Strong cooperation in SC 59F produces “dust-free” success

By Jeanne Erdmann

We probably take vacuum cleaners for granted. An easy flick of a switch and dust mites, dirt and tumbleweeds of dog hair disappear into a handy container. Even more astonishing, it’s possible to slurp up buckets of liquid without being electrocuted. Some homes boast robotic vacuums that look like hubcaps moving along the floor from room to room.

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Floor care experts who comprise IEC SC (Subcommittee) 59F: Surface cleaning appliances, take dirt – and its removal by vacuum cleaners – quite seriously. They have a lot of discussions on dust, and what comprises that pesky layer of particles sitting on furniture and floors that won’t go away on its own.

In fact, Ron Battema, the newly elected Convenor of WG (Working Group) 3 which was set up to deal with the maintenance of IEC 60312-1, Vacuum cleaners for household use - Part 1: Dry vacuum cleaners - Methods for measuring the performance*, remembers a moment from his early days as manager of the engineering test laboratory at Electrolux. He was interviewing a candidate for lab technician, showing him around the laboratories and test equipment. After the tour, the candidate said, “I’m from the aviation industry and we don’t do nearly as much testing as you’re doing for a vacuum cleaner.”

Battema and members of SC 59F developed the IEC 60312 series of Standards for wet and dry vacuum cleaners. SC 59F was set up in the 1970s to create and maintain vacuum cleaner performance standards. Grahame Capron-Tee was appointed Acting Chairman of IEC SC 59F in 1988 and has continued to be re-elected.

“Unless standards are able to be dynamic, they risk losing their relevance in the modern world,” says Battema. Members have found ways to keep pace with industry changes. For example, emissions procedures developed for simple bag filtration systems won’t work for HEPA (high efficiency particle arrest) systems which filter 99,9 % of 0,3 micron particles. Internationally there are many different classes of HEPA. “SC 59F members have to try and draw all these together in a single test method,” explains Capron-Tee.

The four working groups under SC 59F have plenty of thorny problems to tackle. They need to measure the cleaning performance of a robot vacuum cleaner, which follows random patterns around the floor; how to measure the cleanliness of a carpet after wet cleaning; and how to measure the performance of a ride-onstreet vacuum cleaner.

Members have found ways to keep pace with industry changes. For example the introduction of Cyclonic filtration and associated bagless reusable receptacles in the 1990s and subsequently many non-cyclonic systems also changed to the “bagless” system. “Dealing with clogging (no loss of suction), filtration and emissions among others on these new products introduced new testing problems and, as with new HEPA filters, used on both bag and bagless alike, SC 59F members continue to seek new solutions,” says Capron-Tee.

Priorities prevail

As anyone who has written standards knows, producing documents that are fair, unbiased and meaningful can be a challenge. Resources, whether laboratory time or availability of personnel, are more limited today, says Battema. Manufacturers have to do more with fewer resources. WG 3 meets these challenges by setting priorities.

When prioritizing, WG 3 considers a variety of factors, including relevance for manufacturers and consumers, the need to address a particular issue, such as energy use, and the time required for a proper evaluation. To address some of these factors, SC 59F decided to evolve WG 3 into several distinctive groups. “Rather than rely upon a single working group to develop standards that have limited scope (not every company is interested in wet cleaning or robotics, for example), new Working Groups have been established that focus on specific products,” says Battema.

Strength in Working Groups

In 1979, the newly formed WG 3 aimed to find a replacement test to measure dust removal from carpets that was more representative of field performance. Since then, WG 3 has remained active, maintaining the vacuum cleaner performance standard, which is currently in its 5th edition.

In 2008, SC 59F chose to separate wet and dry vacuum cleaners standards; WG 4: Wet surface cleaning appliances, was established for this task. WG 4 published IEC 60312-2, Vacuum cleaners for household use - Part 2: Wet cleaning appliances - Methods of measuring the performance, in 2010 and is currently establishing new test methods that are of interest to users.

SC 59F further decided to create two subdivisions, one, WG 5 for robotic vacuum cleaners and another, WG 6 for commercial surface cleaning machines, to look after these areas and publish relevant standards.

Currently, SC 59F is preparing for more transformation by considering a new subdivision for battery-operated products. It is also accommodating the changing nature of vacuum cleaners by recognizing that some products do not use vacuum, though they are also used to clean the same surfaces. So SC 59F is in the process of changing its scope and title to embrace all types of surface-cleaning electrical appliances.

Capron-Tee is keen on the changes which he introduced. “As Chairman of SC 59F, it is my belief that these structural changes are bringing more interest and participation in our area of standards making,” he says. “Where we had approximately 14 members of the single WG in 1980, we now have more than 40 members across the four current Working Groups.”

Battema joined SC 59F WG 3 in 1996 as the official Technical Advisor for the US and remained in that position through 2002. “When I began working in WG 3 there was only one representative for the United States,” he said. “Having been involved with ASTM (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) Committee F11 which is responsible for maintaining US vacuum cleaner performance standards, I could only wonder why the procedures between the two organizations differed so much, and why both groups were working independently on similar work. To me, it seemed to make more sense to work together wherever possible to develop common procedures.

While some standards may never be harmonized, we are seeing a growing instance of shared development. ASTM F11 has adopted parts of IEC 60312-1, or has at least incorporated aspects relevant to the markets in the US and Canada.”

Capron-Tee underlines the role of the IEC as global standards organization and looks forward to the day where IEC-based, or harmonized, methods are used to measure vacuum cleaner performance around the world, without the current alternatives that measure the same thing but potentially give different results. He has emphasized this global importance by having a South Korean professor convene WG 5 and a German Convenor for WG 6. Capron-Tee himself is from the UK and the most important role of Secretary of SC 59F is taken by Hans Erik Rundqvist from Sweden. All member countries play an important role in ensuring that the procedures are relevant for the consumer.

* Now replaced by EC 62885-2:2016Surface cleaning appliances - Part 2: Dry vacuum cleaners for household or similar use - Methods for measuring the performance 

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