Conformity: Compliance of products with specified requirements

Consumers encounter products bearing certification marks, such as the CE mark or the GS mark, on a daily basis. These can be found on a wide of goods, including toys, electrical appliances, medical products, and lifts. They certify that a product complies with specified requirements - the CE mark indicating compliance with EU requirements and the GS mark compliance with the requirements set out in the German Equipment and Product Safety Act.

The term 'conformity' is used to describe the situation whereby a service, process, system, person, or unit fulfils a series of requirements that are stipulated by law, in a contract, or otherwise.

Legal requirements mostly apply in areas where government has a particular duty to protect the public, i. e. consumer and environmental protection, healthcare, and occupational health-and-safety. Private-sector firms, in turn, seek to provide proof that their product or service meets specific quality standards and look to demonstrate their own expertise in a particular area.

Within conformity assessment, it is not just specific requirements that can be stipulated by law, in a contract, or adhered to voluntarily, but also the conformity assessment itself. Conformity assessment involves such tasks as calibration, certification, inspection, and testing (e. g. tests on drinking water to check that it is free from any harmful substances). Such assessments can be conducted by the manufacturer or provider himself, by contractual partners, or by independent third-party test and calibration laboratories / inspection and certification bodies.

Conformity assessment conducted by private or public-sector bodies

Conformity assessment bodies can be private or run by the government. Well-known private conformity assessment bodies in Germany include the Technische Überwachungsvereine (TÜV), the Deutsche Kraftfahrzeug-Überwachungsverein (DEKRA), and the ship classification society Germanischer Lloyd, which also undertake a great deal of testing and monitoring on behalf of the German government. However, the government also has the means to perform high-level conformity assessment itself, for example through the science and technology institutes governed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Examples of these include the German National Metrology Institute (PTB), which conducts conformity assessment activities in the field of statutory metrology (e. g. EC type examinations on energy measurement equipment), and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM), which undertakes conformity assessment activities in areas relevant to technical safety, including dangerous-goods containers (e. g. CASTOR containers), and explosive materials.

Conformity assessments such as test reports, certificates, or declarations of conformity issued by the manufacturer are often required for a contract to be signed or before a product can be released onto the market.