What’s the difference between testing and certification?

When a manufacturer gets a product tested by a testing laboratory, it’s a one-time activity.  The test lab will test samples of the product and check that they conform to the requirements of a standard or other specification. When it is completed, the manufacturer receives a test report that indicates whether the product complied with the requirements – at the time the testing was done.

Having a product evaluated by a Certification Body (CB) may use information from a test lab, but goes much further. It involves evaluation of both the product itself AND the production (manufacturing) process to the requirements of a Certification Scheme. Certification Schemes are based on regional, national or international standards together with any other criteria deemed necessary by the scheme owner. Many times, the CB will utilize results of third-party testing by an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory as part of the product evaluation.

For example, SRCC manages a Certification Scheme for solar water thermal collectors used in North America.  It is based in part on the ANSI standard ICC 901/SRCC 100, which is required by building codes.  Collectors must be tested by an approved ISO 17025 accredited lab as specified in the ICC 901/SRCC 100 standard.  SRCC uses the test report as part of its evaluation of the product.  Under the OG-100 certification scheme, SRCC also determines performance ratings of the collectors.  If the the product evaluation is completed successfully, the ongoing factory evaluation includes an audit of the quality management system (QMS).  This ensures that the products that are manufactured and sold can be produced to the same, consistent quality level and performance as the tested product, time after time. The QMS is re-evaluated annually by SRCC to ensure continued compliance with the requirements of the OG-100 certification scheme.

Successful applicants for certification are usually granted a Certificate of Conformity and the right to use of a Certification Mark to apply to the product. The Certification Mark allows manufacturers to demonstrate that their product continues to meet the quality and safety standards required by the scheme.

The differences are summarized below.

Test Laboratory

  • Tests product only
  • Tests for conformity with any requirements, which could be the manufacturer’s own specification, product standard or other
  • Issues a test report
  • One-off process, no follow-up.
  • Any subsequent changes to the product are not covered
  • Accreditation to ISO 17025 for Testing Laboratories

Certification Body

  • Evaluates both the product and production process
  • Tests for compliance with the requirements outlined in a Certification Scheme which is based on national, regional or international standards, together with any other requirements deemed necessary by the Scheme Owner
  • If successful, issues a Certificate of Conformity and grants permission to use a Certification Mark
  • Ongoing process to demonstrate continued conformity with the scheme’s requirements
  • Accreditation to ISO 17065 for Certification Bodies