Do we really need everything we put into the standardization process? For instance, how important is the user interest? Could we leave out the user and still produce standards? We could. Others do. It would "downsize" our technical committees. It would stream-line our procedures. It would speed things up. However, ASTM believes in the value of the user in the standardization process.
At ASTM, we are well aware of the need for efficiency and speed in the standardization process, and we are committed to it. We've adjusted our procedures. We've done many things to get our standards out faster, and we're continually working at it. Speed to market for producers may be the difference between gaining a market or losing it. Speed to health and safety saves lives today, instead of tomorrow. We cannot afford to lose markets or lives, but we will lose both if the standards we produce will not do what they are supposed to do. If our standards don't perform, or if no one uses them, it makes no difference how fast we get them out.
We do not believe that anything haphazard, inadequate, or partisan should be applied to health, safety, or the performance of our products. If the standard is true to its purpose, it should withstand scrutiny and challenge and emerge whole and stronger for the experience. This has been proven time after time; and this scrutiny, this challenge, is part of the process that is often borne by the user. Scrutiny and challenge are dynamic forces that give a standard objectivity, applicability, and universality. It is what makes the difference between a standard that is used and one that is not.
Should the makers of automobiles or pressure vessels be required to risk the use of a material that has been specified by others, by a process from which they have been excluded? Who knows what stresses will be presented in the manufacture and use of the material in the final product, if not the user? In the consensus process, we are never quite sure what element will be introduced into a standard that will finally determine the success of a manufacturing process, the performance of a product, or the validity of a test method. A good standard uses technology tested by reality checks, enhanced by quality assurance, and perfected by reason, practicality and experience. The success or failure of a standard could rest on the slightest nuance, on the minutest detail, on the one question asked or not asked. That one question can make all the difference, if everybody is present.
When industrialists, governments, end-use consumers, builders, architects, and testing laboratories-when users such as these are present-standards are not only technology, but technology with perspective-not only science, but science with purpose. It is because of our users that ASTM standards fare well in the real world. They are the final judges of relevance, one of the greatest strengths of any standard.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International