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Otto Walch is Coordinator for International Certification, Laboratories and Standardisation at R. Stahl.

Image: R. Stahl

IEC standards conference "IEC standards are not accepted everywhere"

Apr 25, 2019

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has set itself the task of making uniform standards valid for all electric, electronic and related technologies globally. In an interview with the A&D India, Otto Walch, Coordinator for International Certification, Laboratories and Standardisation at R. Stahl talks about the work and challenges of the IEC.

In April, R. Stahl was the first manufacturer in a long time to host the standards conference of the IEC's Technical Committee (TC) 31. How did that happen?

The IEC officially asks all members whether they are able to hold the standards conference. We told them that we would be happy to deliver the conference.

A lot of preparation went into the conference …

That's true. We agreed on the date and number of meetings with TC 31. Hotels were chosen and rooms were reserved. Meeting rooms also had to be selected and prepared in-house. The question constantly being asked during all of these preparations was how many people can fit into each room. The canteen also had to be consulted and we informed R. Stahl employees.

How does the IEC work?

The IEC was founded in 1906 and is the leading institution in the world for creating and publishing standards. At the moment, 105 technical committees and a further 100 subcommittees are working on creating the corresponding standards. TC 31 is a technical committee entitled "Equipment for explosive atmospheres". The IEC's directives encompass all electric devices, from those used in homes right up to industrial applications. Nearly 20,000 experts from industry, trade, authorities, testing and research laboratories, universities and user groups are involved in the standardisation work. If no standard exists for a particular topic, new standards or technical specifications need to be created. Revising a standard so that it corresponds to state-of-the-art technology is also part of the job.

What are the most important IEC topics?

Here, we have to consider various aspects. What is important is that devices that have been developed and eventually built according to the standards fulfil the specified safety requirements and operate in a safe way. The global validity of equal requirements is another very important area. These are just a few examples of many IEC topics.

How long has R. Stahl been an IEC member?

We have been working on the creation of IEC standards since the middle of the 1980s. We are part of the various standardisation bodies to ensure that, from a technical perspective, new regulations and standards can always be implemented effectively in practice and that test procedures are rigorous, safe, and as efficient as possible.

Employees take on a lot of very different tasks. What is your position within the committee?

I personally am the convenor of the WG 42 working group entitled "Safety Devices Related to Explosion Risk" and of the maintenance team MT 60079-18. In WG 42 we have recently created a technical specification that was published on April 17th, 2019. The maintenance team is responsible for ensuring that the 60079-18 standard entitled "Explosive atmospheres - Part 18: Equipment protection by encapsulation" corresponds to state-of-the-art technology and that a new edition of this standard is created if necessary. I am also an active member of several working groups and MTs, for example the chairman's advisory group and topics like low-voltage switchgear and control gear and plant construction in hazardous areas.

The TC31 of the IEC has set itself the task of creating globally-uniform and globally-valid standards for all electric, electronic and related technologies. Why is this uniformity so important and what challenges are members faced with in their work?

Many companies have branches in different countries and continents, and they distribute their products worldwide. Yet, so that the electric devices can be used everywhere, the manufacturer of the certified devices not only has to fulfil the specifications of the IECEx certification system, which is consistent worldwide, but also has to apply for certifications based on local standards. Unfortunately, the IECEx system is not fully accepted everywhere. Many regions have different, local laws and standards that have to be adhered to. However, the various national specifications are not always in line with IEC specifications. That means a lot of work for a company that operates internationally. As a result, manufacturers and users are very interested in the same standards being valid worldwide.

Can you give us two examples of regions that only partially accept the IECEx system?

That is difficult to answer in just a few sentences. Broadly speaking: Compared with the labelling requirements of standard 60079-0, the ATEX directive stipulates an additional label in Europe. When certification for the division system is required in the USA, American standards are observed. When certification is requested according to the zone system, the national, American standards have to be observed, which deviate from the IEC standards. Even "ordinary location" requirements always have to be checked in America.

The IECEx certification ensures that all safety requirements of the IEC standards are fulfilled. What are the main differences between that and the ATEX directive?

There are no technical differences; the safety requirements are identical. The difference between a product certified according to the IECEx system and one certified according to the ATEX directive is usually just different labelling, provided that the standards that the certification uses are the same. In Europe, IEC standards for explosion protection are usually transferred into the European standard without modifications. Every EU member state has to convert European standards into national standards, which means that these are the same as the IEC standards.

What challenges arise in product explosion protection in the industry 4.0 era?

As I have already mentioned, standards have to be revised so that they correspond to state-of-the-art technology. As you know, industry 4.0 has several aims. One of these is networking all devices. Then, this has to be implemented in a safe way for hazardous areas. One thing to consider in this context is "cyber security" because explosion protection cannot be avoided or nullified by other specifications.

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