The voice of lift SMEs in the standardisation bodies

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On October 19th, EFESME ran, as is traditional, an event at Interlift in Augsburg, Germany. The seminar, focused on lifts SME participation in national and European standardisation bodies, was part of the 2017 SBS sectoral approach and was organised on two panels: the first collected representatives of official bodies, while the second reunited experts with an SMEs background. The event gathered quite a number of interested visitors, especially SME representatives, but not only.

Mr Marcel Boutillier, EFESME President, and Mr Joachim Kalsdorf, AFAG Project Manager, welcomed the participants in the event moderated by Ms Susan Mompalao De Piro, Representative Southern Europe at Interlift.

The four speakers in the first panel had been asked to introduce their organisation, to explain how they are dealing with the involvement of SMEs in the standardisation activities and whether they had plans for any improvements in the near future.

From the European Commission, Mr Vesa Katajisto, Policy Officer Lifts Directive – DG GROW  C.3, opened the panel by giving an overall, clear picture of the activities performed within its DG and Unit. He focused on those aspects, which are of higher interest for the SMEs, such as: the functioning of the internal market and its benefits, the implementation of the EU legislation for the CE marking and the harmonisation of products by providing high level of safety and protection of the environment. Last but not least, he dealt with the managing of the European standardisation system. Regarding the lift sector, the DG GROW C.3 participates more and more in the events organised by their SMEs, as well as in those organised by the other stakeholder groups, by dialoguing with the industry associations and monitoring the correct implementation of the legal framework for lifts.

Ms Christel Davidson, Director of Small Business Standards (SBS), highlighted the importance of the over 20 million SMEs for the economy of the European Union and the importance for SMEs of an appropriate implementation of standards developed to be SME-compatible.

At his turn, Mr Geert Maes, Senior Manager Industry Infrastructure at CEN/CENELEC, successfully managed in the “Mission impossible” of making the audience learn more about figures and facts concerning his organisation. He immediately highlighted the success of eliminating bunches of about 34 national standards and of replacing them with a single EN document for about 4200 harmonized standards supporting the EU legislation and the free circulation of goods in the EU and related markets. Moreover, he explained how the interested stakeholders can participate in the activities of the National Standardization Organizations (NSO). Finally, Mr Maes concluded by illustrating the whole process for the preparation of standards, starting from the evaluation of the initial proposals, the selection of the interested technical committee and the various stages of the development.

To conclude the first panel, Mr. Patrick Guillemin, a Technical Officer at ETSI, pointed out how ETSI is open and inclusive for all SMEs, which are already providing members of the ETSI board, a vice-chairman of the ETSI General Assembly and many members occupying a considerable percentage of TC Chairs/Vice-Chairs positions.

The second panel was animated by three speakers representing SMEs and entrepreneurs directly involved in the standardisation activities, asked to report on their personal experiences in such activities.

Mr Ivan Ferrarini, the young co-owner of an Italian lift SME, explained how he started getting involved in a first moment in UNI, the Italian standardisation body, almost 15 years ago and, later on, in the UNI team of experts attending the WG 1 and other working groups within CEN TC 10. Recently, he is part of the SBS team of experts for 2018 and participates in the SME activities within ETSI. Mr Ferrarini referred to the lift standards in his daily work. In particular, he highlighted the main issues in the participation in the standardisation activities for SMEs, namely the amount of documents, the lack of human resources and generational change within the SMEs representatives. Clearly, the participation of SME experts seems to him extremely low and he feels that there is not enough coordination among them, although he strongly believes that SMEs contribution can be extremely important and their participation in the technical meetings would be fundamental. In other terms, SME associations should be involved in the standardisation process to make sure that their voice can be heard when it counts.

Mr Thomas Birnbaum, an experienced German engineer who also occupied managerial posts in an SME for about 20 years, illustrated and commented his long experience in standardisation at local, national and CEN levels. His job was dealing with the sales of lift components, as a consequence technically supporting the customers for different interpretations of standards, possible claims and even adopting and developing specific components for some multi-national manufacturers. His know how in the lift business provided the necessary experience to afford the standardisation activities, which in turn provided him with better know-how for his daily work. This is a reason why SMEs should engage in standardisation also to improve their daily business, because customers (lift installers and maintenance companies) expect to be supported by their suppliers. Unfortunately, after having moved to a new SME, Mr Birnbaum lost the possibility to continue working in standardisation, as the company cannot afford to bear the costs for a human resource to be involved in these activities. Therefore, his experience apparently cannot be any more available in favour of the SMEs of the sector. He concluded that, indeed, there are too many standards coming from too many sources: their consolidation would be helpful, also to prevent different regional implementations within the EU Single Market.

The EFESME President, Mr Marcel Boutillier, concluded the presentations of the second panel. As an entrepreneur in the lift business with decennial experience in the standardisation activities, he agreed that the requirements in the standards for lifts are too biased against SMEs and discriminate the legitimate interests of the latter. On the other hand, he confirmed that, although the work was not easy at all, the French government officials and AFNOR, the French Standardisation Body, eventually introduced some local regulations that ensured, for instance, the availability of information and tools necessary to guarantee the possibility to keep the lifts running safely even if not maintained by the original manufacturer. This is an example of how the direct and continuous involvement of SME representatives in the standardisation activities can succeed in modifying the standards and make them more compatible with both the SME expectations and the customers’ needs. The support of SBS would certainly make this happen more and more in the future.

In the “Questions and Answers” session, the audience concentrated on the issues related to the way CEN/CENELEC provides the inclusion of SMEs in their Technical Committees and Working Groups and how they take into account their opinions. The lively debates provided some clarifications, which definitely need deeper investigation and, hopefully, some improvements in the future.

At the closing of the event, the EFESME Secretary General, Mr Luciano Faletto, warmly thanked all the speakers and concluded by focusing on a few aspects that would facilitate the participation of SMEs in standardisation. Mr Faletto called for: the support of new experts with an SME background through a tutoring work carried out by the more experienced ones; an increase of their representation within the hierarchy of the standardisation bodies, in order to be more involved in the decisions-making process; the support of available experts with good credentials, but without sponsorships, in order not to waste their know-how ; to a continuous cooperation with the EU institutions, namely DG GROWto continue to rely on the monitoring by the EU DG Grow and to cooperate with them. These may be new challenges not only for SBS, but also for the other organisations participating in the seminar at Interlift 2017.

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