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IECEx: Ensuring global quality control and consistency

Author : Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold

16 June 2016

The heart of the IECEx system is the certified equipment scheme. With more than 22,000 Certificates of Conformity (CoC) and almost the same number of Ex Test Reports (ExTR), the IECEx certified equipment scheme together with the European ATEX directive are the two dominant certification schemes for explosion protected equipment in the world. 

Between ATEX and IECEx there is a big difference: the ATEX directive has a status of law in the European Union and every manufacturer who wants to place his product on the European market is obliged to follow the rules of the directive. IECEx, on the other hand, is a voluntary global system with no supporting jurisdiction.

Many operators of process plants with hazardous area appreciate the "one world - one certificate" approach of IECEx, but they are also ask how the quality of the certification activities of IECEx can be assured if no regulator is directly involved.

The answer is easy: It is done using the peer assessment principle to establish a high level of trust and internal supervision. The IECEx system relies on the professional and reliable work of its Certification Bodies (CBs) and Test Labs (TLs).

The key elements of the peer assessment principle are as follows:
1.  The IECEx assessors. These are competent and experienced experts and their task is to carry out the original assessment of a candidate TL or CB and to prepare an assessment report. This report is than circulated in the IECEx communities and has to be endorsed by the National Committees. A similar procedure is applied later as a surveillance activity every five years or if a scope extension has to be applied for. All assessors have extensive experience of explosion protection as members of certification organisations and are nominated by the national committee of one member country and have to be endorsed by all other National Committees. IECEx working group WG 4 trains assessors and encourages continuous improvement of assessment quality.

2.  The proficiency test program. This program, operational for a number of years, is designed to ensure high level and consistent type testing by different Test Labs. This means that regardless where a manufacturer asks for a certain type test on its products, the results will always be the same (within a statistically acceptable range). The basic principle of this program is that there are special test samples prepared and provided to the IECEx TLs which carry out the type test procedures and send the results to the IECEx secretariat for evaluation. As a consequence of some significant differences of the test results at the beginning of the program, training workshops have been organised to exchange knowledge and to standardise the test practices among the TLs. The results of this have been very positive!

3.  The Ex TAG (Test and Assessment) Group. This is the organisation of all IECEx CBs and TLs. Once a year there is a big meeting of Ex TAG, and the current chairman is Prof. Xu Jianping of NEPSI (China) and the secretary Julian Gauthier of LCIE (France). The annual meeting, which takes place in the same week and at the same place as the meeting of the IECEx Management Committee, is divided into an open and a closed session. During the last meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, topics like the IECEx homepage with the online certificate database, the next proficiency program or the use of IEC Technical Specifications as the basis for Certificates were discussed during the open session. At the closed session, only members of IECEx CBs and TLs are permitted and this is the best forum for mutual criticism and the discussion of potential improvements. The Ex TAG meeting is accompanied by a one day training workshop.

4.  Last but not least, IECEx has a highly professional and efficient secretariat office in Sydney. Under the lead of the Executive Secretary, a small team of experts supervise IECEx‚Äôs day to day business. IECEx rules state that all assessment reports (see 1.) are carefully checked before they are distributed to the National Committees, while IECEx Certificates and test reports are checked on a sample basis. Also, every user of the IECEx System has the right and duty to notify the secretariat of any systems or operational failure.

Writing this article, I am preparing for the next series of Working Group meetings in Northbrook (USA). Here we will prepare the coming IECEx Management Committee Meeting (and Ex TAG meeting) which will take place in September in South Africa.

Time is running fast - at the end of this year my first term as IECEx chairman will be over. I remain impressed by the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation as described above, and will have no problems applying for a second term!

About the author

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold is VP Technology at Stahl AG and and Chairman of IECEx

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