One of the most undervalued, underrated instruments of trade is the test method. Like a lot of things that function without a hitch, without fanfare, and behind the scenes, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s time to pay tribute.
Companies that do business around the world are clamoring for one test they can use everywhere. It’s the battle cry of today. What they’re talking about, of course, are test methods. While the world at large may not understand the importance of test methods, global companies know how critical they are to a global business. Global companies need one test method so good that it will do more than just earn the confidence of their customers. They need one test method that will also convince regulators that their products will not fail, that they will not harm people, and that they have been honestly characterized. It has to convince all the regulators, everywhere they do business. That has to be one heck of a good test method.
But that’s something we know about. In the field of materials testing, for example, an area in which ASTM is the world’s specialist, the ASTM test method is a global mainstay. Manufacturers all over the world know that a product is only as good and as safe as the material from which it is made, and the material is only as good as the method used to test it. Ask the makers of boilers and pressure vessels.
The ASTM test method, besides representing a consensus of the best currently available test procedures, is itself a model of integrity, supported by experience and data obtained from cooperative testing. Every ASTM test method must contain statements addressing precision and bias. This is mandatory. Precision means that the test method is supported by interlaboratory studies that have addressed the repeatability of results in the same laboratory and the reproducibility of results in different laboratories. Stated more simply, precision reflects how closely test results agree. Bias is a systematic error that contributes to the difference between the mean of a large number of test results and an accepted reference value. If necessary, the ASTM test method will contain a statement that describes the bias and methods employed to provide corrected test results. In other words, the ASTM test method is tested until it is tried and true. It is this verification process that makes it creditable, technically competent, complete, and internationally accepted.
ASTM test methods have made a tremendous contribution not only to materials testing, but to environmental regulation, accreditation programs, conformity assessment, research, and many other product areas. Global companies manufacturing petroleum products, for example, rely on ASTM test methods because of their integrity and because of their international underpinnings. Approximately 40% of the laboratories engaged in the ASTM interlaboratory program for petroleum product testing are outside the United States. Today’s global companies contribute to the ASTM interlaboratory program, they support the development of ASTM test methods, and they use them. That’s the real tribute.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 2001, ASTM International