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A seriously bad and illegal adaptor

Worlds_smallest
Specification

In the summer of 2017 this travel adaptor was being promoted on the Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding websites. The promoters are a UK start-up company, Kickstart Success Ltd.  Images of the product and screenshots of its description are taken the from company’s press pack and campaign pages.

British Standard BS 8546:2016 Travel adaptors compatible with UK plug and socket system has been in force since April 2016, meaning that travel adaptors placed on the UK market since then must comply with the standard.  It was introduced because UK authorities are concerned about the number of unsafe travel adaptors on the market.  For more information on BS 8546, see the following sources: BSI, Electrical Safety First, Nemko and Intertek.  The MICRO product completely fails to meet that standard!  (MICRO has also received a lot of negative comments on one of the Kickstarter forums.)

A promotional article by one of the MICRO team was published on the LinkedIn website: this attracted a lot of negative comment from Electrical Engineering professionals, including the following extracts from comments made by two members of the team responsible for the new British Standard:
“if the pins do not meet the dimensional requirements of the standard, if there is no earth connection, if the fuse does not comply with BS 1362, etc.----in other words, if the product does not meet the safety requirements of BS 1363, then it will be unsafe and non-compliant.”
     Malcolm Mullins, Chairman—BSI committee PEL/23 (Electrical Accessories)
“This product is dangerous and would not comply with the UK travel adaptor safety standards BS 8546 or the new annex for travel adaptors in IEC 60884-2-5. I suggest you extensively redesign the product and get it tested, before someone is injured by this dangerous product.”
     Giuseppe Capanna, Technical Head - Electrical Accessories, Nemko Ltd
Another significant comment came from Martyn Allen,Technical Director at Electrical Safety First, who wrote that he was:
“concerned that your design is focussed on design appeal and doesn't cover basic safety measures. Like others who have commented I would urge you to cease further development until you have demonstrated that you grasp fundamental safety concepts in your product and provide assurance that it will meet the safety objectives of the associated legislation and applicable standards.”
The reaction of the author was not to answer the criticisms, but to remove the article!

Following approaches from UK Trading Standards officers (law enforcement officers), Kickstarter suspended the MICRO campaign on 21st July 2017, refunding over 450,000 to backers.  As of 10th August 2017 Indiegogo continues to allow its site to be used to promote the product.

Before describing the non-compliance issues, let’s look at the false claim “with surge protection” shown above, and elaborated as shown below. 

surge_protection

The company have defined what they mean by a surge.  However, a fuse will NOT protect a device from a surge of the type described!  From the specification we know that the fuse is a “T” type fuse, the “T” stands for “time delay”. The time delay fuse (also known as anti-surge or slow-blow) is designed to allow a current which is above the rated value of the fuse to flow for a short period of time without the fuse blowing.  An anti-surge fuse protects itself from surges, not your device!  Real surge protection is provided by fast switching excess voltage spikes to earth (ground), something you can only do if you have an earth connection, which this adaptor does NOT (as the specification above makes clear). Learn more here.

Australia_pins

Now let’s look at other false claims made in these screen captures for UK and Australian configurations taken from the promotion pages.

UK_pins

The UK configuration shown does NOT use a UK pin set, Europlug pins are not allowed to be used in UK sockets as they are round and do not mate correctly with contacts designed for flat pins!  The design also assumes that all UK sockets have shutters operated by the earth pin, but that is not the case and many millions of the best UK sockets make it impossible to insert Europlug pins!  The configuration shown for Australia is not legal there, as all power pins must be partially sleeved.

The MICRO travel adaptor, as advertised, does NOT conform to BS 8546, and it would take a very substantial redesign to bring it into conformance, this would result in a very much larger product (there is a reason that other universal travel adaptors are much larger).  A clue to why this product is so small is contained in the designer’s philosophy which he stated on the campaign web page (shown right, incorrectly attributed to ‘The Little Prince’). 

Daniel
BS_8546_compliant_pins

The designer appears not to understand that the basic safety features which the standard requires are not amongst the things which he can “take away”! 

Take a look at the pin face of a “universal” travel adaptor which has been designed to meet the standard, as shown on the right.  The circular black part to the left of the pins is the fuse access.  It is placed there to comply with the requirement that it not be possible to gain access to a fuse while the adaptor is plugged into a socket, which would pose a risk of electric shock. The MICRO video clearly shows that the fuse can be accessed by sliding the coloured portion away from the plug end, so there is no apparent method of preventing fuse access while the adaptor is live!

Now look at the four distinct pin sets in the compliant adaptor (they have been outlined with different colours for each set).  These provide an earthed UK pin set (yellow), an earthed American pin set (orange), an earthed Australian pin set (green), and an earthed pin set which will fit most recessed European sockets and the new South African standard (pink).  Travel adaptors intended to plug into earthed systems, such as the UK (BS 1363) and Australian (AS/NZS 3112) standards, must include an earth connection for the connected plug, but the MICRO has no earthing, and is therefore non-compliant.

As has been noted above, the pins in the MICRO intended for use in the UK are not the right shape, and the pins intended for use in Australia are not sleeved, and therefore neither are compliant with the required standards.  In addition, there is a requirement that UK power pins must be at least 9.5 mm from the edge of the plug, taking into account the width of the pins, and their spacing, that means that the minimum width of a UK compliant plug is 4.8 cm.  The specification for MICRO (above) clearly states that it is 3.1 cm wide and therefore it is obviously illegal!

The standard also requires that travel adaptors for use in polarized socket outlets shall maintain the polarity between plug pins and socket contacts. British, American and Australian plugs all fall into this category. Note that in the compliant adaptor the British and Australian pin sets are both oriented with the earth pins uppermost, while the American pin set is oriented with the earth pin below the others, this ensures that the polarity of the pins is the same in all cases.  There is no such provision in the MICRO; neither does the MICRO have the wider neutral blade which is required in a two-pin American plug.

Pin_face_3

The socket part of a travel adaptor intended to accept Schuko type plugs (which are earthed plugs) must be recessed and provide the necessary earthing contacts, MICRO does not do that.  Because it is not possible to engage British, American and Australian plugs with a recessed socket it is necessary to have a separate adaptor which plugs into a recessed socket and provides the necessary socket contacts, such as the one on the right which is part of a universal travel adaptor designed to meet the standard.  This provides appropriate earthing, line and neutral contacts (they have also been outlined with different colours for each set).  Note that, in addition to the British, American and Australian contacts, there are also contacts for European plugs which do not require a recessed socket (Italian plugs and the unearthed ‘Europlug’), these are outlined in pink.

The contacts are also oriented to ensure that the correct polarity is maintained between all of the plug pins and all of the socket contacts, as required by the standard, and that the neutral slot for the American plug is wider than the line slot, ensuring that two-pin American plugs will only fit the correct way.  None of these essential features are present in the MICRO.

Note that the compliant socket is equipped with shutters (they are a red colour) to block entry of foreign objects into the line and neutral, as required by the standard.  In the MICRO picture there is a clear view of the metal contacts, indicating that there are no shutters, another lack of compliance with the standard.

The standard requires that it be not possible for an earthing pin of any plug intended to be used with the adapter to touch a current carrying socket contact.  In practice this requires that the socket face is sufficiently large to prevent, for example, the earth pin of a US or British plug entering a live socket contact.  Even if the earth pin is small enough to enter an aperture, the other pins will hit the socket face and prevent the earth pin being inserted as far as the contacts. MICRO, by design, does not have a sufficiently large socket face to do this!  Another problem with the MICRO is that the same apertures are used for all pin types.  Not only does this reduce the effective contact area available, but it makes the apertures much larger than normal.  As a result, a UK earth pin can easily enter the line contact; in such an event the metal case of an earthed appliance would become live!  In the compliant adaptor socket the apertures are of normal size. 

The earth pin problem is similar to one of the faults in the withdrawn Belkin F8E449ea adaptor which is described and pictured on the linked page.

BS_8546_compliant_sockets_1
Socket_face_1

The standard also requires that “any current-carrying plug-pin of the travel adaptor or of a plug intended to be engaged with the travel adaptor does not make contact with a current-carrying socket-contact while any other plug-pin is accessible”.  This means that it must not be possible to insert a single pin of a plug in such a way that any other pin “overhangs” the socket.  If this did happen then the overhanging pin would become an accessible live part which, if touched, could cause electrocution!  (It was for this reason that the Dutch authorities caused the Belkin F8E449ea adaptor to be withdrawn from sale back in 2007, long before the existence of either BS 8546 or the current version of IEC 60884-2-5.)  The small size of the MICRO socket face, even smaller than the illegal Belkin, means that there is nothing to prevent this very dangerous, potentially lethal, situation occurring.

BS 8546 requires that an adaptor intended to be used with a BS 1363 socket shall be fitted with a fuse conforming to BS 1362, this is the fuse used in a standard British plug. The MICRO specification includes a T6.3A fuse, which does NOT comply with BS 1362.  A fuse in a travel adaptor is not just to protect against overload currents, it is primarily to protect against fault currents such as those caused by short circuits in the flexible cord connected to the plug.  This means that the fuse should not only operate when its rated current is exceeded, but it must be capable of breaking a current which is many times greater than its rated current, it may be several thousand amps!  A fuse with this capability is normally made with a strong ceramic body, and contains silica sand to quench any arcing within the fuse body and prevent a dangerous explosion.  To see what happens when a non-compliant fuse is subject to a short circuit current from mains power watch this video.

When, back in 2007, the Dutch authorities explained to Belkin that their product was unsafe and did not comply with European regulations, Belkin responded in a responsible manner by withdrawing the product from sale, recalling those already sold, and reimbursing purchasers, as reported in news media at the time.

By comparison, when expert engineers, who were involved in the creation of the relevant standards, and in the product approval process, together with Trading Standards officers (British law enforcement officials) with a statutory duty to protect the public from dangerous electrical accessories, explained to the company who developed MICRO that their product was dangerous, and could not receive approval, they had a very different reaction.  This is what a company representative wrote on the Kickstarter promotion after Kickstarter suspended their campaign and refunded the backers:

Comment_on_trading_standards

Not only has this British company, Kickstart Success Ltd, (offering to supply a product intended to be used in Britain) declared their contempt for British law enforcement by claiming they have “no business assessing or certifying products such as MICRO”, but, having been kicked off of Kickstarter, they then continued to raise funds on another crowdfunding website for the same dangerous and illegal product!

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