Alongside IEC Standards, certification is becoming SMART

Leveraging leading edge technologies and identifying market needs

The IEC operates four Conformity Assessment Systems that ensure products adhere to IEC Standards. IECEE, the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components, offers testing and certification for 23 categories of electrical and electronic products, from household appliance and office equipment to transformers and medical devices, that align with over 3 000 standards.


Since its establishment in 1985, IECEE has issued over 1,6 million certificates which, as the Chair of IECEE Steven Margis notes, “have had a substantial global impact ensuring the safety and performance of products, reduced costs and delays for industry and boosted global trade.”

Safety and performance have long been the hallmarks of the IEC Conformity Assessment Systems. However, new questions are emerging regarding the role of conformity assessment in ensuring safety and performance as new technologies and services are developed. For IECEE, the application of a flexible approach allows it to respond effectively to the evolving needs of its members.

Cyber security: a ground-breaking approach

The digital age has brought new opportunities. The network that connects an array of sensors that gather, analyze and communicate data with other devices within the system can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance flexibility. However, these benefits also bring challenges related to security.

The IEC has published the IEC 62443 series of standards to provides security for industrial automation and control systems. In 2016, IECEE developed a programme to test and certify cyber security based on parts of this series. According to Margis, “At the time, this was a ground-breaking initiative for us. Not only was a new technology introduced into IECEE but also a new approach to performing assessments in comparison with other areas.”

Certification to IEC 62443 requires an assessment against a set of technical capabilities (IEC 62443-3-3, IEC 62443-4-2) or process-oriented capabilities (IEC 62443-2-4, IEC 62443-4-1). As Margis notes, “With cyber security, we focus on capabilities, competencies, and maturity and security levels. It is not our traditional approach of empirical laboratory testing to determine compliance results.”

The IECEE developed its certification programme for cyber security based upon the identified market needs of its stakeholders. “We are offering a solution that leverages IEC standardization in an emerging technology to introduce defined levels of cybersecurity to the marketplace.”

Introducing artificial intelligence

AI technologies train computers to accomplish specific tasks by processing and recognizing patterns in huge amounts of data. With machine learning, it is possible to train algorithms to make classifications or predictions based on key insights gained from the data they mine. This can help drive decision-making, such as maintaining machinery in manufacturing plants or improving safety in autonomous vehicles.

While the standardization of AI is underway, it remains a nascent technology within the realm of conformity assessment. According to Margis, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), much like cyber security, require the development of standards to establish international consensus regarding approaches to compliance in these emerging areas.

AI/ML technologies introduce new challenges related to conformity assessment in that these technologies operate dynamically. They are continually evolving, learning and adapting. “These use cases and applications will require both the standards and conformity assessment communities to re-assess time honoured models to ensure appropriate levels of compliance to meet market needs and expectations can continue within the framework of these modern technologies.”

Defining smart applications

Smart is a ubiquitous term used in many different areas from smart tech to smart grids and smart lighting applications. While it may have different meanings depending on the technology use case, it is generally recognized within the standardization community to define specific types of smart functionality and related protocols. For example, smart automation can be utilized to remotely turn on a light, change its colour or brightness or monitor a video feed from a specific home or factory floor camera.

…and SMART standards

As part of its digital transformation, the IEC is exploring ways to provide dynamic deliverables that adapt to the needs of users in a much more flexible way. Together with ISO, the IEC is developing a common vision for so-called SMART standards that will be modular, machine readable, and eventually, machine interpretable and executable.

By offering users Standards as a Service (SaaS), it will be possible for machines to pick not only entire standards, but also paragraphs or even smaller information units from different publications, and to combine them in a way that addresses specific needs.

Conformity assessment is essential to the integrity of IEC Standards and has been included within the scope of the SMART standards work. As Margis notes, “Conformity assessment will need to assess how SMART standards will impact the conformity assessment services offered in relation to these standards. We look forward to taking part as a stakeholder in the process of evolving traditional standards into SMART standards and assessing the innovations and opportunities that those SMART standards create for the global marketplace through conformity assessment services.”

The digital transformation underway has impacted the standardization and conformity assessment community. As Margis concludes, “An evolution is underway in lockstep with the needs and requirements of IEC stakeholders and the larger community of global acceptance interests. To be effective to those interests, it is key that the IEC continues to expand its reach and engage market stakeholders, including regulators and local acceptance interests, via its network of National Committees and related Member Bodies from full members, associate members and affiliate members alike.”