International Standards and Conformity Assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies
IEC History

IEC History




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Scheveningen, The Hague,
The Netherlands 1952

Development and growth of IEC technical committees: 1950 to 2006

This is the second part of an article written by former IEC General Secretary, Tony Raeburn, that traces the expansion of the IEC through its technical committees over the 10 decades from 1906 to 2006.

1950 - 1959

During this period, it became clear that the scope of activity of many technical committees (TCs) had become too wide to be easily manageable and covered by ever-more specialist experts. As a consequence, the practice of creating subcommittees (SCs) and a wide range of working groups became more common. This made things easier for delegates able to attend shorter SC meetings rather than longer full TC meetings which, depending on the amount of work to be discussed, could last a week or more. With the passage of time, the workload in many of these SCs became larger and of more importance than that of the parent committee, and in many cases merited their promotion to full TC level.


The technological advances made during the war were rapidly reflected by the uptake of related standardization activities by the IEC. Among these were TC39 (Electronic tubes and valves and analogous semiconductor devices), which, in 1957 already, started work in SC39-2 on semiconductor devices under US chairmanship. Of equal note was the formation in 1958 of TC45 (Electrical measuring instruments used in connection with ionizing radiation; now known as Nuclear instrumentation), again with a USA chair.


The electronics sector took a big step forward with the creation in 1954 of TC40 (Components for electrical equipment) and the immediate creation of subcommittees covering capacitors, resistors, high frequency cables and connectors, piezoelectric switches, plugs, sockets and switches, and ferromagnetic material parts. A change in culture was also taking place at this time. Up to now, the chairman had, for all intents and purposes, ruled the TC. But now, the secretariat began to set the agenda and the chairman essentially ensured fair play. In order not to put too much influence into the hands of one NC however, it became IEC practice to insist on secretaries and chairs from different countries.

1960 - 1969

The trend was continued into the 1960s as TC46 (Cables, wires and waveguides for telecommunication equipment) began to work. The IEC elevated work previously taking place under the aegis of TC39 to a full committee, TC47 (Semiconductor devices) and its later subcommittee on integrated circuits. This decade also saw the creation of a specialist committee on environmental testing, TC50, and much more specialization in electronic equipment and its components including TC48 (Electromechanical components), TC49 (Piezoelectric crystals and associated devices), TC51 (Ferromagnetic materials), TC52 (Printed circuits), TC60 (Recording) and TC67 (Analogue computing equipment).


The IEC was also there at the dawn of the Information Age, setting up TC53 (Computers and information processing) in 1960.


The wider markets for electrical and electronic products and the need for increased safety at the consumer level were evidenced by the creation of the TCs dealing with electrical installations in buildings (TC64), the performance (TC59) and the safety (TC61) of household electrical appliances, followed shortly by TC72 (Automatic controls for household use) in 1970 and in the forming of TC62 to cover electrical equipment in medical practice. In 1967 a most influential committee on industrial automation was created, TC65 (Industrial process measurement and control), whose work has had a significant effect on the more recent development of process control systems.

1970 - 1979

Very few new TCs were created during this period, since technology developments fell mostly within the scope of existing TCs and were handled by the many new subcommittees as required. However, the growing use and interest in electrically propelled vehicles led to the work of TC69 (Electric road vehicles).


Another important device coming into more general use was the laser, and TC76 (Laser equipment) was formed in 1972.


The rapid development of high frequency communications and other radiofrequency applications was making electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) a major concern. The IEC already controlled a joint committee with representation from several TCs and other agencies, principally from the International Telecommunication Union (the Special International Committee on Radio Interference, known by its French acronym as CISPR), but its task was limited to specifying emission and susceptibility limits. More specific work was needed on measurements, techniques and co-ordination between various equipment committees, so TC77 (Electromagnetic compatibility), was founded in 1973.


The increasing influence of computing in day-to-day life was recognized in 1972 by the creation of TC74 (Safety of data processing equipment and office machines).


The importance of IEC to transport systems was extended further by the formation in 1979 of TC80 (Navigational instruments), whose scope has now expanded to become maritime navigation and radiocommunication equipment and systems.

1980 - 1989

In 1982, TC74, referred to above, was joined by TC83 (Information technology equipment). Later in the decade, in 1987, all IEC hardware work in information technology was combined with the ISO software related work to form the first and sole Joint Technical Committee, IEC/ISO JTC1 on Information Technology, the pre-eminence of the United States in this field being reflected by the appointment of both secretariat and chairman from that country.


The rapid take-up of new technologies was evidenced in this decade by the creation of TC82 (Solar photovoltaic energy systems), TC86 (Fibre optics), which had previously been dealt with in a subcommittee of TC46 for telecommunications, and TC90 (Superconductivity).


With the continuing search for further forms of alternative energy sources, wind turbines were being introduced into more general use at this time and standardization was assured through the creation of TC88 (Wind turbines), in 1987.

1990 - 1999

The 1990s was very much a time for consolidation. Many subjects treated in subcommittees had become so important that they were converted to full TC status often in combination with others engaged in associated topics.


In transport, the role of the IEC in the aviation sector was enhanced by the creation in 1994 of TC97 (Electrical installations for lighting and beaconing of aerodromes).


In 1992, the increasing pervasiveness of microelectronics and, in particular, the increasing use of sophisticated programs for chip design, led to the forming of TC93 (Design automation). At the next level of fabrication, new techniques were also developing fast and TC91 (Electronics assembly technology) was formed to ensure standardization in this technology.


In consumer electronics, the lines between the different media carrying audio, images and video were becoming more and more blurred. The IEC reacted in 1995 by combining the fragmentation of work in the multimedia area in 1995 under one management structure, somewhat along the lines of JTC1, and known as TC100 (Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment).


In view of the increasingly rapid cycle time from innovation to marketable products and services, the IEC now found itself having to commence standardization in parallel with the development of new technologies and often well ahead of application and market launch. A case in point during this period was the creation in 1998 of TC105 (Fuel cell technologies).

2000 - 2006

Over the past half-decade the IEC has expanded into new territory that is either high-tech or of high political visibility. In 2000 it created TC107 (Process management for avionics), followed by TC108 (Safety of electronic equipment within the field of audio/video, information technology and communication technology) and TC109 (Insulation co-ordination for low-voltage equipment), both set up in 2001.


In 2003, the IEC transformed Subcommittee 47C into TC110 (Flat panel display devices) as this technology matured into a significant segment of the consumer electronics and office equipment markets (laptop computers and both plasma and LCD television screens).


At the grass-roots level, the environment has been a growing concern for at least three or four decades. This bottom-up pressure began to have a visible influence on business and governmental leaders in the 1990s, with the Kyoto Protocol as one example. 2004 saw the IEC create TC111 (Environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems) to look at how to ensure that IEC standards work takes the environment into account.


As a way to rationalize growing overlap in the work of two different committees, in 2005 the IEC merged SC15E and TC98 to form TC112 (Evaluation and qualification of electrical insulating materials and systems).

Beyond 2006

Other TCs will follow as new technologies emerge and as new industries form. Today the IEC carries out its work using the most contemporary tools and the most up-to-date ideas for serving its market. These include web rooms and online database standards, among many other examples.


The IEC also keeps an eye on the future through the President’s Advisory Committee on future Technologies, which continues to assess those emerging trends that might require dedicated standardization efforts.


Finally, participation has always been a key aspect of the IEC: whoever wants to be involved is given the opportunity to do so. In 2001 the IEC took this idea a step further and created the Affiliate Country Programme which helps industrializing countries to get involved in IEC work at no cost, in the hope that one day they will be ready to join as members. Just as new technologies emerge to join the panoply of electrical and electronic goods and services that enrich our lives, so new participants appear and seek a place at the table. The IEC welcomes and encourages this participation. This makes the IEC a truly international organization.