Entrepreneurs and stakeholders of the construction industry, you are offering an innovation and you would like to begin the assessment and certification of your new product or system. You need to identify the elements of the process that correspond to your needs in order to optimize the costs and time needed for implementation. Here is some advice to help you achieve your goal.
Traditional or innovative: what's the difference?
You are developing a new construction product or system, but is it “innovative” as defined by the French construction rules?
Before getting started on assessments, make sure that your product is not in the “traditional” category.
For a so-called traditional product or system, there are reference documents concerning its manufacturing methods, sizing and implementation, for the construction of a sustainable construction work. If these reference documents do not exist, or if the system does not fall within the scope of these documents, then your product is said to be “innovative”. This means that you have to provide proof of the fitness for use of your product. To do so, you can apply for an assessment.
Technical assessment: mandatory or voluntary?
Any assessment of an innovative product or system must be initiated by you, in other words, it is a voluntary procedure, which is not without risk.
Technical assessment is essential to win the trust of other stakeholders of the construction industry. Insurance companies, builders and building control offices are not familiar with your new product and they need compelling evidence of the fitness for use of your innovation. A technical assessment with a favorable outcome can help achieve this.
With the technical assessment, you determine the scope of use of your innovation when it is brought to market. This means that you have every chance of success for ensuring the credibility of your innovation for the long term.
The technical assessment can also specify the product's contribution to the construction work's performance. This is particularly useful, knowing that regulations apply to the overall work.
What are your assessment needs?
You have decided to begin the procedure of having your innovative product or system assessed. To do so, it is essential to ask the right questions and identify your assessment needs:
- First question: what does your product or system consist of, in technical terms? What kind of materials are used? How are they used?
- Second question: what is your target market for this product? What is the purpose of the product, and in which parts of the construction work is it used?
Answering these questions is fundamental because the regulations governing the product or system are determined by their area of application in buildings.
Certification or assessment: what is the difference?
Assessment, certification and testing are procedures with complementary objectives.
The objective of an assessment is to determine the quality, safety and durability of a product and its proper integration into the construction work. A commission of experts gives its opinion on the innovation. This opinion is generally made public. A favorable opinion helps prove the fitness for use of the product to the industry stakeholders.
The objective of a product or service certification is to prove compliance with a reference system, and to indicate the product’s performance based on a set of criteria. In this case, it is the certification body that checks these performance levels. Certification is displayed by means of a quality mark or logo, which can help consumers make their choice. For a builder or manufacturer, it is a significant competitive advantage.
When should you launch your assessment procedure?
Should you have your innovation assessed BEFORE or AFTER it is brought to market? Neither!
Ideally, the assessment process is simultaneous with the industrial and commercial development of your innovation. Anticipating this process by integrating it into your business strategy will give you more visibility and enable you to optimize your investment.
The assessment application can be started during the R&D phase of the innovation.
There are several types of assessment procedures. At each step of your company's project, choose the procedure that truly meets your needs, according to the degree of maturity of your innovation and the targeted areas of application.
The assessment procedure is structured in different stages. Following them in order, at a steady pace is the most efficient approach.
Is the Technical Appraisal the only possible assessment?
Obtaining a Technical Appraisal puts you in a solid position during the assessment process. However, it is not always best to go directly for the Technical Appraisal, known as ATec in France. Technical Experimentation Assessments (ATEx) or Pass'Innovation (fast-track assessments) are intermediate steps that can be useful in the assessment of a new product. The European Technical Assessment (ETA) can be more useful than the ATec when the products are bound for a European market. There is also the Preliminary Technical Evaluation of Material (ETPM) which provides an assessment even before a precise area of application has been defined for the material.
The Technical Experimentation Assessment (ATEx). Faster than the Technical Appraisal, the ATEx is designed to foster the emergence of an innovative system. In concrete terms, this allows a new technique to be used for the very first time in construction projects. The ATEx also enables a new technique to be used on a specific construction site. These benchmark experiences are very useful for the Technical Appraisal application.
Pass'Innovation (fast-track assessments) are also faster than the ATec. They are combined with the monitoring of construction projects. This provides feedback, which is useful for the Technical Appraisal application.
The Technical Appraisal procedure (ATec) is relatively comprehensive; it requires numerous elements (description of the product or system, representative construction projects already completed, performance and aging tests already carried out, etc.). During a Technical Appraisal procedure, you present your arguments to a panel of experts whose conclusions are trusted by the professionals of the construction industry. The Technical Appraisal secures the marketing of your innovation and helps develop its credibility among construction industry professionals.
The European Technical Assessment (formerly the European Technical Approval), indicates the fitness for use of a product that is set to receive CE marking, not covered by the harmonized European standards. This is a voluntary process for launching products on the European market.
The Preliminary Technical Evaluation of Material (ETPM) encompasses all of the technical characteristics of a material not considered as traditional. Like the Technical Appraisal, it is validated by a panel of experts. The ETPM can then be submitted for the assessment of a product using this material.
How is an assessment application organized?
Whichever assessment procedure you choose, there will be three steps: compiling the technical file, examination by the CSTB and then submission to the expert commission.
Everything begins with the compiling of the technical file.
You can prepare the technical file on your own, or seek the help of professionals.
You can seek assistance from the advisory service of the CSTB, Ariane, which helps companies lacking experience in assessments.
After your technical file has been prepared, your application will be examined by the CSTB whose role is to help you improve your chances of receiving a favorable opinion. The examiner informs you of the requirements that apply to your system, analyzes the technical relevance of the evidence that you provide, and alerts you to any shortcomings in your file.
Your role in this process is two-fold: to provide the scientific and technical proof needed to assess the fitness for use of your innovation. It is also up to you to decide when your file is complete and when you wish to submit it to the commission of experts.
Last step: the evaluation of your assessment application.
An independent commission of experts examines your application and issues an opinion on the fitness for use of your innovative product or system. This commission is made up of stakeholders of the construction industry: installation companies, building control offices, manufacturers, architects and technical centers such as the CSTB.
The commission's opinion may be favorable, conditional or unfavorable. In the last two cases, your innovation may be reexamined if you are able to present the additional information that has been requested. But, importantly, this will be a new application. This is why it is crucial to precisely identify, right from the very beginning, the areas of application according to the proof that you are able to provide.
Is an assessment costly?
The cost of an assessment includes:
- the cost of preparing the technical file;
- the cost of any trials or studies designed to prove that the innovative product or system complies with applicable regulations;
- the cost of any additional trials or studies designed to prove the fitness for use of the innovative product or system;
- the cost of the assessment procedure itself, including examination of the application.
Since April 2013, the price of the Technical Appraisal procedure has decreased by 30% for VSEs and SMEs seeking their first assessment. More information
Providing proof of the fitness for use of a process or system can be lengthy and costly. The cost for the manufacturer should be integrated into the cost of developing the innovation. The method of proof is left to the discretion of the manufacturer, but it must be credible. For the performance of studies and trials, it may be helpful to call upon an independent body such as a laboratory accredited by COFRAC, the French Accreditation Committee.
How do you develop an innovation internationally?
If your product or system is innovative, and it is not described by a European standard, you can use the European Technical Assessment (ETA): a voluntary assessment procedure, prior to CE marking.
In concrete terms, the European Technical Assessment enables you to establish the identification card of an innovation, for all of Europe. It describes the characteristics of your product for all European stakeholders of the construction industry.
To guide you in the international development of your innovation, the CSTB offers the ID+ International service which combines technical support with international coordination to help you obtain “approval” in several countries simultaneously, with the aim of bringing your product or system to local markets.