Let’s talk about ACCREDITATION! Inspection is an essential part of ensuring that a product (and for instance a PV module, a PV inverter, or a battery system) conforms to general or project-specific requirements. It involves examination conducted by competent personnel using very specific techniques. To avoid costly delays in manufacturing, there is no room for improvisation.
A company might decide to perform its own inspections or call for the services of companies referred to as “third parties”. But before commissioning a third-party inspection provider, it is highly recommended to consider whether the service provider has the required technical competence, resources, adequate management system, and ways to safeguard impartiality, confidentiality and to effectively process complaints and appeals. But how do you find this out?
What exactly is accreditation?
Inspections are performed every day on wide variety of products and services from clothing to building structures or trading practices and although it doesn’t have a direct impact on end users, we couldn’t live without these inspections because we would not be able to trust what we buy, eat, wear or use.
Accreditation is the formal recognition of the competence to perform these inspections. It is the first link in a chain of confidence.
Accreditations are delivered by accreditation bodies, themselves appointed by the states (one accreditation body per country).
In order to deliver an accreditation, the accreditation body will perform a series of thorough audits of the company to be accredited, including staff qualification, training, and work experience, inspection methods, suitability of equipment used, impartiality, confidentiality, code of conduct and processes for safe work, and quality assurance procedures to ensure that they are in continuous compliance with the requirements.
How to identify an accredited inspection body?
Accredited inspection bodies are authorized to issue inspection reports or certificates bearing a given mark indicating their accreditation by the national accreditation body. (COFRAC mark for inspection bodies accredited in France, DAKKS mark for inspection bodies accredited in Germany, CNAS mark for inspection bodies accredited in China, etc.)
One of the benefits of using services from accredited bodies, is the recognition of the work performed by these entities. Under the umbrella of ILAC, regrouping over 120 accreditation bodies and more than 90,000 accredited bodies, entities recognize the work performed by any member, simplifying trade and related authorizations and saving time for different stakeholders.
For instance, a manufacturer who wants to have a product certified will go to an accredited laboratory to have its product tested. If later a new version of this product has to be certified and requires testing, the manufacturer will have the opportunity to have this new version tested by another laboratory and testing will be performed on the basis of the initial test report because the initial test report is recognized by the second laboratory.
As a mark of its membership, an accredited body’s report or certificate will bear the ILAC mark.
Accreditation vs. certification
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous.
Some companies maintain the confusion to serve their interests by misleading customers about the differences.
A certification represents a written assurance by a third party of the conformity of a product, a service or a person to specified requirements.
The certification against ISO 9001 standard, for instance, provides assurance that the certified organization has a management system in place that meets the requirements of the standard. This virtually applies to any company.
Accreditation, on the other hand, is the formal recognition by an authoritative body of the competence to perform the work to specified standards. Accreditation standards such as ISO 17020 for inspection bodies will cover all the principles of quality managements systems but will also allow to demonstrate the technical competence of the inspection body to perform the work as required.
Accreditation and certification therefore do not operate at the same level. To make it short, accreditation is the certification of third parties delivering conformity assessment.
In principle, an ISO9001 certified company will have a set of quality assurance procedures ensuring the quality of their services, whilst an accredited inspection body will also have the competences to perform the work, hence minimizing the risk of procuring faulty products, avoiding expensive reinspection or delays caused by poor or inadequate inspection work.
In other words, choosing an Accredited Inspection Body to perform inspection work is peace of mind for the developer: no conflict of interests, no freelance inspectors, qualified staff, adequate procedures, etc.
Accreditation in PV industry
Surprisingly, there are not many ISO 17020 accredited Inspection Bodies active in the PV and Energy Storage sector. This is an additional reason for PV developers to pay extra attention to the credentials of the organization they choose for performing their quality-critical inspections. Can they really demonstrate and ensure impartiality among their entire staff, in all factories, workshops and production lines where they are inspecting products? Can they demonstrate that they never enter into a commercial agreement that would jeopardize their integrity or create a conflict of interests? There is today only one way to do that: asking for their ISO 17020 accreditation certificate.
For more details on why developers should always use an accredited inspection body, please download the following document: https://ilac.org/?ddownload=901.
If you are looking for an Inspection Body with ISO 17020 internationally-accredited competence to perform the inspection services for your PV projects, do not hesitate to contact STS at firstname.lastname@example.org!