Stuff Happens

For most of us, the electronic devices we use may just as well be magic: push a button and stuff happens.

But getting electronic-based products to market often requires navigating a maze of product-compliance requirements, environmental ratings and international approvals.

From his base in Airdrie, Tom Smith, principal engineer of TJS Technical Services, helps domestic and international clients get these approvals and certifications.

Smith’s experience in product compliance dates back more than 30 years. “Back around 1982, I got a job at a lab that was starting up in Canada that’s now part of a global chain called Nemko Canada,” he recalls (Nemko provides product testing and certification services). “I was the first engineer they hired to oversee what was going on in the lab, working through approvals. The lab was primarily doing approvals for Canada and the U.S. and slowly getting international.”

After that, Smith was hired by Nortel to work on regulatory approvals and product integrity and managed its product integrity lab, overseeing divisions working with Norstar telephone terminals and Millennium payphones. Another Calgary job at National Technical Systems followed before Smith launched his own company, TJS, in 2009.

“I’d been considering it for quite a while,” he says.

Since branching out, Smith has worked with a wide range of mostly electronics clients in Canada and internationally, helping them get the approvals needed to market their products.

A rewarding part of his job, he says, is getting to see new innovations firsthand.

“One product, for example, is a high-end barbecue, so I get into some odd things from time to time,” Smith says. “I’m working on a device right now which is used to inspect pipes and tanks …it has its own electric wheels and will crawl around the tank. I’ve worked with downhole tools in the oil and gas industry. I’ve also worked with things like cellular base stations and medical equipment.”

His work has him dealing with clients from Beijing to Venezuela, and he’s currently assisting a client in Austria who’s in the process of bringing a product over to North America. (Of course, what that product is we’ll have to wait and see.)

Smith has lived in Airdrie for 21 years, and says that he does a lot of business on his laptop and the phone. “There’s myself and one other part-time employee,” he says. “In addition, I have a number of contract people I work with.”

The business owner has also been called upon to sit on about a half-dozen standards-development committees in such areas as product safety, electromagnetic interference and telecommunications, and he’s been recognized by the British Approvals Board for Telecommunications and Austel in Australia.

Much of Smith’s job involves keeping track of ever-changing standards, not only in Canada, but also worldwide. He says that events in the news can play a role. “One time, Canada seized a Portuguese vessel that had been fishing illegally off the coast,” he says. “I got into work and found an approval was on hold because the EU had an issue with Canada!”

Smith jokes that it’s been suggested that “I should be admitted to the bar,” given his skill at helping people cut red tape.

“It’s fun,” he says. “I’m dealing with so many creative people. The people who come to me are usually engineers with an incredible amount of creativity. They’ve come up with something no one has thought of before, and maybe the existing standards don’t exactly cover it. Or maybe they need help going through what can be a very legalistic process getting approvals.

“It’s about being able to clear roadblocks, find a path to completion and ultimately see the product on the market,” he adds.

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