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International and national standards (IEC, ISO, DIN, …)

What are standards?

Standards are documented, generally voluntary agreements which establish the criteria for products, services and procedures. Standards can be used to guarantee that products and services are fit for purpose, comparable and compatible.


International standards – published by IEC and ISO

The most important publishers of standards for engineering at international level are the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) based in Geneva. The IEC is primarily concerned with the issues of electrics and electronics, while ISO deals mainly with mechanics. Well over 100 countries are currently members of these organisations, which gives considerable weight to those standards developed by IEC and ISO.

Standards in Europe – Development of an EN IEC or EN ISO standard

The EN standards are applied at European level. They are normally developed at the initiative of the EU by the European standards organisations CEN and CENELEC. (CEN and CENELEC build the framework for all the national standards organisations in Europe.) CEN and CENELEC also divide out the standards (CENELEC: Electrical and electronic engineering. CEN: Mechanics). Today, many standards are developed almost in a package as an IEC or ISO standard in co-operation with the EU via CEN and CENELEC. EN IEC or EN ISO standards are the result of these efforts. Standards in Europe are subdivided into what are termed A, B and C standards.

National standards

At European level, harmonisation of the legislation also triggered harmonisation of the standards. Traditionally, almost every country has one or more of its own standards institutes. In the EU, the majority of the standards are pursued directly as EN standards and then simply reflected at national level. So the EN standard is introduced as the national standard or the national standard as the EN standard.

In Germany for example, the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is responsible for publishing national standards. Generally speaking, the DIN standards are developed and published directly in conjunction with CEN or CENELEC as DIN EN ISO or DIN EN.

In other European countries the procedure is virtually the same except that a different institute publishes the standard. The more local the institute, the further forward it appears in the name.

Many countries (e.g. China or Switzerland) also follow the European procedure of having a central standards institute. In the USA, however, standards are published by ANSI, RSA and UL, among others. Here too there is co-operation with ANSI ISO or UL IEC standards. However, there is no simple rule for how the name is structured.


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