For many manufacturers of a variety of industrial electronic equipment, the gateway to export markets in China, Russia, Brazil and much of the rest of the world is a small company off Patapsco Avenue in southern Baltimore.
MET Laboratories Inc. is an electrical testing company, accredited by the federal government to approve products exported to far corners of the globe as well as those coming into the United States.
The company tests a variety of industrial equipment ranging from electric wheelchairs and telecommunication equipment to telephones and CB radios to verify that they meet standards established by government agencies.
"We test to make sure that equipment is not emitting electronic signals beyond their authorized limits," said Carlton Bennett, MET's quality manager.
He explained that a CB radio can interfere with all the television sets within a city block if its signal is too strong.
More importantly, Bennett said, the company tests hospital equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging machines, to make certain the electronics of one piece of equipment does not interfere with a piece of equipment in the next room.
"We know all the global standards and test for most countries," said Leonard Frier, 65, the chairman of MET who started the company 41 years ago in the basement of his Baltimore home.
The nature of its international involvement is clearly visible. On one recent day, Frier played host to 50 delegates from China. At the same time, there were three engineers visiting from Finland and two from Israel.
"They wanted to know how the lab works," Frier said of the visiting Chinese engineers and senior engineers representing various government organizations, including the Shenzhen Institute of Measurement and Testing Technology and the Guangxi Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision.
The Chinese asked about the U.S. accreditation system and how it could be operated by private industry.
"They were very interested in our testing equipment," Frier said. "They wanted to know how much everything cost. We gave them the information, but it was in U.S. dollars. I'm sure they understood."
A lot of the time, visitors come with their products and they want to witness the testing, Frier said. He said there are times when visiting engineers will make adjustments to a piece of equipment in the lab to obtain MET's approval.
Much of the testing is done by putting a piece of equipment in a chamber and bombarding it with radio waves of different frequencies, as well as detecting the frequencies it emits.
Deregulation of the telephone industry brought MET a lot of new business. "There was a time," Bennett said, "when all the telephones were made by one company." All of the new manufacturers had to have their phones tested and approved before they could be sold in the United States.
MET lists more than 150 companies among its customers, including some of the largest in the country, including AT&T; Corp., Becton Dickinson & Co., General Electric Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory.
While it serves some industry giants, MET Laboratories is a miniature version of the much better known Underwriters Laboratories Inc., the North Brook, Ill., company whose logo appears on nearly every toaster, television, radio, microwave oven and other piece of consumer electronics equipment sold in this country.
If UL is the Goliath of the electronics testing industry, MET has to be considered the David of the trade.
It was MET's court challenge of OSHA regulations that had virtually given UL a monopoly in the electronics testing industry that opened the door for new companies to enter the field.
"I battled for 14 years to get a nationally recognized testing laboratory designation," said Frier. "I broke the UL monopoly" in 1988.
Charles W. Hyer, editor of TMO Update, a Ridgefield, Conn., electronics industry testing newsletter, agrees. "Lenny Frier was the one guy who had the courage to challenge UL," said Hyer. "He filed suit against OSHA. He fought the good fight for years. There's no doubt about it; he opened the door that allows other companies to compete with UL."
As a result of MET's court victory, Hyer said, 15 electronics testing companies have obtained government certification and entered the testing business.
Like MET, which posted sales of $12 million last year and has 105 employees, they are small.
"All 15, combined, don't match UL's business," said Hyer. "But the door is open to them, thanks to MET Lab."