Electronics manufacturers typically consider three things when looking for a new compliance testing lab partner: geography, price and expertise. Geography often trumps the others — shipping costs, lengthy plane trips, and the limitation on face-to-face inspection are all strikes against long-distance partnerships.
But location isn’t everything. A lab’s quality and capability should be your primary concerns, if you care about saving time, money and anxiety.
People Matter More
Arguably the most important consideration in lab choice—particularly for good long-term results—is the knowledge and experience of the lab’s staff. Do its engineers have a good grasp on their clients’ industries and know their end goals and hurdles? Does its technicians have a thorough understanding of their test equipment, its capabilities and any limitations? Does the lab understand the needs and challenges of the product designers and regulatory managers on the team? Does the lab see itself as a partner in its customer’s product performance and compliance success? If so, it’s likely far more capable of mitigating other issues that may arise, and can create a sincere partnership based on trust, rather than convenience.
The Lab Helps You Perfect Your Design
Test labs are true business partners, and the good ones will act that way. If the lab’s staff is sufficiently knowledgeable, they can work alongside the customer’s engineers, contributing at their level. Sometimes they can identify concerns their customer has overlooked, or manufacturing errors. It will keep customers fully informed during the testing process and help remediate design flaws. A customer-focused lab will offer flexible testing dates and times. It will make its people and facilities available after-hours and on weekends. It will ensure that its equipment is properly tasked, calibrated, functional, and ready to go on the customer’s schedule, or when product engineers visit from out-of-town. Proximity doesn’t determine how much time they’ll devote to customer service—a helpful phone call or informative thread of emails is better than a fruitless in-person meeting.
The Added Value of Accountability
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A test lab’s quoted price isn’t always the best way to judge that project’s cost. If the lab is overly diverse and impersonal, driven by deadlines and statistics rather than knowledge and industry experience, any number of problems can spring up during the testing process. It is common for customers to not even know the name of the person testing their product, and their customer service rep can be too busy juggling multiple clients to resolve problems promptly. Being able to drive to their office doesn’t guarantee you their personal accountability.
Reputation Will Save You
A quality lab will ensure that testing is done right, reducing the need for re-testing, and reducing overall processing times. Look at the company’s reputation, client history and industry knowledge first – then check accreditations and capabilities. Look at similar client’s needs and how successful the lab has been at servicing those clients. Finally, engage the different lab staff teams – do the engineers have ample experience, having spent careers in compliance? Do the account management people respond, and deliver on time and as promised? Is the quality system an integral part of the operation and not something that is tucked away and forgotten as soon as the auditors have left? Is their customer service truly a service to the customer?
Ultimately, you want a lab that’s going to do a great job for you, every time. There must be a mutual understanding that the lab is a partner. Is the best lab for the job more than a short drive away? Travel costs may be higher and distance may be greater, but other efficiencies—greater competence to avoid surprises, optimal product performance earlier in the cycle, and faster delivery to the market—can usually more than make up for it.