, robotics, and security. He has been developing Dunel products for 12 years.