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New Industries, New Challenges

By the mid-1980s, NEMA consisted of nine product divisions representing different categories of electrical manufacturing; these divisions were supported by a number of economics and policy committees.

On the standards front, NEMA had several high profile successes in the 1980s, including a widely adopted ultrasound imaging and diagnostic standard that was praised by the Food and Drug Administration. New medical technologies were embraced by the association, which reconstituted the x-ray and electromedical apparatus section as a full division with representation for x-ray, radiation therapy, and electromagnetic imaging device manufacturers.

Other emerging forms of electrical technology were also incorporated into the association; in 1986, the Industrial Automation Division was created to promote standards in industrial robotics and control systems. By the end of the decade, NEMA boasted nearly 600 member companies representing an impressive cross-section of domestic electrical manufacturing.

Globalization became a watchword for both industry and politics in the 1990s. For NEMA, the term came to signify active cooperation with European standards-writing organizations and involvement with the Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standards of the Nations of the Americas (CANENA). The association had expanded its role in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), seeking to overcome technical barriers to trade and fully opening foreign markets to American-made electrical products.

NEMA further broadened its global influence in 2000 by opening offices in São Paulo, Brazil, and Mexico City, Mexico, establishing a presence inside the two largest countries in Latin America. The offices work with local standards authorities and certification organizations to ensure that markets for products built to U.S. standards are open and that certification is evenly enforced across producers from all countries without the need for duplicate testing.

In the late 1990s and the early years of the new millennium, energy conservation took on renewed importance as power disruptions in various parts of the country raised questions about the nation’s electrical infrastructure and its energy efficiency technologies. Fluctuating oil prices, consumer gas price increases, and electricity all contributed to a public call for greater conservation and energy efficiency.

As in earlier years, NEMA in 2001 stepped to the forefront of a national energy debate, testifying several times in Congress and the Department of Energy and using online tools for the first time to engage member companies across the nation in a grassroots lobbying campaign.

Even before the debate began in earnest, NEMA had been involved in several initiatives and partnerships to develop and increase use of energy efficiency technologies. NEMA helped launch the National Lighting Bureau, a not-for-profit educational organization whose mission is to promote the use of High-Benefit Lighting™. NEMA Lighting Systems Division member companies partnered with the Department of Energy and other trade associations to develop a vision for the lighting community for the year 2020 and to identify the trade and technical barriers that needed to be overcome in order to achieve that vision. In the mid-90s, NEMA published TP 1, a Guide for Determining Energy Efficiency for Distribution Transformers, and in 2001, NEMA motor manufacturers established the NEMA Premium™ Efficiency Electric Motor Campaign, a national labeling and marketing program to promote the specification and application of premium efficiency electric motors. The program calls for higher efficiency than the existing federal standards.

The onset of the 21st century seemed to accelerate the pace of change—globalization, tumbling trade barriers, industry consolidations, and the widespread use of new communications technologies—thus challenging NEMA’s internal business practices. NEMA adopted a new organizational strategy, adding a multi-section funding model to address important emerging issues. In addition, the governance structure was streamlined and its core areas of engineering, economics, and government affairs were expanded to include a fourth core area, e-commerce and e-communications. These changes, along with the deployment of new technology to leverage the power of networking and the internet improved communications and coordination throughout the association, and once again demonstrated NEMA’s ability to evolve to meet its member objectives.

Safety issues have never been far from the center of NEMA’s radar screen. The last decade of the twentieth century was no different. In that decade, NEMA helped launch the National Electrical Safety Foundation, a national non-profit organization devoted to promoting the safe use of electrical equipment. The association and the electrical industry also teamed with the federal government to fund an exhaustive study to investigate the effects of low level electromagnetic frequencies on public health.

Never wavering from a vision of an industry unified by standards of excellence, NEMA continues to tackle emerging technical, regulatory, and economic issues. Standards development remains the primary mission of the association, but serious attention is also given to economic, safety, and political matters.

NEMA was created by a group of individuals who envisioned a marketplace dominated by safe and compatible electrical products. After 75 years of hard work, NEMA continues to pursue a fit of products and policies—that benefit both manufacturers and consumers in the United States and throughout the world.


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