Don’t be a fool, follow the rule

e-tech talks with Dr Ulrich Spindler, IEC Vice-President and Chair of CAB

For more than half his life, Ulrich Spindler has participated in standards development and conformity assessment (CA) activities, at the German, European and international levels. Between 2002 and 2007, he was President of CENELEC , the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization, and since 1 January 2015, he has been Chair of the Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) and IEC Vice-President, the first time that a German national has occupied these roles. As his assignment comes to an end, he shares with e-tech what has motivated him and why his company participated in standardization in the first place.

IEC CAB Chair and Vice-President Ulrich Spindler
IEC CAB Chair and Vice-President Ulrich Spindler

Learning what the competition is up to

Spindler started his career in the family enterprise, Klöckner-Moeller, where he was in charge of technical marketing – and where he became the owner’s “right hand”.  Klöckner-Moeller involved itself in standardization to “create optimal conditions for the company’s products”. Early on, Spindler understood that participation in standardization would allow his company to be among the first to hear about new technical developments and ensure that their own innovations were included in Standards. “When a competitor pushed a certain feature in a Standard, we immediately knew that they were working on something new.”

Reducing time to market

Spindler also underlines how active participation in standardization has allowed his company to reduce time to market. “In Europe, when a new standard is finalized, it gets listed in the Official Journal of the European Union – if such a standard is applied, the manufacturer has the presumption of conformity with the relevant European Directives. Immediately thereafter, any company can start selling a product if it complies with the European requirements. However, if the standard is late, the manufacturer has to first get the product certified by a third party, something that can take months, during which the company might accumulate lost sales opportunities in the millions. When you participate in the standardization process you are much more aware when the Standard is likely to be published.”  

Win-win for society and business

Spindler is also proud of his contributions to IEC Technical Committee (TC) 64: Electrical installations and protection against electric shock, which maintains the safety of electrical installations. “Twenty years ago, insurers and test laboratories wanted a stricter Standard for electrical installations in order to reduce the risk of electrocution. Decades before that time, in Germany one person a day died from electric shock. Today we are at one person a month. The reason for this significant improvement was a new technology embedded in a more stringent Standard. It was a win-win both for human safety and for the companies that developed this new residual current device (RCD). This example also shows that in standardization one has to be patient. Not everything can be accomplished in a couple of years; it can take time.”

Fantastic networking opportunity

“I have always liked to participate in standardization work”, says Spindler. “I was able to build an incredible global network that led to excellent professional relationships. Some of those even resulted in business deals for my company, built on mutual trust, which would have been difficult to achieve otherwise. I also appreciated the level of respect in the technical committees: even when there was disagreement on a topic there were never any personal attacks.”

Feedback for better Standards

For Spindler, a major achievement during his time as Chair of the CAB was convincing the Standardization Management Board (SMB) to put in place a closer feedback loop between standards development and conformity assessment. Early in his term, Spindler had to explain to then SMB Chair Jim Matthews that the reason why the IEC Conformity Assessment Systems developed interpretation sheets for approximately one-third of all IEC Standards used by IECEE, the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components, was that test methods in Standards could be, and often were, interpreted differently around the world, producing different test results. So as to avoid this difference in interpretation clouding test results, the CA Systems had to put in place a common agreement on how to interpret the test methods outlined in a Standard. Since then, the feedback loop that was put in place by the SMB has allowed the CA Systems to provide their input directly to the Standards makers in the relevant TC. In the long run, this will eliminate the need for interpretation sheets. 

Two sides of the same coin

Spindler strongly feels that standards development and conformity assessment are the two pillars of the IEC and ought to have equal value. “Conformity assessment helps build trust in your products and it protects your company. It is an important cornerstone of the triangle that includes regulation and standards development. When one of of these three elements fails, scandals like VW or Kobe Steel can happen. They put in danger not only individual companies but whole industries, jeopardizing long-term income and creating enormous liability risks. “I always recommend living by the motto:  Don’t be a fool, follow the rule”.