Opportunity knocks

Following October’s interview with Helen Goddard, Sascha Riedling of IC Audio got in touch offering to put another side of the story. How could we refuse? Here he gives us a manufacturer’s perspective of EN 54. One of the main worries expressed surrounding EN54 has been the extreme costs of getting products through the certification process. I asked Riedling what his reaction to this was?

“Investment is one side of the story, the other side is a great opportunity if you are in poll position with the new standard to get a lot of business.”

That’s an interesting point taken in the context rumblings that I’ve picked up from the UK that there may be a concerted campaign of disobedience from some vendors. If not everyone in the market participates in that, those that do could find themselves looking very silly indeed.

“The new standard I think will really shake up the industry,” Riedling went on.

“The core of it from my perspective is that the public address system and the fire alarm system in a building will work together as a team, connected by an interface.

“Under the old standard, 60849, it was just accepted that the two systems would exist in parallel and that the fire detection system should over-ride the public address. Now under EN54-16, there must be a link established between the two.

“Many people complain about any new standard, that it’s expensive and that investment is required, but our perspective is that it will increase the safety of the users in the building. That’s a good thing. You can’t just look at the cost. You must also look at the benefits.”

I also used this opportunity to put to Riedling, Goddard’s own concerns about the standard and get another point of view on the issues. I started with part 24.

“Well certainly the new standard has a lot of testing associated with it, this is unavoidable. The bottom line is that in some way the costs of this will be transferred into the market. So these certified speakers for installation projects will be more expensive than standard projects.”

Goddard also expressed a concern that there would be reduced choice for the customer in terms of product selection.

“From our side we will try to offer a wide range of certified speakers. I think the real issue might be that a customer would usually buy from us, or our competitors A, B and C. But now there could be less companies to choose from in terms of supply. It’s possible that companies will withdraw from the market.”

One of the other issues raised was that of specials. All products now need testing so limited-run special speakers could become prohibitively expensive.

“It could be an issue,” responds Riedling, “but we are not sure. This will depend on how strictly the new standard is applied in the market. Everyone knows this will be a huge change in the market, and everyone knows that not all of the manufacturers will be able to do this in such a short time.”

So does he believe there is any flexibility in the standard to allow this?

“Written, I would say no, but I think there will be some ways to tweak around it via co-operation with the local authorities. There is some uncertainty here at the moment, and that this will remain one or two years, but it will become clearer for both installers and manufacturers.”

Another thing that Helen Goddard suggested was that with the wording “all options claimed” the standard would discourage the development of as fully featured products.

“No definitely not, I disagree with that. The main reason to different functions in the product is because of requirements from the market and the customer. Customers like features. We won’t take a feature out of a product just to make certification easier.

“I’m not sure if the standard will lead to more or less innovation in general, but I do know that if one company puts our a compliant product with one or two extra features than the competition then it will be really difficult for other manufacturers not to follow suit.

“Fortunately, with the new trend towards modular and distributed systems it will be easier for vendors to add new features later on as they become available.”

“Overall, I believe it’s a well-balanced and written standard. It treads a difficult path between the need for public protection, and allowing companies to come up with innovative solutions.”

“If you think about PA system design for the last 20 years, nothing has really changed. But now that’s different. It’s not just been driven by standards, but the introduction of new standards is a catalyst for development of new generations of products rather than just modifications.”

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