Bridging the machine safety awareness gap

When it comes to machine safety legislation and standards many machine builders choose to self-certify their equipment, but this can prove costly, writes Dean Palmer

"There's a serious awareness gap of the three machinery-related Directives [EMC, Low Voltage and Machinery Directive] when it comes to design and testing of machinery," warned Mike Macris, technical manager at Cranage EMC, specialist mechanical and EMC test services house based in Shropshire. He continued: "Nowadays, we deal with customers where the working design is from the UK, the machinery is manufactured in Japan, India or China. "The testing part is also usually carried out locally where the machine is made and in our experience, this testing is usually inadequate. The local manufacturing company and its design teams, while they are competent engineers, are not always fully aware of the legal safety issues regarding certain countries or industries they are supplying the machine to." He also suggested there is a lack of knowledge of the CE Mark in some of these companies. The CE Mark is not a quality stamp. It is an overarching directive that includes the three safety-related machine directives: The Low Voltage Directive, the Machinery Directive and the EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) Directive. Product-specific technical standards are then the next level of detail down from these. Cranage is one of around 20 EMC test houses in the UK, but also provides mechanical test services too. The ratio, revenue-wise, is around fifty-fifty currently. MD at the company, Keith Richens, MD at Cranage commented: "If machine builders or designers are lacking confidence in aspect of machine testing or safety-related legislation, they tend to come to a company like ours." His key message: "Getting a partnership working with a test house in place early in the design phase is important. Design changes due to legislation or safety-related issues later on will cost companies dear, especially if they have thousands of machines or parts already stocked." However, Richard says his company is usually only brought into the mix at the last moment each time there's a problem. "The key to the services we provide are that standards are always open to interpretation. Having experienced engineers on hand to do this for you is important. If a design engineer cannot see what the requirements in the Directive are for, they are likely to ignore it. This can have disastrous consequences." Cranage prides itself on being different to its competitors, in that it always strives to develop a working relationship with its clients, rather than just receiving one-off payments for its services. The firm deals with all kinds of manufacturing sectors including: chemicals, electrical accessories, lab test equipment, hydrogen fuel cells, electronic sub-assemblies, security systems, fans, compressors, furnaces, medical devices and domestic household equipment. Cranage has an excellent blend of skills with design engineers (both electrical and mechanical), test engineers, engineers from commercial manufacturing backgrounds and even a physicist. The company also has on-site machining capability. This came in very handy recently when a client required a custom-designed and built test rig. Cranage was able to design and manufacture the pneumatic test rig in just six weeks, sourcing some of the parts from outside Europe. The rig was for the testing of electrical plug sockets that were manufactured in China. The firm also offers clients 'partial' testing services. So a machine builder can perform most of the tests themselves in-house if they wish, but then outsource the remaining testing to Cranage. Another specialist UK-based test and certification company, TRL Compliance Services, was appointed last month as a Machinery Directive Notified Body, enabling it to help machinery manufacturers fulfil their legal obligations to demonstrate full compliance with the requirements of Directive 98/37/EC. Under this Directive, since January 1995, machinery supplied in the EU must satisfy wide-ranging health and safety requirements and, in some cases, must be subjected to type-examination by a notified body. In this case, a manufacturer (or importer) will have to assemble and maintain a technical file for the machine which must carry the CE Mark. Failure to comply could result in prosecution, penalties and, if convicted, fines and imprisonment. Justin Miller of TRL commented: "We offer a complete solution to machinery manufacturers and importers, tailored to their needs, to ensure that they fulfil their legal obligations to demonstrate full compliance with the Machinery Directive. We can assist at every stage, from product design and development through to placement upon the market, to ensure that equipment can be legally sold throughout the EU. "Although 'self-certification' is permitted for most machinery, independent testing provides confidence that the regulations have been correctly applied and met. We can advise clients in choosing the correct standards for their equipment, build and/or verify the technical file and assess the equipment's compliance with the requirements of all the applicable Directives," he continued. And for machines that require Notified Body approval, TRL says it provides the necessary routes to certification of machinery, from EC Type Examination through to the lodging of technical files.