In our time new technologies are emerging all the time. They have a disruptive effect on products, manufacturing and our lives. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) develops many of the international standards these technologies require to succeed in the market place.
The principle of transmitting light through glass has been known since the 1880s when glass rods (straight or bent) were used for internal illumination in medical examination.
The development of optical fibres for communication started in earnest in the 1960s and the first commercial low-loss (i.e. one that absorbs very little light) hair-thin optical fibre was launched in 1970. This highly transparent strand of glass was capable of carrying 65 000 times more information (voice, data and video) than copper wire.
Backbone of IT, telecoms and broadcast industries
Transmission of data through optical fibres was made possible by the introduction of semiconductor lasers capable of converting an electrical signal into light and transmitting it through fibre optic cables over long distances. Today these form the backbone of the IT, telecommunication and broadcast industries.
Optical sensors like this Baumer O500 are used for object identification and positioning in the packaging industry (Photo: Baumer Group)
In addition to these sectors optical fibre technology is used for optic sensors, which are installed for structural health monitoring of civil engineering structures, such as bridges or dams, and for other applications such as plant operation and automation.
An IEC Technical Committee, TC 86, established in 1984, and its Subcommittees, are central to the development of the entire optic fibre sector as they prepare standards, specifications and technical reports for fibre optic-based systems, subsystems, modules, devices and components. As of June 2015 they had issued 450 publications.
Another IEC TC, IEC TC 76, develops International Standards for laser equipment.