Launching a product, especially an electronic one, has a lot of hurdles. It used to be the EMC testing (generating radio/electrical noise, and being susceptible to such) were the "biggies" that needed expensive external test houses. The "electrical safety" was a minor part of testing (can you poke your finger where it could get zapped?)... To be fair it was a bit more - things with mains power have to meet various rules for air gaps and insulation, but there are well known and tried and tested ways to design this in.
However, times have changed... The new safety standard (a little gem called BS EN 62368-1:2014) has a lot of things in it.
This is good!
I have seen too many things with power bricks melting and nearly causing fires. However, it is new, and this means some of the things you need to know when designing are not 100% clear. Unless/until the examiner at the test house makes a decision based on his reading of the spec, you cannot be sure. It is quite possible that something seemingly simple can catch you out and cause lots of delay.
I am pondering doing a more comprehensive blog some time, but here are just a couple of examples of the issues we have had to consider...
The FB2700 had a grid of holes on the side for ventilation. The new FB2900 is way lower power (typically 5W) and does not need holes. We originally planned to leave the case design the same, but turns out the holes matter. Because they were more than 3mm this meant the case is not a "fire enclosure" (I think that is the term). This means things like deliberately overloading the power module to try and break it, and setting the damn thing on fire to see if any plastic comes out of the holes! Thankfully we do not need the holes any more, and the screw holes for rack mounts are small enough not to count. This meant a minor rework of the metalwork which added more delay.
The front and back have screen printed polycarbonate labels. Obviously these are purely cosmetic, they could not possible matter, surely? After all the serial number label has all of the safety warning and CE marks and so on.
Wrong, they matter. Or might matter. Apparently there are factors of "touch temperature" - i.e. if the metal case is at max operating temperature, can you hurt yourself touching it while plugging in a cable? That sort of thing. I don't fully understand this one yet, but it meant the labels matter.
It gets more complex! There are LED holes that are over 3mm, and they are plugged by light pipes which are flame retardant and rated to the max operating temperature, so plugged holes. However the label provides an extra layer of flame retardant over the hole just to add extra safety. So err on side of safety and use flame retardant labels.
When we did the FB2700 the symbols and warnings on the labels were a simple checklist. Like power supply ratings, and CE mark, and class II (double insulated) mark, and so on. We simply put them on and we complied. Now it is part of the safety testing to check the label and check the associated paperwork (the quick start guide). So the production sample we send really has to be proper finished and paperwork and label and everything. That adds more delay.
The good news
This may sound depressing, but it is really good that things are tested this well. We are winning!
The production sample is off to the test house to finalise their testing and approval. Once we have that, we can stamp a CE mark on it and start shipping. Of course, something could come back and bite us and add more delay, but fingers crossed. We have a good hardware team on this and they do a damn good job, so should not be any issues.
There is one thing that is not tested at all, and I can see that in 10 years time this may be very different. This is a network device. It is increasingly important that all network devices are sensible in the way they work - controlling access properly, protecting against attacks, and ensuring updates and patches as needed. None of this is subject to any formal standards or tests now. I wonder how that will change over the years. I wonder how easily a wince or linux box will pass? Fun times.