Interview: The Certification Process and Value for Export of Lamps from Latin America to the US
Interview by Erlei Gobi from Lume Arquietura, translated and reproduced with permission from the magazine
Álvaro Theisen is the managing director of UL do Brasil, present in [Brazil’s] national territory since 1999 – and with global experience in the development of safety standards and certification.
With the Brazilian economic crisis’ worsening and dolar value soaring, some Brazilian manufacturers have been seeing abroad – mainly to United States – the opportunity to keep its sales and the financial health of their companies.
In the past, many barriers made the UL Certification acquisition difficult for national lamps exportation, such as the cost, lack of information and local tests labs. In this interview, Álvaro demystifies all these topics; talks about the support to Lux Brasil project; about how the companies shall proceed to obtain UL Certification; about the company’s work along with INMETRO in defining new certification programs; and yet states that there is no better moment for the lamp industry in Brazil to start an exportation process.
Tell us a little about your professional career and how you became UL’s managing director in Latin America.
I have been in the lighting industry for 27 years. I started assembling calibration labs at PUCRS’ (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul), where I stayed for 22 years structuring what today is Labelo, one of the three biggest laboratories of this kind in Latin America. After that, I decided to follow a solo career and I set up my own laboratory, Testtech, to attend the household appliances and lighting industries. This lab was very successful and we became market leaders in only two years, and it got UL´s attention, and they decided to buy it. During this acquisition process, UL invited me to be Brazil’s managing director. I took on the São Paulo office along with the one in Porto Alegre; my job was successful, so I was invited to take on the remaining UL’s operations in Latin America.
UL is a company with more than 120 years experience. How long has UL been in Brazil and in which areas does it act in the national market?
UL has been in Brazil for 16 years. In the first ten years, its main focus was to tend to Brazilian companies that intended to export to the United States and the foreign companies that aimed to enter Brazilian market. In recent years, UL changed its strategy and one of our working fronts is to tend to what we call “local to local”, local companies acting in the local market. Due to this strategic change, the whole operation and the Brazil office have been refurbished, achieving great success, because the UL brand is extremely strong and recognized due to its excellence. In a 3-year period, we grow almost 200%.
Today we also have a very big projection in INMETRO brand. Due to UL’s strong brand, the network we have in the market and our relationship with ABILUX, there was a synergy and UL is leading the LED’s certification process. In addition, UL is the only certifying body with its own laboratory and that is accredited by INMETRO to certify LED in Brazil.
What certifications can UL currently perform in Brazil?
UL is accredited by INMETRO to assess and test products according to the performance rules recognized by the Brazilian Certification System, including the INMETRO brand attribution. Every electric and electronic products that demands compulsory certification are in the UL INMETRO accreditation scope, among them: electric equipment for use in explosive atmospheres; Information Technology devices; medical equipment; breakers; switches, sockets; wires and cables; voltage regulators; drinking water coolers; protection against fires; gas station accessories; industrial valves; and LEDs and lamps.
UL has also been officially authorized by ANATEL to provide the total set of its certifications. UL works with three main products categories: equipment used by the general public, such as telephones, cables, cell phones, etc.; signal transmission equipment, such as aerials; and all the other products and equipment required for interoperability, reliability and network services, and electromagnetic compatibility, etc. It acts, yet, in Gas and Oil area, and polymers and plastic.
We work with INMETRO brand, with brands from other countries, in a program we call Global Market Access, and in the United States. We cover all needs of a company to access a regulated market.
In Brazil, which certifications pertinent to the lighting sector UL performs?
In Brazil, there is the certification for reactors, and UL works with this certification. We also work with the energy efficiency labeling of compact fluorescent lamps. This process does not involve the certifying body, it is a manufacturers and importers’ self-declaration with the support from accredited third party laboratories. UL acts, in this case, as a laboratory, not as a certifying body.
For the new ordinance around LED lamps, set by INMETRO in March, we act as certifying body and as a laboratory. UL is the only certifying body that has the installed ability to perform the whole LED lamp certification process in Brazil. We made an investment in the value of almost three million Reais to build the laboratory in Porto Alegre, and we are very happy with the results up to now.
How should a lighting company proceed to get UL certification for the American market?
The best way is to associate with Lux Brasil, because we are providing a special commercial agreement to the group of companies that wishes to export. After joining Lux Brasil, the process is very simple, you just have to provide a list of the products you want to export – I call the attention for the fact that it is not the whole catalogue of the company, you need to do your homework and identify which are the products that have potential to be sold in the United States – we inform the applicable UL rules, our engineering team receives a sample of the product and we start the process, that lasts up to 60 days.
Our role is to be a partner for local companies. UL is positioning itself in a way to help the Brazilian company to reach a product level that can reach the foreign market. Beyond being a certifying body, we propose to support the companies to enable its products to meet the requirements. We are going to provide all information necessary to the group composed by Lux Brasil, that is why we are encouraging this work.
What we realize is that the companies were not prepared to meet normative requirements, because UL requires in this certification process that all components considered essential are already certified. For example, a lamp using E 27 nozzle needs the socket with UL certification. When you use a sum of certified components, with correct specifications, the natural consequence is a safer product.
With the cut in the components industry in Brazil in the last 15 years, there are few components’ manufacturers in the country, so there is the difficulty of finding national manufacturing components with UL certification. But, with the globalized market we have today, it is possible to find these components easily. Also, UL has the “Yellow Book”, a list with the contacts of the components manufacturer of the whole world with products certified by UL.
We have already given lecturers at ABILUX to show the step-by-step to get the certification and we’ll go back there to explain as often as necessary.
How is the price for certification decided?
Lux Brasil is gathering several companies interested in export and it allows us to work in scale and, thus, get a more competitive price. In addition, UL has also made an effort to reduce our internal costs to favor this group of companies, reducing in one third the total value price.
The price of a certification comprises the costs of people involved in the process, of the tests and brand maintenance. There is also the follow up service because following the product certification, the company is submitted to, at least, three annual audits of UL in the plant in order to ensure that the certified product in the beginning of the process is the same that is being manufactured and commercialized.
Does the high price of dollar impact the viability of Brazilian companies to certify products to the American market?
Certification values are not the biggest problem. Unfortunately, Brazilian companies don’t have contacts and distribution network in the United States.
Which business increases 80% from one year to the other? In August, 2014 we were working with the dollar at R$ 2,21, in August of 2015 it was R$ 4,00. There is not an opportunity better than this one; those who can´t take advantage of this now, won’t do so ever.
Certification cost compared to the competitive advantage to sell your product in the United States is small. This cost is only one of the reasons that have impact in the products value. Every company that exports to the United States and the American companies itself have the certification costs in dollar, so it is the same to all of them, but we are offering the advantage of reducing it to one third. The other great advantage is that great part of all the other costs of Brazilian companies is in real.
Lux Brasil also aims to export to other countries in the world, as Peru, Chile, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and Germany. Does UL Certification attend these countries’ rule?
No, because there are different rules and concepts. Europe does not have a certification, there is a self-declaration, the CE Mark, but the normative basis is different. But, I can state that a company that acquire the UL certification will have to do really few changes to meet to other world markets, because the most important step, that is to re-think the product, has already been done.
Is UL actively participating in the process of creation of rules for LED lamps certification in Brazil? How?
The rule already exists, the INMETRO Ordinance is already ongoing, and I believe that this year it shall be published. The day after the Ordinance publication, UL will already be seeking the accreditation.
Rules’ preparation process is carried out according to ABNT and the certification process is carried out within technical commissions of INMETRO, where it is defined the Quality Technical Regulation (QTR). UL actively participates in all technical commissions that work in the definition of new certification programs.
What would you say today for a lighting company in Brazil that aims to export?
There is no better partner to do it with than UL. The company is able to open doors to the American market. Our priority is to support Brazilian companies in the exportation to the United States.
Formerly, people used to say there was some difficulty to access information, but today we give all information in Portuguese to the manufacturers. They also talked about the high price of certification, and we achieved a much more accessible value. Another difficulty was to find the components certified by UL, but we give all the support with our database that shortens the boundaries. In addition, another great point is the tests and engineering processes – all carried out in Brazil. Today I don’t see any more of the difficulties of the past; the ball is in the manufacturer’s court.