The International Eletctrotechnical Commission has a long history going back more than a century. The IEC was officially founded in June 1906, in London, where its central office was set up. Since then, the IEC has continuously evolved, with its role changing as technology advanced.
1906 — 1909
At the dawn of the IEC era, the most important topics in electrotechnology of the time were considered in plenary assembly.
The first three topics for study concerned the vocabulary, symbols and ratings of electrical machines. Agreement on the first two was essential if understanding at the international level were to be achieved, and the latter was mandated by the St. Louis conference of 1904, which set up the Commission.
1910 — 1919
The period up to World War I saw the first three advisory committees (the original name for technical committees) come into being.
The speed at which these early committees worked is impressive, given the limitations in communications and transport of those times. By 1914, the IEC had issued its first list of terms and definitions covering electrical machinery and apparatus, a list of international letter symbols for quantities and signs for the names of units and others.
Soon after the end of World War I, work restarted and, in October 1919, a plenary meeting in London saw representatives of 20 countries attending.
1920 — 1929
This decade enjoyed a rapid expansion of both the scope of, and participation in, the IEC work. Most effort was still concentrated in the power sector but also reaching out to consumer items.
Also, the advances in transport, electronic and telecommunication technologies made during the war began to influence the market and this was quickly reflected in the need for international standards.
1930 — 1939
This period experienced significant consolidation and advances, unfortunately to be interrupted by World War II.
In 1938 the IEC published the first edition of the International Electrotechnical Vocabulary, prepared by TC1 — a milestone. It contained more than 2,000 terms in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Esperanto, with definitions in the first two languages.
1940 — 1949
The bulk of this decade being dominated by World War II, very little IEC work was achieved. In 1948 the Central Office moved from London to Geneva, where many allied United Nations agencies were being set up, and where the ISO was also being founded.
1950 — 1959
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.
1960 — 1969
The trend continued into the 1960s as TC46 (cables, wires and waveguides for telecommunication equipment) began 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.
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.
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).
1980 — 1989
The rapid take-up of new technologies was evidenced in this decade by the creation of TC82 (solar photovoltaic energy systems), TC86 (fiber optics), which had previously been dealt with in a subcommittee of TC46 for telecommunications, and TC90 (superconductivity).
1990 — 1999
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).
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 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
Through the beginning of this century, the IEC 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 coordination for low-voltage equipment), both set up in 2001.
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.
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.