Rochey

Releasing a real product to real consumers
« on: June 15, 2009, 12:56:25 AM »
Folks,

Keith and I are gearing up to releasing a real "end-user" product in the coming months. (don't worry - we'll still be making and releasing DIY products!).

While the design and prototypes are being finalized, I've started thinking and wondering about the legal/certification side of releasing a product, especially when your a small (_very_ small company). I was looking through some of the manufacturers over at www.vintageking.com and wondering how these guys handle the legal side of their business.

I know that large manufacturers have all sorts of malpractice insurance (to cover against a customer suing them for their house burning down), and have to get their products UL and CE certified for EMI and safety, but to do all of that can cost many thousands of dollars.

I don't think this is a worry for DIY products, as all we do is provide a PCB. I'm not sure how much a concern this is for the API500 standard either, because again, it's a module to be part of a larger system. But if I release a 19" rack mount (even if it has a wall wart) I'm sure the rules change significantly.

I've tried finding books at my local "borders" about this... but maybe it's a little too specialist.

Can any of you point me to a good resource, where I can read about this in more detail?
If any of you would share your experiences in this matter too, I would be eternally grateful.

Many thanks in advance.

/Rochey

Expat Audio Home: http://www.expataudio.com


MartyMart

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2009, 04:06:14 AM »
This came up for me recently - though I'm not going into production ! - a mate wanted some pre-amps
and was going to go the SSL 9K route.
Without CE approval and testing, it would invalidate the guys house insurance, so the only way out was to use
a commercial CE approved PSU and just have the low voltage DC stuff "in the box"

It seems a bit stupid, as a Fireman that I know said that many house fires are caused by cheap mobile phone
chargers that are left plugged in !
How many cheap PSU's are in your house attached to broadband routers and home phones etc !!!

Hope that helps, though I'm sure that even a +/- 18v DC device would need approval to go "commercial" with
.... you can "self certify" if you are able to perform certain tests, worth checking into.
I know it's different in the US from Europe but there must be something similar, though the US culture of "sue you for anything"
would worry me slightly !
Marty.
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm"

deuce42

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2009, 04:18:13 AM »
Its actually a moot point because the laws in different countries will treat public liabilities and product liabilities differently. Add to this the fact that in each country the various state/province will also have their own legal requirements.  I am not saying this to overly complicate the thread and offer you no help, just advising this based upon my knowledge as an ex-lawyer (music lawyer for major record label sadly but recovered now with only a few scars and I make and produce music instead now:)

Most places will require electrical stuff to pass the relevant safety certification status. Can be expensive and hard. I would start with the certification body in your local area. they can advise you of equivalents in other jurisdications. If you dont get this status, not only may you be breaking the law, you may find that your not covered yourself for your own forms of insurance.

In essence, the only real way to mitigate any potential loss is with external insurance as you have already identified. This may be costly but is really practical and essential.  It is also important that you assist the end user with as much safety information as possible prior to use. Most manufacturers do this, not really because they give a crap about the end user's safety at all, but because  if any litigation starts, the length to which the manufacturer went to prevent harm will be viewed by a court as a mitigating factor is limiting the quantum of damages they owe.

One thing you should also note is this, - individuals usually don't have huge sums of money to sue. This is especially the case of people who live outside the USA. Generally when you sell a product you attach a document with legal fine print which says that any loss will be assessed in accordance with the laws in the country the seller lives. So if you sell in the USA and I buy your product here in Australia, should I get zapped, I have to sue you in America. The chances are I probably wont do this because its too hard or I don't have the money to get on a plane, find an American lawyer etc.  So there is an inbuilt limitation to the number of likely claims you are exposed to from overseas. If you have a distributor selling your stuff they will usually incur the legal liabilities in those countries on your behalf! This is pretty scary for distributors but often factored into the cut they get.

As per warranty issues, usually the limit of the warranty to repair or replace a faulty item can be limited to territory and period. So your warranty can be limited to contintental USA only for 12 months and you don't honour warranty claims from people outside of this. 

On a final note, and as a basic self motivated request - make your box 240 and 120VAC!!!!  There is nothing more frustrating than gear that will only operate in the US! External stepdowns suck :)

 
« Last Edit: June 15, 2009, 04:45:38 AM by deuce42 »

sahib

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2009, 07:38:09 AM »

For supplying only PCBs  you do not have much to worry.

CE Certification.

1. Follow the standard PCB design procedures, trends and conventions.
2. Document the process in writing and file it.
3. Self certify yourself.


Insurance

Whether you are a big, small or one man operation, get Product Liability Insurance to protect yourself. (I have an indemnity cover for up to £1,000,000).

If you are a sole trader or have ordinary partnership you will personally be responsible for any legal action taken against you. But if you think that your business may expand then I suggest that you consider forming a limited liability company. You become the directors of the company and also the employees. If something terribly goes wrong all they can sue is the company. At worse the copmany goes bust, and you will have no liability. However, make sure that you have no personal guarantee for company's debts.

When you are supplying the PCBs make sure to include a disclamer indicating that " they were sold as is, no warranty for the performance was implied and you do not accept any liability for loss or damage caused by the use of them. If the customer does not agree with this disclamer, then before using the product  they should return it for a full refund.


However, as soon as you start to supply a fully assembled and functioning product you will require EMC testing, particulary if the product is mains operated and/or include on board oscillator and/or magnetic components such as audio transformers. EMC testing is not cheap. Everytime the product fails you'll pay the same money for that particular test.

You may reduce your EMC testing costs by using off-the-shelf power supply which is already EMC certified.



« Last Edit: June 15, 2009, 07:41:11 AM by sahib »

Rochey

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2009, 10:52:38 AM »
This is the kind of thing I had in mind for Rack Mounted designs.
http://www.mouser.com/Search/Refine.aspx?Keyword=553-WAU16-1000

In addition, '500 units wouldn't be sold with a power supply. However, they will have onboard oscillators...
Expat Audio Home: http://www.expataudio.com

[silent:arts]

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2009, 11:09:30 AM »
For supplying only PCBs  you do not have much to worry.

CE Certification.

1. Follow the standard PCB design procedures, trends and conventions.
2. Document the process in writing and file it.
3. Self certify yourself....

are you sure this is needed for PCBs ?
haven't seen any CE certification for single parts yet.

JohnRoberts

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2009, 11:18:45 AM »
ROHS if you plan to sell into Euro zone.

JR
Cancel the "cancel culture", do not participate in mob hatred.

Rochey

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2009, 11:51:20 AM »
ROHS if you plan to sell into Euro zone.
JR

Hello John,
All the components I'm using are RoHS compliant. My only concern about RoHS are the PCB's themselves. There are a few different options for RoHS compliant PCB's - and I'm not sure whats the best to go for. That's the subject of another thread though in the future I think.

:)

/R
Expat Audio Home: http://www.expataudio.com

sahib

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2009, 01:09:11 PM »

Volker,

For offering home made PCBs for personal hobby use without any commerical tag attached yes, you may not need. But as soon as you put out a commercial product it is advisable to CE mark it. If you do not certify it and nobody makes a complaint about you, then nobody will knock your door to say why have you not got it. But better to be safe than sorry. Particularly if the board accommodates an oscillator circuitry.

The other point is that Rochey may wish to supply it as a kit at some point, at which time he will definitely need CE marking. But I am advicing these purely because of commercial point of view. It might be very remote but in case of a product liability claim your insurance company will use that against you.




smallbutfine

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2009, 11:02:34 PM »
CE self-certification is pretty easy indeed.
If the gear is built up properly, in germany you can ask anyone who is for example a 'Veranstaltungstechniker' (certified event technician) or a similar officially safety advised expert to do this to be on the safe side.
RoHS is easy as well, get an RoHS declaration from the suppliers of all parts and lead eh... solder and PCB material etc (some have it for download to simplify), store it and officially declare RoHS conformity for your product as well - OR include tubes in your product (then you may not be bound to RoHS conformity).
Also, parts and modules that are for maintenance and repair of older non-RoHS end products may also not always be bound to conformity (You see there are quite some exceptions... !)

I am pretty sure that germany has the most bureaucratic and over-regulated legal system for business...and slowly tries to go some steps back now to protect smaller businesses  in these times of recession and to comply with future united europe standards... :(
I just started a one-man business yesterday officially and had some weeks of intense study of laws orders and regulations...............( and really regretted not beeing an american sometimes...)

Kind regards,
Martin


PS: Isn't HASL the most used RoHS PCB option?
« Last Edit: June 15, 2009, 11:29:09 PM by smallbutfine »
"In the past we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws."
Tacitus

www.audiomh.de


smallbutfine

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2009, 11:15:30 PM »
BTW:
RoHS is a serious product reliability risk because solder joints are definitely weaker and harder to QC, no matter how it is done. (As is production/assembly in china - as of now...) This has been excessively analyzed by quite some hi-tec companies that have quite big production quantities.
I worked in repair administration business analysis for one, so I know first hand...
« Last Edit: June 15, 2009, 11:26:04 PM by smallbutfine »
"In the past we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws."
Tacitus

www.audiomh.de

wkbdgeorge

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2009, 05:13:26 PM »
CE self-certification is pretty easy indeed.
If the gear is built up properly, in germany you can ask anyone who is for example a 'Veranstaltungstechniker' (certified event technician) or a similar officially safety advised expert to do this to be on the safe side.
RoHS is easy as well, get an RoHS declaration from the suppliers of all parts and lead eh... solder and PCB material etc (some have it for download to simplify), store it and officially declare RoHS conformity for your product as well - OR include tubes in your product (then you may not be bound to RoHS conformity).
Also, parts and modules that are for maintenance and repair of older non-RoHS end products may also not always be bound to conformity (You see there are quite some exceptions... !)

I am pretty sure that germany has the most bureaucratic and over-regulated legal system for business...and slowly tries to go some steps back now to protect smaller businesses  in these times of recession and to comply with future united europe standards... :(
I just started a one-man business yesterday officially and had some weeks of intense study of laws orders and regulations...............( and really regretted not beeing an american sometimes...)

Kind regards,
Martin


PS: Isn't HASL the most used RoHS PCB option?

Martin, Do you have any links or info your willing to share about stuff you found out about the american side?  It would be greatly appreciated.  How much more problematic do you think this whole deal gets when  your dealing with tube gear that has high voltage?  I guess that question goes out to anybody.   

Also, What if it is a completely passive box.... something that doesnt require power at all?  A good example would be a headphone box.

Very Interested,
George

smallbutfine

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2009, 03:17:35 AM »
Hi George,
no I do not have any experience in this field for the US market myself, BUT I guess it's an open secret that US legal philosophy is alot friendlier to the business than the german one (that is much more about protecting the end user and environment). At least all people from US I discussed about these kind of business issues face-to-face here in Germany were pretty much astonished about all the kinds of legal problems we are facing in Europe businesswise. But well this was mostly the finance side of biz and not the technical, but I always assumed it's the same there. Anyone knowing better prove me wrong...
I guess this is implied in the differences of the economical systems (i.e. free-market economy in US vs. social market economy in Germany with european regulations on top).

As of high voltage gear, product safety is a strong issue. One can not go wrong with bundling of an external psu that is done by a big company that can confirm product safety in all regards (and is not afraid of all needed certification costs). Then you already eliminated the biggest part of those problems.

For a passive box, still RoHS is appliant in Europe, but one can really expect no electrical product safety issues at all, because there is only signal level processing in there (except if your box is intended to work after a power amp, then things may be different!)

Kind regards,
Martin

Kind
"In the past we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws."
Tacitus

www.audiomh.de

Jonte Knif

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2009, 05:31:12 AM »
Quote
I am pretty sure that germany has the most bureaucratic and over-regulated legal system for business...and slowly tries to go some steps back now to protect smaller businesses  in these times of recession and to comply with future united europe standards...

That might be, but visit Finland first :) As an added bonus the CE and EMC testing costs here are out of reach for small business.

I'm sure RoHS can not be a problem for PCB:s. And from the perspective of real life hazards UL-rating is more important, and must be included in the CE certification.

High voltages in tube circuilts are not more problematic than mains voltages. In fact quite the opposite. If you follow the same rules about minimum distances and insulations you are safe.
Once I had a meeting with an inspector and when I asked about the secondary safety rules he said "we are not interested in the secondary" Well, of course they are, but he meant that rules for primary are more strict.
There is one problem in some circuits. In tubes (or any active components) any terminal is supposed to form a short into any other electrode. Now, Imagine an ordinary guitar amp. If the input tube grid shorts to anode (does it _really_ happen) you got high voltage in completely wrong place. Obviously and exception is allowed here, perhaps because the current is limited to a couple of mA, which is not hasardous.

Get the IEC standard EN60065. That is most appropriate for consumer electronics in Europe. I paid about 250e for it, so it is not too expensive. The frustrating part of it is that there are a lot of references to other publications. But get it or something equivalent. Many details will surprise you.

When reading the standard it becomes totally obvious that you do not have the necessary equipment to do all the tests. Not even near. So self certification is kind of weird in fact. DID you make the humidity test? DID you have the right g-forces in your vibration test? DID you even measure the safety ground resistance at the required current? Probably not. The standard must the read as a document written for test facility engineers, and as such somewhat an overkill. But on the other hand, how can you document the required tests if you didn't do them?

But then, with some common sense it can be estimated that you are on the safe side. I just don't get the logic of the whole concept that you have a standard and you can self certify without the tests. It is a gray area.

-Jonte


smallbutfine

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2009, 07:55:10 PM »
Agree with you in most of what you said.
For a smaller business it seems impossible to comply to all appropriate standards in a well tested certificated sense. Nevertheless it is still possible *somehow* to overcome the worst cost factors for small production series...as you said 'in a grey zone' by assuming and declaring compliance. Commercial liability insurance therefore might be problematic...
It is really an annoying field of matter and really prevents me from starting anything in that kind of business, and even import might not be as easy as one might think if you want to be on a safe side.
OK, EU countries are pretty close bureaucratically......

So, if tests are impossible to pay externally or done directly in a very small comapny (1-man-show in the worst case), there is no other way than declaration to the best possible knowledge of compliance.

I understand why you may not understand the concept behind 'self certification' while at the same time all these standards are appropriate....it is kind of a paradoxon.

Probably no technical product would reach the market in reasonable time if all possibilities of failure and danger would be tested in depth. NPI (new product introduction) would be obnoxious I guess,,,

How would one explain that really big companies can deliver notebooks that heat up to hazardous fire danger????

Kind regards,
Martin
« Last Edit: July 24, 2009, 08:15:10 PM by smallbutfine »
"In the past we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws."
Tacitus

www.audiomh.de

wkbdgeorge

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2009, 09:02:35 PM »
So how are these smaller companies doing it?  Not only in pro audio, but in hifi and boutique guitar amps as well.  It would be great if some gear builders would chime in on this situation. 

-George

sodderboy

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #16 on: July 24, 2009, 09:19:53 PM »
When I speak to the "small guys" they are always open to discuss back-office aspects.   

Have you contacted any of them?  Specifically those who would not be direct competitors?  And even then, there are so many good people in audio manufacture that you would find help from direct competitors.

Mike
 

smallbutfine

Re: Releasing a real product to real consumers
« Reply #17 on: July 24, 2009, 10:12:54 PM »
Some small business guys I asked about this in the past just said 'Dont wake up sleeping dogs....'...
Some just bumped a CE sign on their products (or just sold them as they were) and were ok with it, but that were pretty much *very* small series products ( <200 pcs total production).
This was years ago and things have changed a lot at least here in germany/EU since....so I have no actual information about this, except the RoHS exeptions a friend told me about (tubes!).

Yes it would be nice if someone who might not be afraid about drawing too much attention on his business practices could chime in here.
But most probably, if you are in actually a planning phase for a real biz like this, you might get more information from those people outside of a public forum...
Sure there are always a lot of lawyers, consultants, chambers of commerce, agencies etc to get your information from... but this might not always be appropriate except you have plenty of cash, time and frustration resistence ;D..... and don't expect them to be too informative....

Kind regards,
Martin
"In the past we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws."
Tacitus

www.audiomh.de


 

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