Wireless controllers for game consoles clamped in futuristic tripods; a notebook PC positioned in a room with noise absorbing acoustic panels as high as a man; coil cords, monitors, table charts and even a human being on the side of this scene – head bent over the table, a watchmaker’s magnifying glass tightly wedged in between brow and cheek bone – a young Taiwanese inspects a circuit board.
This isn’t the movie scenery to James Bond 007. In this laboratory in a satellite city of the Taiwanese capital Taipei, a German engineer fights a just fight: a struggle against electronic products that due to technical defects or the exceeding of permissible limits of electromagnetic waves could endanger health and safety of the citizens of the European Union.
“There’s no alternative to testing”, says Dipl. Ing. Klaus Rueckerl, the technical head of the German company EMV-Testhaus’s branch office in Taiwan. “Big German importers of electronics just don’t want to risk a product recall because of an accident or the non-compliance with EU laws.”
Like doctors, priests and military personnel, German engineers carry their title in their last names. Dipl. Ing. means ‘engineer with diploma’ literally translated and is equivalent to a ‘Master of Science’.
Since 2001, Klaus Rueckerl tests products that are made in Asia for the European market. The EMV-Testhaus’s service is to supervise production for companies that have outsourced the production of electronics to Asia. To be sure that all goods obtain the certificates needed for import and that safety requirements are met, the European importers take production samples from their partner factories in China, seal them and send them to the EMV-Testhaus’s laboratory in Taiwan for examination.
“Electronic devices are never 100% identical regarding second source components, engineering tolerances or wiring, not even if they were manufactured in the same factory on the same day.” This, so Rueckerl, explains the necessity of permanent testing through laboratories that the importers trust. “A wire that in the process of mass production has been inaccurately placed can easily function as an unwanted antenna that has an impact on the emission of electromagnetic waves.”
The laboratory is located on the first floor of a ten-storey office building in Linkou, an unspectacular town in Taipei’s periphery.
Three Taiwanese work there with their German colleague Rueckerl, who catches the eye not only because of his European descent: the local staff works in T-shirts and jeans, only Rueckerl seems formal in white shirt and tie.
However, the appearance of a stiff hierarchy is deceptive – the atmosphere is friendly and casual; English is spoken with Taiwanese and German accents.
The daily working routine is all about matters such as electromagnetic emissions that could lead to instances of unwanted interference between devices. For example, the signal of a cell phone mustn’t trigger the flashlight of a digital camera.
Some of the issues are of simpler nature like preventing the possibility that consumers suffer electric shocks.
In the acoustic laboratory, the door of which looks somewhat like the entrance to a bunker, sound emission tests are carried out – to obtain the ‘Blauer Engel’ certification for environmentally friendly products, the sound power level of a PC in idle mode mustn’t exceed 40 decibels.
One of the institutions whose requirements the electronics destined for import have to meet is the Bundesnetzagentur, the Federal Network Agency. Apart from the regulation of telecommunications, postal services, electricity, gas and train markets, its task is the testing of electromagnetic compatibleness.
The employers of the Bundesnetzagentur carry out undercover sample purchases and in case of proven non-compliance with regulations, importers face harsh fines and, if the matter has been reported on by the media, serious damage to the company’s reputation.
To rule out that scenarios like these ever become reality, European service providers and associations such as TUV, VDE and EMV-Testhaus have set up branch offices with test laboratories in Asia, starting in the late 1980s.
To Klaus Rueckerl it has always been a dream to work overseas. Settling down in his new country of residence was relatively easy for him, and he has already established a family in Taiwan: Rueckerl is married to a Taiwanese and has a 4-year old son.
They live in an apartment in dizzy heights – on the nineteenth floor.
‘Trust is good, control is better’ is the fundamental moral behind the German engineer’s work in the Far East. Yet an anecdote Klaus Rueckerl tells sheds light on the relation many people in this part of the world have towards this kind of philosophy. He says: “Whenever I take a cab, I feel impolite when I use the safety belt because in the eyes of many here it simply implies that you don’t trust the driver.”