Acceptance of IEC Motor Starters

Dec. 7, 2011
What's the Real State of Acceptance of IEC Motor Starters Right Now?

We want to save cabinet space and money by using IEC motor starters instead of NEMA. Yes, they're global standards, but we're concerned about resistance to IEC outside of Europe. What's the real state of acceptance of IEC motor starters right now?

—From October '11 Control Design


IEC Starters Have Gained Acceptance

I interchange to and quote IEC contactors and starters almost daily as replacements for NEMA-sized units. There are heavy-duty applications for which customers only want NEMA-sized starters. Some IEC manufacturers can re-nameplate theirs to show NEMA size.

Overall, cost is the leading factor. If the product works, handles the ampacity, and has reasonable longevity, the customer is happy. IEC-style starters provide cost reduction in both open and enclosed versions, but more so with the enclosed units—for both the starter and the enclosure.

Many IEC providers also offer enclosed versions in plastic construction, whereas some NEMA suppliers offer only metal versions. This can provide an additional cost advantage where non-metallic is acceptable. Also, the plastic enclosures can make it easier to install because it is easier to drill out the plastic to install wiring/conduit connections. Where metal is required, these are usually available as well.

In the past three years, IEC contactors and starters have gained wide acceptance, and standard NEMA manufacturers and suppliers now offer their own IEC products, lest they lose market share. When NEMA starters are requested, I take the extra step to provide an IEC solution as well. Even those that requested NEMA often opt for the IEC once they do a cost comparison.

This does not mean that NEMA is going away. The NEMA ratings are robust and well-suited for longevity, especially in hard-to-access locations. But in many standard installations, the applications are equally served with an IEC solution. IEC controls are definitely taking market share away from the old NEMA-rated controls.

Rob Horton, Electrical Product Specialist,
Kaman Industrial Technologies,

IEC Winning

When it comes to NEMA vs. IEC controls, there are more IEC proponents than NEMA proponents. IEC is a significant factor as it relates to motor control in general, and motor starters specifically.

IEC industrial electronic components are gaining more and more acceptance in the manufacturing realm for several reasons.
First, they are significantly smaller in size. This greatly reduces the panel space that the components occupy, and, with real estate being at a premium, this is of major concern.

Second, the technology is newer, faster and rock-solid. As a general rule IEC starters react quicker than NEMA starters, which is particularly significant in a motor overload condition or phase loss because the time to open the circuit can be the difference between having to replace the motor or not.

Moreover, IEC technology incorporates arc-quenching devices to dissipate heat. NEMA devices rely on a larger overall component to dispel the heat, which, again, requires a larger footprint and occupies additional panel space.

As technology continues to evolve, the electronics get smaller, faster and smarter. Customers are requiring more and more technology packed in smaller, compact units. IEC components are gaining global acceptance and are showing higher recognition in the North American industrial marketplace.

Doug Yates, Product Manager, Micro Drive and Soft Starter,
Danfoss VLT Drives,

Competitive Edge

IEC contactors have come to be accepted as the standard in countless machine applications. Most IEC contactors carry both UL and CE marks, which makes them appropriate for applications in North America, Europe and globally. This flexibility, combined with cost and space savings, modern features and global availability have led most machine builders to use IEC contactors.

Today, IEC contactors are used across many applications and industries, including North American and global applications, in simple and complex installations, and in industries that span oil and gas, pharmaceutical, pumping panels, packaging and renewable energy, to name only a few. With extensive features, accessories and ratings, they can be scaled easily across a wider variety of applications.

Even so, there are still industries that use NEMA contactors. This often is driven by a specification or specific product that is not offered as an IEC contactor. Machine and panel builders that do not have a specific mandate from their customers to use NEMA-type contactors have moved to a global IEC design.

Additionally, as modern features and standards are introduced to the industry, they are commonly available first on IEC contactors. Machine and panel builders looking for a competitive edge or cost savings often rely on these features.

Jacob Feutz, Product Manager,

A Global Must

IEC contactors, starters and overload relays are well accepted outside of Europe. In the U.S., the actual market size for IEC (in dollars) is almost 60% larger than that for NEMA. When you look at units sold, it is probably more than double. As more and more manufacturers go global, the use of IEC components is a must, since most of them meet global standards, including those in North America.

Anthony Hart, Global Product Manager,
IEC Contactors, Relays and Starters,
Rockwell Automation,

Respective Uses

From a U.S. market acceptance standpoint, as long as the IEC devices have UL/CSA certifications and meet specific short-circuit current ratings, the market is accepting these in industrial applications where space limitations occur and multiple motors are being controlled from one panel. The applications that have resisted change are the heavy industrial, pump panels and irrigation system markets because of the robust designs and application breadth of traditional NEMA designs typically used in separate motor control from an independent panel.

Comparing the current U.S. market size of NEMA and IEC motor starters, the NEMA starter market is about $125 million and the IEC starter market is roughly $10 million. However, the components that make up starters show a different market adoption story. For contactors, the market is $53 million NEMA and $144 million IEC. So it is clear that IEC starter components have a strong foothold in some traditional NEMA markets, but the use of both devices have advantages in their respective applications and uses.

Brian Libby, Sirius Power Control Canager,
Siemens Industry,

The Global Choice

IEC contactors and motor starters are truly the global product of choice today. The IEC standards for contactors and starters, IEC standard numbers IEC60947-1 and IEC60947-4, continue to evolve to keep up with changing technologies and receive input from all of the major industrial countries around the world. The U.S. is, and has been, an active country in the development of new IEC standards. The NEMA organization actually sponsors the delegates from industry and UL that represent the U.S. at the IEC meetings. Other countries outside of Europe such as China and Japan also send similar delegations to the IEC meetings.

A major change also is happening now with UL industrial control standards. For years, UL508 was the benchmark standard for all industrial control products in North America. UL508 will be evolving into a new standard called UL60947-4 that includes major content from the IEC standard. The new UL standard will be used for new products starting in 2012 and all products listed per UL508 will have to be re-qualified to the new UL60947-4 standard starting in 2017.

The major standards in the world are UL and CSA for North America, CCC for the Chinese marketplace, and IEC standards for Europe and most other markets such as South America, Australia and Asia. A number of other smaller standards also exist, but most are based on the IEC standards.

The IEC style of contactors and motor starters in North America today are primarily sold to OEMs, who install them in control panel assemblies and/or directly onto the products that they manufacture. Automotive manufacturers, which today often produce vehicles on a global platform (producing the same vehicle in North America, Europe and Asia), are all using IEC-style contactors and motor starters for a common universal machine design with contactors and motor starters that are available anywhere in the world. The number of IEC contactors and motor starters sold in North America today actually exceeds the number of NEMA-style contactors and motor starters sold in North America.

NEMA-style contactors and motor starters are still the product of choice for electrical contractors and select continuous process industries such as the oil and gas and petrochemical industries.

We manufacture both styles of contactors and motor starters, and we let customers select the product that is best for their application needs. We do not try to promote one product over another.

We expect to see both NEMA- and IEC-style contactors and motor starters sold in North America for quite a long time. NEMA contactors and motor starters are well established and preferred in many markets, but the long-term product growth will be with IEC contactors and motor starters in North America and other countries around the world.

I also suggest that you go to for more information on the new UL60947-4 standard.

For reference, I am a member of NEMA SC2, the technical committee for contactors and starters, and I am chairman of the business committee for the NEMA Industrial Automation section of NEMA. If you have any additional questions, please contact me.

Tom Fowler, Staff Product Specialist,
North American Power Business,
Schneider Electric,