Technology’s Essential Ingredient: Measurement Standardization

Providing a Uniform and Consistent Measurement System for IEEE Standards and Beyond


Why Is Standardized Measurement Important?

There are currently nearly 1,200 IEEE standards and more than 900 projects under development that impact our everyday life across the world. And behind these critical technical standards is an ongoing effort to ensure a uniform, fundamental, and consistent measurement system needed for them to be applied successfully globally.

Just as languages have evolved over time and place, so too have units of measurement. Globally, the technology community needs standardized measurement units because they provide accessible, well-understood reference points everyone can use anywhere, particularly when creating and applying complex technical standards. If engineers trying to follow a design or scientists trying to duplicate an experiment have different understandings of units representing length, weight, capacity, etc., they will likely be unsuccessful. Having a standardized measurement system is required to ensure clarity of technical details and to foster international collaborations, trade, and technological innovation.

The International System of Units, commonly referred to as SI or the modern metric system, is the globally accepted version of the metric system used by scientists all over the world. (SI is an abbreviation of its French name, Le Système International d’Unités.)

The SI system grew out of and replaced earlier versions of the metric system that were in use throughout the world up to the mid-20th century. It is based not on arbitrary constructs, such as the length of a human foot, but rather on precise definitions for units. All SI units are inter-related such that one unit is derived from other units without the need for conversion factors.

At IEEE, the effort to support SI usage in all IEEE standards is led by the IEEE Standards Coordinating Committee 14 (SCC14) – Quantities, Units, and Letter Symbols. The committee studies questions regarding quantities, units, and systems of measurement. It also provides current information on quantities and units to all organizations that are preparing IEEE standards, and prepares recommendations and standards on these matters in support of the IEEE policy on metrics.

IEEE Standards on Metric Usage and Letter Symbols

A major responsibility of SCC14 is to maintain IEEE/ASTM SI 10-2016 – American National Standard for Metric Practice. This is the primary American national standard that provides the basis for the application of SI in standards. This vital standard includes information on SI, a list of units recognized for use with SI, a list of conversion factors, as well as general guidance on proper style and usage.

Published in 1997 by IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) and the American Society for the Testing of Materials (ASTM), this standard has been updated on a continuing basis to stay current.

Another responsibility of SCC14 is to standardize letter symbols for all applications, including for use in text and equations, in graphs and diagrams, and on panels, labels, and nameplates. For example, IEEE 260 Standard Letter Symbols for Units of Measurement was initially published in 1978. This standard has since been widely used by standards developers, technical writers, engineers, equipment/component manufacturers, and users of email and other electrical/electronic systems.

Over the years, IEEE 260 has evolved into a series of standards addressing specific areas:

  • IEEE P260.1: This standard is currently being updated to conform to current international standard practices. Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate in the revision project.
  • IEEE 260.3: This standard defines signs and symbols used in writing mathematical text. Initially published in 1993, IEEE 260.3 will also be updated by SCC14 to address needed updates to mathematical signs and symbols for use in the physical sciences and technology. The revision is also open for participation.
  • IEEE 260.4: This standard covers letter symbols and abbreviations for quantities used in acoustics along with recommendations for their use. Acoustics applications that would make use of the information in the standard include speech, hearing, music, noise control, vibration, shock, sonar, transducers and others.

Get Involved

IEEE SA and SCC14 welcome participants from all backgrounds, experiences, industries, and organizations. Together, we are raising the world’s standards.

Learn More About and Get Engaged With SCC14 and Upcoming Activities

Author: Doug Edwards, Chair, IEEE Standards Coordinating Committee 14 (SCC14) – Quantities, Units, and Letter Symbols

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