Quality speak

Wayne Terry of NQA, a certification body for MCS product certification, looks at the process a manufacturer needs to go through to gain MCS approval. 

Wayne Terry

All installers of renewable energy systems will be familiar with the MCS certification scheme for installation, and the need to use MCS certified products.  Few people outside the manufacturing fraternity, however, are familiar with the process required to achieve that product certification and may be surprised at its rigour.  

MCS certification is much more than a simple box-ticking exercise, it is designed to ensure that government-backed products will perform effectively for the length of time required by any incentive scheme (such as the 25 years for the Feed-in Tariff).

There are basically two aspects to MCS product certification. Firstly the individual products need to be tested to make sure they will fulfil their function effectively.  Just as importantly, the manufacturing facility itself needs examination to make sure that it is sufficiently well organised and controlled to deliver consistency of production.  

The factory must operate a documented manufacturing quality control and assessment scheme – its Factory Production Control.  This document covers all aspects of quality control in manufacturing.  It is not a static process and must include regular reviews and an established training programme to make sure new staff understand and implement the agreed procedures.

If a company holds the standard ISO 9001, then most of these requirements will already be in place, but to achieve MCS certification the manufacturer will still need to demonstrate its Factory Production Control.

The MCS certification body will examine all the paperwork and will visit the factory to make sure that the processes appearing in the documentation really reflect the working practice on the ground. This audit process will require considerable expertise and time – a minimum of two days on site would usually be expected for most factories.

The certification process also involves product testing.  MCS includes a detailed list of performance criteria that the finished products must meet in order to gain certification.  These will consider the generating capacity of the product as well as its manufactured quality – the aim is to ensure that the product performs reliably and will continue to do so for 25 years. Again, it is not just the test results that are important, but also the expertise of the testing facility itself.

The easiest option for the manufacturer is to send its products to an independent testing facility that is itself certified by an internationally recognised organisation, in which case the MCS certification body will simply ensure that the tests carried out are those required by the MCS standard.

If the testing house is not accredited under ISO17025, then the MCS certification body will need to examine and assess the procedures of the testing house in order to establish that the results it produces can be relied upon.

There are a number of bodies that are accredited to award MCS certification, of which NQA is one.   For the installer, it should not matter which certification body carries out the function as they will be equally rigorous. For the manufacturer who has to work with the certification body, however, the difference can be marked. In addition to NQA’s global reach, with auditors spread around the world, making visits to manufacturing plants more straightforward, it prides itself on offering a personal service in a highly technical environment.  Furthermore, NQA is also able to certify all the various renewable technologies currently included in the MCS scheme.

If the UK is to keep on track with its carbon reduction targets there will be an increasing role for renewable energy technology. Government incentives may change, but the commitment to increasing take-up of these technologies is long-term:  there can be no doubt that any government scheme will require products and installers to demonstrate their quality through recognised certification schemes such as MCS.