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What you need to know about the IEC

The IEC is an organization that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies.


Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) standards are necessary in order to help ensure that electronic and electrical products will operate as intended within their expected environment while limiting the emission of electromagnetic noise so as to not cause harmful interference to other devices within that environment.

When it comes to EMC, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is one of the main developers of standards that have been adopted by businesses and governments around the world. There are EMC test equipment manufacturers, such as Com-Power Corporation, that can advise manufacturers and designers on making the right decisions in order to help ensure their products meet the standards that have been set by the IEC and other organizations like it. 

What is it?

The IEC is an organization that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies. The IEC’s members are called national committees, each made up of experts and delegates from industry, government, associations, and academia from each of the 89 full and associate member nations.

Along with the full and associate members, there are 84 countries in the affiliate program, which was created to help developing countries gain access to the IEC without having to contribute financially. This program has expanded the reach of standardization, allowing import and export from these developing areas with the assurance that their products and services operate safely and efficiently in their given environment.

According to their site, the IEC’s purpose is to promote world trade and economic growth while encouraging the development of products, systems, and services that are safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly.

The standards that the IEC has put in place serve as a basis for national standardization and as a reference when drafting international tenders and contracts by promoting global cooperation on electrotechnical standardization matters. With headquarters in Geneva Switzerland, and offices all over the world, the IEC has positioned itself as a global authority on EMC compliance and uniformity of standards.


At the first International Electrical Congress, which took place in 1881 in France, the International System of Electrical and Magnetic Units were agreed to. However, it wouldn’t be until 1906 that the IEC held its inaugural meeting, after discussions among the British and American Institutions of Electrical Engineers, among others, began at the Paris International Electrical Congress in 1900.

The first elected president of the IEC was Lord Kelvin, for whom the unit Kelvin was named. Throughout its early history, the IEC played a big part in developing and distributing standards for units of measurement, including the gauss, hertz, and weber. The IEC also published a multilingual international vocabulary that unified the terminology related to electrical, electronic and related technologies in 1938, and continues to update this work as its importance has only grown in the electronic and electrical industries.

The definition the IEC gives in all their standards is that a standard is “A normative document, developed according to consensus procedures, which has been approved by the IEC National Committee members.” This means that the process by which new standards are agreed upon is highly collaborative, with all National Committees able to participate in the preparatory work of an International Standard.

An International Standard is approved by consensus, meaning that a two-thirds majority of the votes that are cast are in favor, and not more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast are negative. Also, the adoption of such standards by any country, whether it is a member out not, is entirely voluntary.


IEC standards now have numbers in the range of 60000-70000, following an agreement with the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) in 1997 that added 60000 to older IEC standards. The IEC cooperates closely with several organizations, including the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Standard titles typically take a form such as IEC-61000-4-6: Testing and measurement technique – Immunity to conducted disturbances, induced by radio-frequency fields, unless they have been developed jointly with the ISO, in which case the title will start off with ISO/IEC. IEC standards that have been adopted by the CENELEC as a European standard will begin with EN in place of IEC. 

With IEC standards continuing to be adopted by regulating bodies in regions and countries around the world, the IEC now has over 10,000 electrical and electronics experts around the world, who continue to work as part of their respective National Committees in order to advance the continued adoption of international standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies.

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