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Interpower’s Answers to Commonly Asked Questions—The Problem with Adapters

At the Interpower Group of Companies, we have real people answering the phones. No recorded messages. As a result, we receive a number of interesting product design questions. Usually if a question has been asked by one person, it means that others also have the same question. So to assist you, we will be sharing a few of the commonly asked questions, complete with answers. Be sure to follow our series, “Interpower’s Answers to Commonly Asked Questions.”

Question:
Why are adapters not allowed when exporting equipment?

Answer:
We consulted Ron Barnett, Product Development Manager, for information in answering this question.

A plug adapter essentially allows an existing cord set or power cord to be used with a country-specific plug in a completely different country. While there are plug adapters available for temporary use (mainly for travel purposes), they should not be used for permanent or commercial use. The reason why, in a nutshell, is because it could cause you to lose approvals on your entire piece of equipment.   

The cord set with the plug and connector needs to comply with the country’s standards. Barnett explains, “While technically an adapter may work with your device, it would not be approved. Many individual countries around the world have their own standard and testing agencies to verify that the electronic products that are brought into their country will work safely and effectively. If the total cord set is not approved for use in a specific country, it cannot be used.”

In many applications, commercial OEM (original equipment manufacturer) equipment either requires safety approvals or they are requested by the customers who purchase them. These approvals demonstrate that the entire system is deemed to meet all constructional and safety requirements in regards to the end use. Many of the agencies that issue these approvals do not view the use of adapters acceptable, making obtaining the approvals difficult or impossible. There are no international standards that cover their construction or testing for safety purposes in OEM applications.

“For example, if a piece of equipment is shipped from the United Kingdom to the United States and the equipment comes with a UK plug, you should not use an adapter to plug the UK plug into a NEMA socket. Not only would the power cord not carry any approvals, this setup could cause you to lose the approvals on your entire piece of equipment,” Barnett said.

Many safety agencies view adapters as being unsafe for many applications beyond personal use—especially for more complex devices or where numerous people could interact with the product. One of the biggest concerns with this is the lack of control over usage when numerous people have access to the equipment. There is nothing to stop someone from taking the adapter to use elsewhere—where it might not be appropriate and could lead to an incident. 

Many users of adapters do not understand their true function and this leads to a potentially dangerous misconception that an adapter magically transforms the voltage and frequency to the right level for the equipment. This error in thinking is even common in the travel industry, where these devices originated. Most adapters do not contain transformers or converters that can change the voltage or frequency. For example, trying to use a North American product overseas on 230V or 50Hz power could damage the product because it’s not designed to operate at those power levels.

If you have other questions, Interpower offers free technical support. You can check the website at www.interpower.com, e-mail sales@interpower.com (United States) or uk@interpower.com (United Kingdom) or contact Customer Service in the United States at (800) 662-2290 or in the United Kingdom at +44 (0)1908 295300.

If you have ideas for future InfoPower blogs, please e-mail infopower@interpower.com.