Electric Signs: A new standard for certification

Photo courtesy RKW Consulting

Photo courtesy RKW Consulting

By Randall K. Wright
Underwriters Laboratories (UL)—an independent, not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization—began work on the 15th edition of its standard for electric signs 19 years ago, when the project was originally proposed as a bi-national standard for Canada and the U.S. On October 2, 2012, the new update of UL 48 was finally complete and in full effect.

The committee that prepared the new document for submission was comprised equally of Canadian and U.S. members, including representatives of sign companies, electric sign product manufacturers, power supply manufacturers and regulators. Starting in 1994, the committee agreed to meet multiple times each year at convenient locations in both countries.

The first draft was prepared in October 1996. The existing UL 48 standard was updated in April 2003 to acknowledge changes in technology, resulting in a document that could be rearranged to create the 15th edition. It was followed by a more complete and complex draft in May 2004.

It was determined that with various technical deviations—including the differences in high voltages between the two countries, different types of standards and too many product specifications within UL 48—the project would be put on hold until a new standard for electric sign components, UL 879, could be developed.

The 15th edition was finally published as both UL 48 and an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) document with an effective date of September 2, 2011, with an exception of a few sections that would become effective on October 2, 2012.

Certification and training
While the technical requirements generally remain the same, the update involved a complete reorganization of the document to make it more user-friendly.

At the same time, UL has changed its certification procedures, such that it requires subscribers to select a level of compliance based on the needs of each company and its product mix. Under this new Sign Certification Program, there are four different compliance level options.

UL recently announced it is eliminating all variation notice (VN) fees related to its electric sign certification program. File photo

UL recently announced it is eliminating all variation notice (VN) fees related to its electric sign certification program. File photo

The new program also requires the training and identification of a manufacturer’s technical representative (MTR) for each facility. There may indeed be numerous MTRs in a facility, but one is the minimum.

MTRs are required to participate in and pass a training session comprising 12 online modules. These are based on the previous, 14th edition of UL 48 and on UL Knowledge Services (formerly known as UL University). A 13th module is now being prepared as an interim conversion to the 15th edition of UL 48, but eventually, all of the training modules will be completely rewritten to align to the current standard.

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