November 2022

· 7 min read

Understanding the Principles of OQC: Origin and Quality Controlled

Watch an interview with NSF expert Andrea Riu on the benefits of OQC registration. Read an in-depth Q&A to learn how to get registered.

Q: What Are the Leading Principles of the OQC Registration Program?

A: OQC stands for Origin and Quality Controlled. The OQC registration program combines quality and origin-of-product verification, helping people identify products of excellence. The program’s leading principles are transparency, quality, safety and product origin.

Q: Why Is There a Need for OQC Registration?

A: OQC registration is needed for two reasons: transparency and knowledge.

I don’t need to underline the importance of industrial products being tested, approved and certified against standards that establish minimum safety and quality. This is fundamental for products in contact with drinking water, food or air.

Market research shows that consumers will pay more for products tested and certified against quality and safety standards. Origin-of-goods declaration is a basic requirement for international trade. Some product types become particularly sought after when their origin is guaranteed.

The OQC mark combines both aspects, as it’s appreciated by consumers and required by the market.

Q: How Has the OQC Program Evolved Since Its Inception?

A: The OQC program began in 2012 when the Italian mechanical industry sought a transparent tool managed by a third-party certification body. The program immediately addressed a small, elite group of Italian companies that wished to protect themselves from product counterfeiting and wanted a way to differentiate themselves in the market.

At the time, the OQC program required only health certification to prove the suitability of materials in contact with drinking water, and no performance standards had been considered.

On the program’s 10th anniversary, NSF opened it to all products in contact with water and expanded it to include mechanical and safety performance as well. The product’s origin is verified through a proprietary algorithm that supports product qualification and surveillance audits.

Q: How Does This Align With European Regulations?

A: OQC registration is a voluntary scheme. It’s not intended to replace certification or quality programs in any country, nor is it intended to substitute for national or European regulations. It’s also not intended to replace, compete with or substitute for any regulation on product origin, such as “Made in Italy.”

Registering a product under the OQC program doesn’t mean that the product is declared “made in” by default, nor does it replace the official non-preferential origin declaration required for the international trade of the product. These declarations must still be obtained through official procedures (chambers of commerce and customs offices).

Q: How Do You Verify a Product's Quality and Country of Origin?

A: To verify product quality, NSF determines that the product has obtained at least one approval or certification that confirms product quality — either for material safety (such as contact with drinking water) or mechanical performance and safety requirements. The certification must be achieved through an internationally recognized and accredited laboratory or certification body.

To confirm the origin of the product, NSF applies an algorithm based on the non-preferential origin of goods (or “made in”) rules described by the Union Customs Code (UCC) and country-of-origin principles.

Q: How Do You Assess the Origin and Quality of the Raw Materials Used?

A: The quality of the raw materials for products intended for contact with water is fundamental. This includes valves, taps, pipes, gaskets, water meters and drinking water filtration systems. Raw material quality is assessed through product certifications and related laboratory tests.

For manufactured products, raw material origin doesn’t represent a critical element in determining the finished product’s origin. It’s important to remember that not all raw and quality materials are always available within the same country.

The rules for the non-preferential origin of goods start at the last substantial economically justified processing (or working step). The working step classifies the origin of a product. The OQC mark goes beyond this basic definition, verifying that each essential processing step is carried out in the designated country of origin, giving value to industrial design and technological know-how.

Q: What Is NSF's Proprietary Algorithm Based On?

A: When a product is defined as “Made in Italy,” we aren't told which parts are made in Italy, especially if it is a product resulting from assembly operations. It’s not likely to be 100% in today’s supply chain, with a high level of globalization and commercial exchanges.

NSF’s algorithm, Pointer, is based on a mathematical model and calculates the value of origin of a product or component through the various steps of its manufacturing process. The final value is expressed as a percentage.

This model starts with raw materials and considers the product as a linear combination of transformations. These “transformations” always refer to the “last substantial processing,” in accordance with non-preferential origin principles.

Pointer doesn’t consider processes defined as minimal (e.g., washing, dusting or packaging). The algorithm returns a final manufacturing origin value for the product between 0 and 1, or, if you prefer, between 0% and 100%.

In the end, Pointer not only tells us a product’s origin, but also to what extent.

Q: Can You Share Some Details About the Quality and Performance Aspects Required To Earn OQC Registration?

A: To be registered, a product intended to be in contact with drinking water must be certified for health effects. The materials used can’t contaminate drinking water or modify its potable characteristics. It must be tested and certified by an accredited third-party certification body according to national and/or international regulations. Some qualifying standards would include NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, AS/NZS 4020, REG4/WRAS, KTW and ACS.

A product must also meet mechanical performance requirements. It can’t leak, blow or explode under pressure, or corrode or deteriorate and break before its lifetime warranty expires.

All these aspects must be tested and certified by an accredited third-party certification body against quality standards, such as ASME, ASTM, ASSE, DIN, ISO or NF.

Q: How Does a Business Benefit From an OQC Listing?

A: The OQC mark is a tool of transparency and trust, not a self-declaration. It allows a company to demonstrate to consumers that a product has been tested and certified by an accredited and internationally recognized third-party body against health effects and performance quality standards. It confirms the product’s country of origin and proves that claims have been checked and validated annually by a third-party organization of international standing, such as NSF.

In the official NSF listings, consumers will be able to search for registered products. The detailed listing will identify the company name and all production sites and trade names for all OQC-registered products.

Q: How Long Does the Registration and Application Process Take?

A: The registration process is simple. A company selects products from its catalog with the required quality and origin requirements. An NSF account manager reviews technical documentation and verifies the accuracy of the information, especially that relating to product certification obtained by other certification bodies.

In parallel, an auditor performs an initial audit, during which the product origin is checked by applying NSF’s Pointer algorithm and collecting evidence.

Depending on the project’s complexity, this phase can take three to five weeks. Once everything is confirmed, products are registered under the OQC program. Our official online listing includes the name of the company, the production facility and the names of registered products.

An unannounced audit is carried out every year for the surveillance and maintenance of the registration. At any time, the registered company can add or remove products from the listing, according to their needs.

Q: Are There Upcoming Changes to the OQC Registration Program?

A: OQC is a flexible program. It can be modified, made more stringent, extended to other types of products or replicated in other countries. The program was born in Italy because there was a need to strengthen a critical “Made in Italy” claim that was already recognized worldwide.

This scheme can be easily replicated in other countries where a “made in” claim for certain product types has value and international recognition.

Imagine an OQC UK, an OQC Germany, an OQC Japan and so on. We also plan to extend the program’s scope beyond the water sector into the food and gas sectors. We are considering quality parameters for electrical safety as well.

This is not decided exclusively by NSF, but rather by the OQC Industrial Forum, which gathers annually and is open to all companies with OQC-listed products.

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