Graphical symbols central to everything
The use of figures, or so-called pictograms, to convey an intended meaning dates back to ancient times. However, the use of internationally-recognized graphical symbols on products or for many other daily uses is more recent.
Electrotechnology goods, from components to finished products, are produced and traded across the world; this makes it essential for manufacturers and users to be able to understand their characteristics and operation easily, independent of language and with minimal or no resort to text.
IEC TC (Technical Committee) 3: Information structures, documentation and graphical symbols, and its SC (Subcommittee) 3C: Graphical symbols for use on equipment, prepare International Standards for graphical symbols for diagrams and for use on equipment. IEC TC 3 is one of the oldest TCs, having its roots in IEC AC3 (Advisory Committee 3): Symbols, which was formed in 1911. This shows clearly that graphical symbols were seen as essential by the industry from its very outset.
The design and production of electrotechnical components and systems often require complex diagrams. IEC TC 3 prepares International Standards for graphical symbols used in such diagrams. Around 1 750 such symbols have been brought together in IEC 60617, Graphical symbols for diagrams. This database covers the following areas:
- Conductors and connecting devices
- Basic passive components
- Semiconductors and electron tubes
- Production and conversion of electrical energy
- Switchgear, controlgear and protective devices
- Measuring instruments, lamps and signalling devices
- Telecommunications transmission, switching and peripheral equipment
- Architectural and topographical installation plans and diagrams
- Binary logic elements
- Analogue and hybrid elements
The database now contains metadata not present in the previous publication (symbol name, alternative names, keywords, remarks, etc.) as well as links to related symbols and application notes. It also provides classified views (by shape, function and application) and a search facility.
For end users too
Graphical symbols are also used to identify equipment or parts of equipment, to indicate functional states, designate connections and to provide information on packaging or instructions for operating the equipment.
Around 1 200 such symbols have been brought together in IEC 60417, Graphical symbols for use on equipment, which is prepared and maintained by IEC SC 3C.
Each graphical symbol in IEC 60417 is identified by a reference number and a name, and includes a description of the meaning, optional note(s), a graphical representation in GIF and vectorized PDF formats and additional data as applicable. Various search and navigation facilities allow for easy retrieval of graphical symbols.
Widening the user base
In Japan, the industry felt there was a growing need for IEC 60417 and 60617 to be made available in Japanese without significant delay due to any changes.
Thanks to close collaboration between IEC Central Office, which provided the platform, together with the necessary IT skills, and the JNCs (Japanese National Committees) for TC 3 and SC 3C, which provided the Japanese texts, both databases are now available in Japanese in addition to English and French.
IEC 60617 in Japanese was published in June 2012 and IEC 60417 is now also available in that language.
"The JNC is committed to maintain and add necessary texts in Japanese in coordination with changes to IEC 60417 and 60617", JNC chairman for TC 3 Prof Hiroaki Ikeda, recipient of the 1999 IEC Lord Kelvin Award, told e-tech.
The Japanese versions "will make both international symbols databases available to a wider base of users than ever before and should increase the IEC's visibility as a whole", added Mr Motoya Mohri, JNC chairman for IEC SC 3C.
Interest in IEC graphical symbols has also led to the recent creation of an IEC LinkedIn subgroup focused on IEC 60417.