|Interview with the 2003 Chairman of the ASTM Board Wayne N. Holliday
You had been an executive at Copperweld, a manufacturer of steel tube and pipe products, for some years prior to your retirement at the end of 2002. From your experience, what message do you think the standards developing community needs to send to executives to inspire a better understanding of the importance of standards?
One of the major challenges facing not only ASTM International but all standards developing organizations in the United States today is communicating to corporations that they cant do business without standards. U.S. business knows this on some level, of course, but enterprise-wide commitment to standardization as a strategic tool for competition and growth is not as firm as it could be. This is of special concern in the current economic climate, where businesses everywhere are looking to tighten their belts, and standardization activities are often sacrificed.
Standards are dynamic documents that reflect rapidly changing technological environments. Customer requirements change, as do suppliers capabilities. Executives responsible for renewing fiscal commitments to standards development need to understand that the standards to which their technical personnel may have contributed two or three years ago may be rapidly becoming out of date. So unless corporate commitment to standardization is maintained, engineers may well have to lay new technical foundations every time they address a technical issue in-house.
Thats one of the superior things about ASTM standards they are kept up to date, reflecting what customers want, what suppliers are capable of doing, and current technology. Thats a key awareness we want to build in the business community. They need to understand that it is their support, their involvement, that keeps the quality in the ASTM standard. Thats a message that has to come through loud and clear, and communicating that is a challenge to ASTM and the entire standards community.
How does Copperweld use standards?
Standardization is a vehicle, a tool for Copperweld. The company uses ASTM standards for the materials that they buy, whatever they are steel, copper aluminum, fluids, lubricants, and so on. Copperweld also uses ASTM standards for many of the testing practices they have in their plants mechanical testing for tensile properties, nondestructive testing, chemical tests. And a great many of Copperwelds products are sold strictly to ASTM standards.
Strategically speaking, standards allow Copperweld, and any business, to plan ahead. As an example, in the field in which I have worked, the very specific questions that guide capital investment planning can only be answered by the guidance standards provide. What kind of tolerance do you have to maintain in a new steel product? What are the generally accepted test methods in the marketplace? Unless you can answer questions such as those, you cant make a compelling case for investment. Standards remove the blinders, so to speak, giving business the facts they need to move ahead technologically.
Last year, when you were vice chairman of the ASTM board of directors, you attended a seminar given for the Mexican steel industry, which was hosted by ASTM and CANACERO, Mexicos steel trade association. As a representative of the U.S. steel industry, what did you bring back from your interaction with this group?
That was a very positive meeting. CANACEROs Jose Antonio Gomez Urquiza made an excellent presentation about the Mexican steel industry and their use of standards. One of the points he made was that many of the standards the Mexican steel industry uses are patterned after ASTM standards. We discussed why Mexico goes to the trouble to pattern their standards after ASTMs rather than use ASTMs outright. The answer had some complexity to it, but probably the key point is that regulations in Mexico require that standards be developed by Mexican-sanctioned organizations or those with significant Mexican involvement.
From these meetings, ASTM has begun to work actively with representatives of Mexican business and its standards development community to increase their understanding of the value and worldwide use of ASTMs standards. ASTM board member Luis Ordonez has taken on the role of encouraging Mexican involvement in and recognition of ASTM standards development. He and ASTM staff member Teresa Cendrowska recently attended a meeting for U.S. standards, government, and business representatives meant to foster dialogue on the current and future situation of Mexican acceptance of international standards. Luis has also been in meetings with DGN, the Mexican national standards body, and is working on technology transfer programs with PEMEX, Mexicos petroleum corporation, helping them utilize ASTM standards. In addition, he is sending out a newsletter to companies and government agencies throughout Mexico informing them of ASTMs activities. We believe efforts such as these can only help in the long-run in establishing goodwill and solid relationships with standards developers and users around the world.
It is clear to me that, if establishing a presence in countries outside of the United States will allow them to use the high-quality technical standards that are produced in ASTM, then we are on the right path toward improving quality and public safety around the world. And this is what any international standards developing organization is called to do.
In addition to the meeting in Mexico City, ASTM staff has been involved in an unprecedented number of activities with industry groups and national standards bodies around the world in the last two years. What are some of the benefits of these outreach efforts?
ASTMs mission statement to promote public health and safety and overall quality of life, to promote commerce, and so on makes it imperative for us to encourage the use of our standards, which perform these very functions. We need to spread the message about what we understand to be the merits and usefulness of ASTM standards around the world. Thats very much consistent with what were called to do as an organization.
ASTM staff and members have been hard at work from Asia and Africa to South America and the Caribbean to assist countries, especially developing countries, in the kind of cross-border technology transfer to which standardization is such an important aid. The memorandums of understanding we have signed with national standards bodies in these regions have already yielded programs that have served the technical needs of the countries involved and helped them understand the merit, not only of ASTM standards, but of the value-added programs we have surrounding our standards, such as the ASTM Technical and Professional Training program.
The national standards bodies of Ecuador and Jamaica have been the first of those who have signed MOUs with ASTM to take advantage of our training programs, co-sponsoring courses on fuel technology and ISO 14001, respectively.
There are many more examples of ASTMs commitment to promoting its standards as mechanisms of international trade from co-sponsoring technical workshops with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the World Trade Organization, to helping its technical committees arrange standards-development MOUs with their ISO counterparts, to holding industry workshops in Asia for major industries such as rubber, plastics, and steel. I feel very positive about these outreach efforts. Standardization does great things for society and we need to do everything we can to promote standards, and particularly the high-quality documents generated by ASTM. As the world embraces more international standards, logically, theyre going to use more ASTM standards. And that gives us the wherewithal to continue to fulfill our mission.
Lets return to your experience with Copperweld. In your last position before your retirement, you were vice president of technology. What were your responsibilities?
I was involved in the development and implementation of technology for products, processes, and materials across all of Copperwelds business sectors. Most of my services to the company comprised a sort of in-house technology transfer.
Probably dozens of times in any given day, an engineer is working on a project and he asks himself if anyone else knows something about that technology. Does he really have to start with a clean sheet of paper? In my position, I brought these people together with previously existing technology solutions, so no one would have to re-invent the wheel. We also pooled our technical resources to develop solutions on new issues in the most timely and efficient manner possible.
Having reached the level of responsibility you had at Copperweld, what kept you actively involved in standards development in ASTM Committee A01?
I believe it is important for managers to be aware of and involved in technical issues in order to lead their company in technological innovation. Especially in my last position where I was so heavily involved in technology solutions, it was good for me to keep a hand in the ground-level technical work. Volunteering for ASTM standards development is an educational experience I always come away from meetings knowing much more than when I went in because of the valuable exchange of information and ideas among really top-notch professionals.
As I pass this baton to others in Copperweld upon my retirement, I do so reluctantly, because my involvement in A01 has been so enjoyable professionally and personally. But Im eager for others in the organization to have the same opportunity I had, and for Copperweld to continue to bolster its business through its commitment to standardization.
Committee A01 celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1998. How has the committee maintained its relevance for over a century?
Quite simply, A01 has maintained its relevance because their standards are used globally, theyre technically excellent, and they reflect current technology.
The first standard ever developed in ASTM, the A 1 Specification for Carbon Steel Tee Rails, still exists under Committee A01s jurisdiction, but certainly not as an archival document. Throughout the last century, A01 members have updated that standard so that it reflects current technology. In the tubular business, with which I am most familiar, the oldest specification is A 53 [for Pipe, Steel, Black and Hot-Dipped, Zinc-Coated, Welded and Seamless], first developed in 1915. But the A 53 standard of today is quite different from the one written in the early 20th century. As steel manufacturing technology has changed and evolved, fundamental changes, such as those to product properties, have been incorporated into the standards.
Of course, manufacturing techniques are not the only drivers of change in standardization. A01s standards have also been responsive to research. Events such as the terrible earthquakes that happened in the latter half of the 20th century in Japan and the western United States provide a store of information on the unexpected behavior of structures and materials in their real-world environments. Information such as this is also incorporated into existing standards or becomes the basis of new standards.
And we cant forget that technical experts develop the standards, and the people that Ive been associated with in A01 are an incredibly conscientious group of technical professionals. If you could fault the average A01 member, it may be that they are quite zealous over technical issues. But thats the direction in which to err. A01 members take what they do seriously. They understand the importance of their standards and because of that they stay focused on the issues, and A01 stays relevant to its marketplace.
What are some of the challenges facing ASTM in the coming few years?
As a developer of standards, as a provider of standards, and as a citizen of the world standards development and trade community, ASTM does face certain challenges that it is more than equipped to meet.
As far as our role as a developer of voluntary consensus standards, I touched earlier on concerns I have about companies tendencies to abandon their commitment to standards development activities during downturns in business cycles. The standards development process requires the active involvement of knowledgeable technical people. Its going to continue to be a challenge to ASTM to get the word to the business community that you have to consistently have your best technical people involved in the ASTM process both as producers and as users, no matter the current economic climate.
From the provider side, ASTM has shown ingenuity in the past few years in using Internet and other digital technology to deliver its products. Today, our customers are able to retrieve the technical data they need in the format best suited to them, from CD-ROMs to instant Internet downloads of standards to the newly planned online Journal of ASTM International. But were not resting on our laurels, and our continuing developmental work is creating a publications program that will stay on top of customer demands for rapid standards development and delivery as technology evolves.
We have already talked about ASTMs role in the global standards arena to some extent. In short, ASTMs challenge is to make sure that the world business and technical communities understand how our standards fit into the global trade picture. We must continue to reach out beyond U.S. borders and learn how people are using standards and then look at the needs that are not being met. If those unmet needs align with what we see as our mission as a developer of voluntary consensus standards, then we can most likely find ways to fill that gap.
As has been the case since ASTMs founding, anyone in the world who wants to participate in the ASTM process is absolutely welcome to do that. But perhaps we can be even more proactive than we are now about pulling segments of the world business or geographical segments into our process so that we have the benefit of their involvement. I think that will bode well for our future and give ASTM International the highest quality development platform.
Copyright 2003, ASTM