We’ve got a new NRTL in the biz

Testing firm Intertek makes it clear it wants a piece of the security and fire industry pie
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Friday, August 1, 2008

TOTOWA, N.J.--Nationally recognized testing laboratory Intertek is making an aggressive and targeted move into the fire and security space, one that’s been dominated by Underwriters Laboratories (and to a lesser degree by Factory Mutual) for decades.

Why now? The reason, they say, is two-fold: It’s a good business opportunity and the market is demanding more competition.

Thomas Connaughton, global business manager for life safety and security, is heading up the effort. He said the main reason Intertek entered the testing space “is to provide the industry a choice. Right now, they have a choice. Two years ago, before we got involved, they did not have a choice.”

So what’s the difference between UL, Intertek and FM? And what, exactly do they do? All three are NRTLs, nationally recognized testing laboratories (pronounced “nertles”). Confusion sometimes arises because all of the NRTLs test to standards that are created by UL. These standards define the performance requirements that products-such as smoke detectors and security alarm panels-must meet.

As long as they’re accredited to do so, all three NRTLs can test to any UL standard. Thus, a product that’s ETL-listed (Intertek uses an ETL stamp) or FM-listed to a UL standard is just as good as a product that’s been UL-listed to the UL standard. The recent history here involves a standard called UL 864 9th edition. UL has had considerable trouble meeting deadlines for testing products to this standard. As a result, manufacturers sought out other NRTLs to help them get their products to market.

That was the case with Intertek, which is no newcomer to testing. Founded by Thomas Edison, it’s been testing products for more than 100 years. It got into the testing of residential fire and security products two years ago after significant consideration, particularly of the liability involved in this market, Conanaughton said.

At ESX, in Nashville, Intertek was courting dealers and central stations offering new certification programs. Beginning in Q4, Intertek will offer a certified installer program to accredit installers to ensure they install according to code.

This program will cover fire and burglar alarm installers in the commercial and residential market.

Beginning at the same time, Intertek is offering central stations, “for up to a year, running through the end of current certification, a dual listing with ETL for free,” said Derek Silva, manager, Americas service marketing, commercial and electrical. This will enable central stations to “see the benefit of having an ETL listing. If they choose to go forward they can choose one or the other or both and if they go forward with Intertek, unlike UL, we accept other NRTLs’ listings.”

The nuance here is that a UL-listed central station may only use UL-listed equipment. An ETL-listed central station may use ETL, FM or UL-listed products.

Intertek is billing this as a money- and time-saving measure.

Asked if UL will consider accepting other NRTLs’ product listings, Robert Tockarshewsky, UL’s global marketing director, fire and security sector gave an unequivocal “no.”

“UL is recognized as the leading global product safety organization, for its strong public safety mission; more than 100 years’ experience developing standards and industry collaboration; manufacturer training programs; anti-counterfeiting programs; and, its public safety education programs,” Tockarshewsky said. “No other company offers that type of unprecedented level of support to the fire and security industry. So, just like not every alarm installation company or systems integrator or central station is the same, neither is every testing and certification company.”