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I am working within an electronics development department. My job is to design electronic cards on behalf of clients. Some cards end up in devices which are commercialized by our clients in Europe. I have questions regarding the EMC compliance.

As I have understood, every electronic device need to have the CE-marking to be sold in the European market. This marking can be self-marked, and a company can demand that a certain device takes the EMC compliance test. If it does not pass the test, the company can pursue the manufacturer. Am I right?

  • Our clients can put the CE logo onto their devices without passing any test? Isn't it strange?
  • If a device passes the EMC compliance test, does it mean that the CE-marking can be put onto it, or does it need other tests?
  • Who is responsible if the EMC compliance test fails after the device was sold: the company that designed the card or the client that commercializes it, or both?
  • Generally, who takes the EMC compliance test and who pays for it? The company that designed the card or the client? Is it a good practice for the designer to always ensure that the EMC compliance test is passed by the client?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot of this depends on the negotiation between the designer and public vendor. The public vendor will be liable, but of course there can be be terms in your contract with them that holds you liable in the end. Another mandatory part of CE conformity, besides EMC, is a properly designed user manual. I have seen some statistic that claimed that a) the majority of CE infringements are due to insufficient user manual and b) the majority of all products with CE marking actually does not conform to CE. \$\endgroup\$
    – tobalt
    Oct 28 at 9:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also unrelated to your question about EMC, there's a tonne of environmental requirements that you must fulfil too. You need to ensure that the electronics put on market in a specific country may be recycled in that country. The feasible way to do that is to have the importer join some organization where you pay a yearly fee and they handle the waste pick-up and recycling - meaning that the importer must be prepared to deal with disposed products containing your electronics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Oct 28 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin That would be a (metric) ton in the EU... \$\endgroup\$
    – winny
    Oct 28 at 10:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @winny I had it written as s*** tonne first but felt it was a needlessly graphic :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Oct 28 at 10:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin I see your point. :-D \$\endgroup\$
    – winny
    Oct 28 at 11:03
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and a company can demand that a certain device takes the EMC compliance test

No, this is (sadly) not mandatory except for specialized applications - cars and equipment used in cars for example. The only thing someone can demand is that you demonstrate how you comply with the relevant EU Directives through documentation and the EC Declaration of Conformity ("CE Declaration"). Directives like EMC and RED in turn offer different alternatives for this, where one of them is assessment by a notified body (approved test house).

Also, some random generic "company" cannot demand anything out of anyone.

If it does not pass the test, the company can pursue the manufacturer.

Only if the manufacturer has made a claim that the device is compliant but it isn't. Generally some generic "company" has no particular rights - if a device is found non-compliant they can bring it up with the relevant supervising authorities in the specific country. The authorities can then demand that you give them access to your technical file - that is, all technical documentation demonstrating how a product is compliant.

If found non-compliant, then the authorities could force the product to be withdrawn from the market and they could hand out fines. Whether or not lawsuit stuff between companies can happen, that would mostly depend on national law & such discussions belong on https://law.stackexchange.com/

So, our clients can put the CE logo onto their devices without passing any test ?

Here's an example from the RED (radio) directive article 12 regarding obligations of importers (EMC LVD etc directives will have similar text), emphasis mine:

Before placing radio equipment on the market importers shall ensure that the appropriate conformity assessment procedure referred to in Article 17 has been carried out by the manufacturer and that the radio equipment is so constructed that it can be operated in at least one Member State without infringing applicable requirements on the use of radio spectrum. They shall ensure that the manufacturer has drawn up the technical documentation, that the radio equipment bears the CE marking and is accompanied by the information and documents referred to in Article 10(8), (9) and (10), and that the manufacturer has complied with the requirements set out in Article 10(6) and (7).

So the person who puts a product on the European market may CE mark it and it is then their responsibility to ensure that the product is compliant and that the relevant technical documentation is available. Basically the company who puts an item on the market is always the one juridically responsible. Unless of course the manufacturer has claimed compliance but the products don't fulfil it.

Isn't it strange ?

Yes, CE marking is a product of bureaucracy, not of engineering, with little or no relevance to how safe/suitable a product actually is. The whole procedure is a joke and legal consequences typically only happen after some incident has happened. So from a consumer's perspective, the CE mark doesn't mean anything.

Basically EU thinks that free trade is more important than that products sold in the union are safe and proven suitable for use. For example, most counties before they joined EU had national requirements that every single electronics product had to pass 3rd party testing and approval before it could be placed on the market. EU considers this a "trade obstacle" so counties have to drop such requirements before joining the union.

If a device passes the EMC compliance test, does it mean that the CE-marking can be put onto it, or does it need other tests ?

Generally yes, but it depends on what type of product it is. There are lots of specific product safety standards.

There's LVD, EMC, RED, RoHS directives which are most relevant to electronics, but other product-specific directives may apply too. You don't test for compliance of the directives though, you test for compliance with the relevant "harmonized" standards listed under each directive, in case they apply to your specific product.

Who is responsible if the EMC compliance test fails after the device was sold: the company that designed the card or the client that commercializes it, or both?

See the importer example above.

Generally, who takes the EMC compliance test and who pays for it? The company that designed the card or the client? Is it a good practice for the designer to always ensure that the EMC compliance test is passed by the client?

Whoever feels like forking up the cash. That's a business decision.

Generally speaking, you'll want any electronics product you design to comply with both EU and FCC technical standards. That goes a long way in selling it anywhere around the world. Of course there may always be national requirements, but it usually boils down to the same technical standards.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice write-up. I share the opinion about the CE marking. While I see it as quite a bunch of extra work and cost to actually conform to as seller, I wish it would be taken more seriously to impede to loads of dangerous electronic trash that are inbound especially from US and CN. \$\endgroup\$
    – tobalt
    Oct 28 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tobalt Yeah it's really sad because before my country joined EU we had this excellent marking which was well-known by the average non-technical consumer and you didn't get the marking unless you tested the product, all handled by the authorities and not some private test houses with dubious commercial agendas. For example if I go pay test house x consulting fees for how to pass tests, the very same test house sees no moral problem to also carry out the test. Et violà it passed, because you did as the expensive consultant from the test house told you. It's not far from demanding bribes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Oct 28 at 9:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ One test house tentatively suggested split ground planes to me when discussing a project on the phone. I guess that is how they earn the extra fees from people not passing the first time :) Dubious indeed, but it also opens the possibility to get a rather cheap conformity test done when "shopping around" a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – tobalt
    Oct 28 at 10:52
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If it does not pass the test, the company can pursue the manufacturer. Am I right?

Correct. Fraudulent use of CE mark may result in fines, product withdrawal or even imprisonment. So yes, putting a CE mark on your product brings serious responsibilities.

So, our clients can put the CE logo onto their devices without passing any test ? Isn't it strange ?

It is. However, if they can take the responsibilities...

If a device passes the EMC compliance test, does it mean that the CE-marking can be put onto it, or does it need other tests?

This can be summarized as LVD (Low Voltage Directives) and EMC Directives. For details, refer to here.

Who is responsible if the EMC compliance test fails after the device was sold : the company that designed the card or the client that commercializes it (or both) ?

Whoever supplied the Declaration of Conformity (DoC).

Generally, who takes the EMC compliance test (and who pays it !), the company that designed the card or the client ? Is it a good practice for the designer to always ensure that the EMC compliance test is passed by the client ?

Depends. Here are some examples:

  • Your client wants you to design a product but, for example, compliance to EN 550XX or IEC 61000-6-X is a requirement for them. In this case, you have the right to expect them to pay the test and certification expenses.
  • You are a manufacturer who designs and manufactures products for consumer market. The market trend shows that the EMC-compliant products are quite popular, or in other words, EMC-compliance is a reason for preference. In order to gain more market share you, as the manufacturer, need to pay all the test and certification expenses.
  • Even worse, your client wants to order millions of your products but compliance to the respective standards is a strict requirement. In this case, you can't expect them to pay the test and certification expenses, especially if there are other good alternatives to you. However, if they know that your product is not EMC-compliant and they want you to modify the product for EMC compliance then the 1st item above applies.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ "In this case, you have the right to expect them to pay the test and certification expenses." Hrm well it usually doesn't work that way. Particularly if the company making the requirement is large and filled with incompetent people stating requirements that they don't know the meaning of in practice. Then it's usually "you must comply with this or you won't get the order". Then either you decide to "act as bank" for them and pay for the tests, hoping you'll get the money back. Or you turn them down, and they go and ask your competition (who don't fulfil the requirements either). \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Oct 28 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin I get what you mean and you are "partly" correct. But, to my experience, European or not, most of the companies are ready to pay the test and certification expenses if they want you to design a specific product "only for them", regardless of the complexity of the product. When I was in competitive automotive electronics industry back in early 2010s, Mercedes Benz and MAN approached us for both designing and manufacturing of a nearly identical product. In the specification/agreement document, there were many unrelated standards to comply. And, without question, they were ready to pay. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lundin There are lots of other examples from both automotive and consumer electronics industry. What I want to say is that this sure depends on what type of company you are, too. If you are well-known, self-proved manufacturer then your "big" clients may not easily go elsewhere. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28 at 9:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah well, it depends a lot on how competent people the customer assigned to write the specification. Right now I'm in this long-winded project with a similar big automotive company as customer, but they keep assigning some generic project manager to handle everything, keep changing the goal posts and aren't prepared to pay for any tests in advance. Real shitty situation since it would be a big order. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Oct 28 at 9:51

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