The best of both worlds: How machine translation (MTPE) and IEC/IEEE 82079-1 fit together

The IEC/IEEE 82079-1 documentation standard defines requirements for user manuals for reducing or verbalising risks when using products. This also applies to translated instructions, which is why translation processes play a crucial role, especially when using machine translation (MT). We explain how both worlds can be reconciled and give tips on what to look out for when using MT in the context of the documentation standard.

In the area of technical documentation, pragmatic and flexible solutions are required to deal with ever shorter delivery times for creating user information in more and more languages. Machine translation with subsequent post-editing (MTPE) helps with translating user information into the relevant target languages quickly and at the same time cost-effectively. But can MTPE meet the strict requirements of IEC/IEEE 82079-1 for creating user information? If it can, when does IEC/IEEE 82079-1 allow the use of machine translation? And how do you navigate both worlds – MTPE and IEC/IEEE 82079-1 – to provide users with high-quality translations of technical documentation?

Eva-Maria Tillmann, head of quality management at oneword, deputy chairwoman of the DIN subcommittee for translation services and active member of the DIN “Translation-oriented writing” working committee, gave a presentation at Quanos Connect (only available in German). She explained how machine translation is compatible with IEC/IEEE 82079-1, what users should pay attention to and provided helpful tips from her practical experience.

Standardised translation processes …

There are two relevant standards that describe requirements for translation services: DIN EN ISO 17100 and DIN ISO 18587. In 2015, ISO 17100 was first published in its current version, which describes processes with the purpose of providing a high-quality human translation service, explicitly excluding MTPE. While the IEC/IEEE 82079-1 standard published in 2019 was probably already largely finished and in the approval process, DIN ISO 18587 was published in 2017. This standard describes requirements for post-editing machine translations for the purpose of saving time and costs by using machine translation but while producing a result that is no different from a human translation.

Both standards are aimed at translation service providers of all kinds and are united by the mandatory requirements to use qualified translators or post-editors, to record customer requirements and document them in the form of specifications, to monitor compliance with them, i.e. quality, and to set up processes for effective query, feedback, terminology and project management.

Even though ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 have points of contact and are similar or even the same in many parts, they are not interchangeable. A translation is either human or machine-produced and therefore produced in accordance with either one or the other standard – and never both, regardless of which further quality assurance steps (e.g. revision) follow the translation.

Comparison process steps ISO 17100 and ISO 18587

Process steps ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 compared (Source: oneword GmbH)

… also in the context of IEC/IEEE 82079-1

What do the comments on ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 now mean for translations within the framework of IEC/IEEE 82079-1?

Anyone who has dealt with IEC/IEEE 82079-1 knows that the standard does indeed require a translation process to be defined and then followed but also knows that there is no concrete described process for translating user information (usage instructions) for products in the standard itself. The standard does, quite rightly, informatively refer to the ISO 17100 translation process, but this reference is distinctly not an obligation. The fact that there is no reference to ISO 18587 is certainly also due to the dates of publication and the fact that hardly any service providers were certified to ISO 18587 in the early years. So the standard had to get established first.

One thing is certain: just because ISO 18587 or MTPE are not mentioned in IEC/IEEE 82079-1, this does not explicitly exclude them from the standard. And rightly so: both ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 meet or even exceed the requirements and recommendations of IEC/IEEE 82079-1. Conversely, IEC/IEEE 82079-1 allows translation processes to be compliant with ISO 17100 or ISO 18587.

Comparison documentation standard, ISO 17100 and ISO 18587

A comparison of the requirements and recommendations of the standards (Source: oneword GmbH)

What is also certain is this: MTPE is permitted within the scope of IEC/IEEE 82079-1. It is important to note, however, that using MT without PE, i.e. using the pure machine pre-translation of content, is neither compliant with ISO 18587, nor with ISO 17100, nor with IEC/IEEE 82079-1. Therefore, machine-translated texts without professional post-editing are excluded for translation processes within the framework of the documentation standard.
Using such a machine raw output is generally only recommended to a very limited extent and should also only be used in other use cases after a careful risk assessment. Even with gisting, i.e. making essential content accessible in a foreign-language text, a machine translation that is wrong in the context can lead to the reader making incorrect decisions, for example.

MTPE in technical documentation

MTPE creates free space. As mentioned at the beginning, it is a pragmatic solution for providing information in more languages with less work and in less time, and with a quality comparable to human translation. The client’s individual requirements are essential in deciding whether to work with human translation as per ISO 17100 or with MTPE as per ISO 18587, because they describe exactly which criteria the translation must fulfil. The requirements are as varied as the companies that need the translations. They can range from language combination, domain and text type to risk level, style, terminology and amount of research, as well as time and budget constraints.

Based on these clearly defined requirements, the client and the language service provider can decide on the optimal process. The feasibility analysis is an important tool to check on an individual basis whether MTPE is even possible within the defined framework. ISO 18587 describes reviewing the economic viability of MTPE projects as a requirement. This is carried out by the service provider.

Clients can work with their language service providers to adjust several parameters in order to increase the feasibility of MTPE and thus also the likelihood of saving time and costs. For example, in accordance with DIN 8579, the source text can be made more suitable for translation, specifications can be optimised, terminology can be built up or tidied up, or, if necessary, an in-house MT system can be trained. This is supported by a well thought-out feedback process to continually improve the MTPE results, which can meet the requirements of IEC/IEEE 82079-1.

Do you need professional translation of technical texts, technical documentation and communications? Are you considering using machine translation? Then talk to us about your specific requirements and goals. Our technical translation and MTPE experts will be happy to advise you on measures and options.

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