UL lists its own improvements

Listing agency acknowledges problems, promises better, faster delivery
Monday, October 1, 2007

NORTHBROOK, Ill.--Underwriters Laboratory in August enumerated internal improvements aimed at providing faster and better delivery of approvals, specifically in meeting the demand for timely approval of products under UL 864 ninth edition, a standard that has been extended for a third time, to December 2008.
Manufacturers who spoke to Security Systems News for a June Special Report (search "Right idea, wrong methods" at www.securitysystemsnews.com) expressed frustration with UL, saying the listing agency lacked the resources to get approvals done on time and missed deadlines. This bottleneck in the process has cost manufacturers time and money, and delayed the release of the newest technology to the market, manufacturers said.
In an email interview, Robert Tockarchewsky, global marketing manager, Fire and Security Sector for UL, said, "UL fully acknowledges past issues and wants to assure the industry that we are taking appropriate actions to address these concerns."
The standard, first issued in late 2003, is designed to bring all products in line with National Fire Protection Association standard 72. It's a good standard, manufacturers agreed, that ensures compatibility among products and has helped many streamline their product lines.
Tockarchewsky noted that UL has "created 550 new engineer and lab technician positions globally and we are on pace to fill all of these positions during 2007. In fact, we hired 300 new engineers from January through the end of July, which is more than we hired in all of 2006, and our recruiting and placement efforts continue."
UL is "committed to ensuring that every UL engineer assigned to Security and Signaling is trained and supported to perform at the level our clients expect and deserve," he said. So far in 2007, the S&S team has hired 17 new engineers and reassigned some senior staff to assist with "training and productivity ramp up."
"UL is also working closely with our Canadian colleagues at ULC to cross-train staff and ... enhance capacity," he said. Process improvements include implementing "LEAN System for Management," a methodology that helps with workload assignments; "Kaizen Benefits," a business tool the S&S team used to reduce turnaround time for no-test jobs by 47 percent and that the group expects to extend to test jobs; and "Greenbelt Team," a cross-functional group of managers that works with clients to address problems such as incomplete documentation.
UL is also committed to participation in the development of standards and working with AHJs, Tocharchewsky said.
Have UL's efforts been successful? Some manufacturers expressed optimism, but at least one industry insider said UL has a long way to go. This source, who requested anonymity, said "no one has seen any improvement yet, but no one wants to say anything for fear of repercussions from UL."
Tockarchewsky said UL's improvements will be "subtle and gradual in some ways, visible and dramatic in others, but in every instance our clients can expect to see our engineers relentlessly strive for improved proficiency and productivity."