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We were recently contacted by a start-up business, wanting to do the right thing by joining the appropriate trade association and asking if there were any special qualifications needed, or regulations to comply with, if they were to build and sell computers.

Times are changing

Back in the early days of PC assembling, when it was a major advance to be able to overclock an 80286 CPU, and windows were something you looked out of (daydreaming while your system worried away at a Lotus spreadsheet), it seemed that nobody paid much attention to regulations or standards.

It was quite common to see assembly workers handling components without taking anti-static precautions and most small businesses had only the faintest awareness of the British Standards Institute. Of course, today it is almost unheard of for a technician not to be tethered to his bench by an anti-static cable and most of the system builders and resellers have some awareness of the legislation. But awareness is one thing, conformance is another.

Because of the pace of change and the opportunities for relatively easy money and good margins, the PC marketplace was price-led. A customer who might have spent several months deciding what specification of computer they wanted, would very likely place their order with the lowest priced company advertising in whatever magazine they had to hand, notwithstanding that this was the first time the company had been seen, and that the ‘three-year guarantee’ wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

Things have changed a great deal over the years. The European Consumer Guarantees Directive was a major piece of legislation aimed at harmonising consumer laws in EU member states. The PCA, forerunner of the TCA, was the only voice speaking out for our marketplace in the whole of Europe.

We were a consultee to the DTI, the House of Lords Select Committee and the EU. Had we not been, Europe would have ended up with a law whereby consumers would only ever have needed to buy one computer, because they would have had the right to demand –and receive –a replacement because of non-conformance every time the system hung.

I was also reminded of another piece of legislation we were involved in: the CE marking regulations, which are currently more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The CE mark indicates that the item conforms to European standards, including those relating to electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). It is the duty of the assembler to ensure that the equipment complies, otherwise they can be fined and/or imprisoned.

Individual elements of a system must comply, which is why you see the CE mark on PSUs. But just because the components conform, that doesn’t mean the system will. Or, as the guidance puts, it: “CE + CE does not = CE”.

TCA members can download a copy of the PCA’s EMC Handbook from the members’ area of the website; others can purchase it from us for a small sum. Mature industries have trade associations, and responsible businesses join them.

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