Right idea, wrong methods
If you're in the fire business, one of the things you've been able to count on in recent years is that UL864's ninth edition will be extended, again and again.
On May 4, Underwriters Laboratory sent a request for comments on a proposed extension of the effective date of the standard from July 1, 2007 to December 31, 2008. A similar request for comments was sent out before the previous two deadlines were extended.
Issued in late 2003, the standard was initially for products manufactured after Oct. 1, 2005. That deadline has been extended twice. UL was looking to have all comments in by May 18, after Security Systems News went to print. A decision was expected shortly after May 18.
While manufacturers who spoke to Security Systems News were not surprised by the extension request, they'd rather not see the extension granted. When the standard was first issued, manufacturers scrambled to bring their products into compliance. Today, most major manufacturers' products are in compliance with the standard, although some are still awaiting UL approval. Ongoing delays with approval and further extension of the deadline cause headaches with the manufacturing cycle and push back the release of new technology to the marketplace, they said.
"We would like to see UL perform magic and get it done. The sooner we get this behind us, the sooner we can get new products that we are working on into the life safety industry," said Jeff Brooks, strategic product Tyco Safety Products.
What is UL864's ninth edition? The bottom line is that it's a standard that brings all products in line with National Fire Protection Association standard 72, and people in the industry agree that's a good thing.
"Now I do believe that the intent of 864 is really, really good and is good for the industry in that it unifies devices," said John Seeley, vice president and chief technical officer for Viking Electronic Services. "You don't have inconsistencies where you think something's going work with something else and it doesn't. The intent is excellent; the implementation has had some flaws."
Mario Casamassima, Gamewell-FCI's vice president of engineering, said the ninth edition had far more changes than previous updates to the standard. "There are exactly 180 changes," he said.
Rodger Reiswig, director of industry relations at SimplexGrinnell, said the standard "raised the bar for the industry ... everyone had to go back in and redesign panels or start over from scratch and/or change panels or power supplies and how they function including software. Once you do all that, and test it, then you submit it to UL with all documentation and then get in line at UL," and wait for approval, he said.
When the standard first came out, companies worked hard to reexamine their products and today most view this as a positive development.
"It forced us and everybody to rethink the whole product line. We got rid of whole line of SKUS," said Honeywell's Casamassima. "It streamlined our whole process and also gave us the opportunity to update the technology we offer in the field, which makes installation easier and cleaner and more efficient."
CooperWheelock "has been in compliance for some time now," but because they deal with notification appliances the compatibility requirements have been time-consuming and will be ongoing," said Rein Haus, CooperWheelock director of product management.
"As people make changes to their panel and as people like us make changes to appliances, we have to go though testing again. It adds another layer of testing to deployment of new products and additional cost," Haus said.
In an email interview, Robert Tockarshewsky, global marketing manager, fire and security sector for Underwriters Laboratory, said UL proposed the extension for two reasons: "to allow manufacturers time to properly transition to the 9th edition; and because of UL capacity constraints."
It used to take a month to get an approval response from UL, said Honeywell's Casamassima; "today a product may not even get considered for six months and some products have been there for two years."
Manufacturers say there does not seem to be enough trained personnel at UL to handle the volume of 864 approvals. One person suggested that UL had diverted engineering personnel in a global expansion (European) project, but Tockarshewsky said that's not the case.
"There is no correlation between this Industry File Review [the extension proposal] and any 'global expansion' on UL's part. In fact, starting last year, UL has added engineering headcount and implemented LEAN process enhancements to improve service delivery."
Regardless of the reason, the slow down is causing problems for manufacturers, along with Authorities Having Jurisdiction who want to require compliance, and dealers themselves who want to have the newest, most technologically advanced products. The newest products, the ones that have just been developed, are at the back of the line, and until the bottleneck is cleared, the newest technology is being held back.
SimplexGrinnell's Brooks said the biggest issue is that "UL cannot provide reliable dates of when we can get approval and because of their [lack of] resources, we have dates that get missed." This is a big problem for a business that has extensive schedules, plans and implementation issues to work out in order to get products into the manufacturing cycle. "If somebody gives us a date, we plan to that date. We start buying raw materials, ramping up manufacturing procedures and all of a sudden that date is missed," Brooks said. This means additional manpower costs and extra inventory sitting around.
UL is just one of three nationally recognized testing laboratories, called NRTLs. The other are Factory Mutual and ETL. Even though UL864 ninth edition has UL in the title, it's actually what's called an ANSI standard and other NTRLs may test for this standard.
Might manufacturers take their products elsewhere for listing? That may be the case in the future, manufacturers say, but right now there are reasons to stay with UL. Many manufacturers have some allegiance to UL and cite long-term positive relationships with the company. They also say that the other NRTLs, in some cases, do not test all of the products that tie into UL864 ninth edition.
In addition, UL is still the "recognized mark in the industry," said Brooks.