July/August 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 4
by Kevin Lippert, President, United States National Committee
Kevin Lippert is the Manager of Codes & Standards at Eaton Corporation.
Most people don’t know that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has some origins in the United States. At the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904, the International Electrical Congress met, and several exhibits demonstrated the “new” phenomenon of electricity. However, many variations were already present within the displays: alternating current (AC), direct current (DC), single phase, two phase, and three phase.
Because of the different voltages and frequencies, this power was accessed through many different plugs and connection configurations. As a result, the Congress proposed a permanent international group to begin standardization in this area. The resulting IEC held its first meeting in 1906.
From its humble beginnings with 14 countries represented, the IEC has evolved into a large organization with 89 Member countries. The United States National Committee (USNC), with more than 4,000 participants contributing to IEC work, coordinates U.S. participation in the commission. These participants represent various communities, including government, consumer, academia, and industry. Their work focuses on the areas of Standards and conformity assessment.
Numerous NEMA Member companies support their employees’ participation in IEC activities. You might ask yourself—“Why?”
Over the past 30 years, NEMA Product Groups have continued to grow their participation in the IEC and USNC. Many NEMA Members have a global presence and value the ability to ship the same product design for installation anywhere in the world. The goal of “one Standard, one test, accepted everywhere” can be achieved through IEC Standards, and U.S. industry should have an active role in the development of those Standards.
Several NEMA product groups have gone through Standards harmonization activities to align requirements between historical ANSI/NEMA/UL Standards and IEC. More and more products have become “Listed” by certification agencies to IEC Standards. Reducing region-specific requirements and embracing challenges and opportunities reflective of a global marketplace can make business sense.
A prime example of this is cybersecurity. As we learned from recent headlines, there are no geographical boundaries to cyber threats. That is why it is vital to approach standardization globally and actively participate in IEC efforts.
I have been a Member of an IEC Governance Review Task Force over the past year. This select group meets regularly to review the Statutes and Rules of Procedure (SRoP), which specify how to govern the IEC. Through regular consultation with select experienced Members of the USNC, I have been able to identify critical U.S. positions to address in the proposed revisions to the SRoP. This is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity, and the U.S. has been influential in setting up the governance of the IEC to promptly and properlyaddress future challenges that await the Standards and conformity assessment communities. It has also made sure to include major U.S. positions.
Conformity assessment (CA) of electrical products continues to grow in importance, too. Perfect Standards, if they aren’t followed, do no good. The IEC offers CA “schemes” to assist manufacturers in determining that their products conform to IEC Standards’ requirements. Manufacturers that utilize certification bodies participating in these CA schemes can “test once” and benefit from having the other Members of the scheme accept those test results without requiring unnecessary redundant testing. The U.S. is an active participant in the IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB). Additionally, the U.S. presently serves as the vice chair of the International Electrotechnical Commission for Electrical Equipment, assuming the chair role in 2022.
I encourage other NEMA Members to consider becoming engaged with—or increasing their present engagement with—the IEC and USNC. We can all work together to align global requirements to speed the digital transformation, ensure safe installation and use of our products, combat ever-growing threats from malicious actors, and address threats to our environment. ei