||Interview with the 2006 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors
Anthony E. Fiorato
You worked for the Portland Cement Association for many years and then became president and CEO of its independent subsidiary CTLGroup. What role does PCA play in the cement industry and how is CTLGroup related to PCA?
The Portland Cement Association is a nonprofit trade association representing the interests of the cement industry. Its role is to promote and extend the uses of cement and concrete. CTLGroup’s heritage is in having originally been the R&D laboratories of the Portland Cement Association.
Today, CTLGroup is a separate, for-profit corporation. We are a consulting, engineering and testing firm for the construction industry. And while our background is primarily on the cement and concrete side, and that’s where we’re most well known, we actually work in any material. We are mainly focused on solving unique problems when building or structure developers encounter a failure or a need for repair or rehabilitation; our strength is in handling complex problems. Because we combine testing and consulting, our clients can come to one place and we can bring various talents to bear on solving a problem. We’re problem-solvers, basically.
For example, we worked a few years ago on the renovation and repair of Unity Temple, a Frank Lloyd Wright structure in Oak Park, Ill. The unique part of that project was not only understanding what the problems were and why deterioration was occurring, but we were also able to help the owners match the new repair materials to the original construction materials to be sure that they got a solution that was not only technically sound, but also aesthetically correct.
We also do a good deal of work in cable-stay bridges, working to evaluate the dynamic and static performance of cables and their anchorages.
CTLGroup works internationally as well. We’ve done some work for the Burj Dubai Tower in Dubai; this will be the world’s tallest concrete building. We consulted on the materials selection and mix designs and also developed assessments of material engineering properties.
In addition to design and rehabilitation consulting, CTLGroup is also involved in litigation support, working with law firms and insurance companies to resolve disputes in that, we provide expert witness services.
What standards does CTLGroup use, ASTM and otherwise?
Most of the materials testing and evaluation standards we use are ASTM standards. In the bridge cable example I gave you, we use recommended practices developed by the Post-Tensioning Institute for the entire cable-and-anchorage assembly, while ASTM standards are used for individual strand, wire and achorage components.
||Senior chemist and lab supervisor Rick Stevenson reviews the operation of the inductively coupled plasma (ICP) unit in CTLGroup’s chemical services laboratory. The ICP, used to analyze up to 73 elements per sample at detection limits in the parts-per-billion range, is only one example of how innovations in instrumental methods are changing the business of chemical testing.
On the consulting side, we reference ASTM standards, but in design, repair and rehabilitation we deal primarily with American Concrete Institute standards and the building codes, as well as International Concrete Repair Institute documents.
In addition to ASTM International, what other standards are you involved in developing?
In the American Concrete Institute, I’m involved in the ACI building code, particularly the chapters on materials and construction practices. Much of that portion of the code is closely linked to ASTM standards.
CTLGroup is very supportive of its staff members’ involvement in standards development. We consider ourselves leaders in the construction community and to live up to that, we have to have the best people on staff who are knowledgeable about current standards development activities. So we want to be where the standards are being written. Our clients come to us because we have the knowledge that’s going to solve their problem and we know why standards and codes are the way they are. That only happens if we put our money where our mouth is and participate in the standards development process.
We tell our staff that, if they’re going to go to standards development activities, they should fully participate. As they develop professionally, we like them to take on leadership roles in technical committees within standards developing organizations like ASTM International, ACI, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Post-Tensioning Institute, the Precast/ Prestressed Concrete Institute, and so on.
It’s a big investment for us in time and travel expenses, but we think it’s well worth it. For CTLGroup, the standards process is not only a process of developing standards, but a way of educating our staff. We have better-positioned professionals because they participate in the process. They know what’s going on.
You have been involved in ASTM for over 25 years. In your view, how has standardization as a discipline changed since 1980?
There are a few big changes in standardization as a discipline. One is in regard to technology. We need to write standards differently these days to accommodate rapid changes in technology. In the “old days,” there was perhaps just one device available to measure something, so the standard was very prescriptive for how to use that particular device.
Today we’re more likely to create performance requirements for alternative methods of measurement. We have to position standards to be technically relevant and with various and perhaps not-yet-developed devices in mind.
Obviously, the process of developing standards has changed dramatically, as ASTM has exemplified in its move to Internet-based development tools. If you had asked 10 years ago, I don’t think anyone would have anticipated that today we’d be this far along in electronic standards development. I think this is a terrific development; we’ve made it a lot easier for members to participate and it’s more cost-effective to develop a standard.
|Tony Fiorato stands on the mezzanine overlooking CTLGroup’s Structural and Transportation Laboratory, which houses large-scale experimental testing crucial
to the development of new design concepts and construction methods. The firm is a leader in static and dynamic testing of full-scale structural components.
Another change is that the environment in which we operate has altered dramatically in the last 25 years. Our standards development process has to anticipate those types of environmental changes. One example is the legal environment in the United States and how standards are used in litigation. When we write standards now we need to be a lot more precise in our wording, even regarding simple things like the inclusion of safety caveats, and so forth. This has changed not only standards, but the process of developing them, because people are much more cognizant of having to follow certain rules. This makes it essential that ASTM’s Committee on Technical Committee Operations, and the technical committees themselves, ensure due process.
In July 2005, you attended and spoke at an Open House for Middle East, North Africa and South Asia Standards Leaders held at ASTM International headquarters. This was the third in a series of regional forums for international standards leaders to gather and discuss their needs and areas of interest in the changing standards landscape. What were your impressions of the dialog at the open house and what are your thoughts on the future role of developing countries in international standards development?
This is the second time I have participated in an Open House; I spoke a few years ago at one for Latin American standards leaders. I thought they were both excellent exchanges. The Open Houses provide very good opportunities to see how different countries are doing things, and I think they give the participants a better understanding of the ASTM process. The attendees at this year’s event were certainly interested in the decentralized nature of standards development in the United States, especially in the construction area, where codes and standards are governed by different state and local jurisdictions.
Several of the countries that attended this Open House are coming to the fore in a number of global economic areas and, from my industry’s perspective, we have a great opportunity to start now in exchanging information and, hopefully, getting them involved in the ASTM process. As nations develop, one of the first things they improve is their infrastructure. ASTM International’s standards related to the building of that infrastructure are extremely valuable and effective and I think standards representatives from those countries are well-positioned to provide input into construction standards.
I also learned from the Open House that we have some work to do in ASTM International, not only in translating our standards, but also concerning units of measure. For the broader use of ASTM standards, those committees that haven’t yet made a full commitment to the use of SI should probably use dual units at a minimum. ASTM as an organization will have to make some efforts to get its committees to do their homework on this, but perhaps the full transition to the inclusion of SI units will happen naturally as we get more international participation.
Last year, ASTM International and three other U.S.-based international standards developing organizations opened an office in Beijing, China. Later this year, the ASTM board will meet in Beijing. What is the significance of the Chinese marketplace to ASTM and other SDOs and how can ASTM provide assistance to Chinese standards developers and businesses?
If things continue as they have for the last several years, China is going to be a market to be reckoned with. I don’t think the Chinese have necessarily determined what they want to do in terms of standards development in all of their market sectors. So there is a great potential to position ASTM standards well in China and I think we should continue to work toward that end.
I was in China last year on behalf of ACI and I visited several laboratories. They were very interested in obtaining and using ASTM standards since they were testing materials to be used in a construction project designed by an American architecture and engineering firm. It’s clear that certain sectors are responding to the global marketplace, and ASTM standards are key in this marketplace. So we have great opportunities to work with Chinese industry.
||Engineer and lab supervisor Katie Amelio shows Tony Fiorato a specimen prepared for the automatic time-of-set machine, which provides an alternative method for determining initial and final set of cement paste now permitted by new provisions in ASTM C 191, Test Method for Time of Setting of Hydraulic Cement by Vicat Needle. The automated unit saves time and improves efficiency of the test.
I also visited India last year, and I’d like to see something like ASTM’s Chinese initiative in India. As that country moves to be more entrepreneurial, ASTM has an opportunity there. For example, contractors there want to gain international contracts. To do this, they need to position themselves as doing quality work and having qualified personnel. A few large Indian contractors work on projects in Middle Eastern countries, where ACI certification is highly valued, and ASTM standards are embedded in that certification. If ASTM has a presence in India to meet this kind of interest, this is is another way to move the standards development process forward and to meet market needs in another area of the world.
ASTM International has recently launched an Interlaboratory Studies Program, which is designed to provide ASTM technical committees with the support they need to create valid precision and bias statements for their test methods. Why was this program necessary and how will technical committees and users of their standards benefit?
I think the implementation of this program is one of the most important initiatives ASTM has undertaken recently. I can only speak from my experience in Committees C01 and C09, but what frequently happens in test method development is that creating a good round robin experimental design is often outside the expertise of committee members. And inadvertently poor design can lead to invalid precision and bias data.
So it’s important that ASTM provide this kind of assistance to its committees by having someone on staff who can answer questions about what kind of round robin needs to be developed, how much data must be collected and so on, and to provide help with analyzing the data and creating the precision and bias statement. Our members still need to do the testing themselves, but ASTM can make sure it has minimized the risk of their efforts going to waste due to poor experiment design or other coordination difficulties.
So this program has great potential for improving and expediting the ASTM International standards development process. And it’s going to do a lot for the relevance and quality of our standards.
Testing methods for the cement and concrete industry, as for many others, have evolved from prescriptive standards to performance-based, and now to predictive standards, the latter using computer modeling to predict performance. Do you see the future of cement and concrete standardization moving successfully toward predictive modeling? How will this impact testing labs?
Many of our ASTM standards are currently hybrids. There are performance and prescriptive elements to them, and even some predictive aspects, although not perhaps in the true sense of material prediction. So I look at the evolution of standards toward prediction as a multi-step process. I think we’re a long way from the ideal world of the fully predictive standard.
We haven’t even quite perfected performance standards yet because in many cases we don’t know how to define performance. And when we do know how to define it, we’re often not sure how to measure it to be certain the product will meet it.
So we’ll need to better define what the important factors are relative to performance and how to evaluate performance. Even though I think we’re a long way from being able to do this, it’s still an important process to undertake, and our current standards will be improved as we begin to develop predictive standards.
You have a long history of involvement in the American Concrete Institute; you are a fellow and served as president of that organization. Can you explain how ACI and ASTM International Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates cooperate on standards development and how this benefits the concrete industry?
While I have known for some time about ASTM International and ACI’s connections through the citation of ASTM standards in ACI’s building codes, it was only recently that I discovered just how long the two organizations have been working together.
In an article I found dated 1907, during the development of ACI’s first building code, there was mention of a joint committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASTM, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association, the PCA and the National Association of Cement Users (the predecessor of ACI), all working together to develop standards and guides for the appropriate use of cement.
So ASTM and ACI have been in this together for a long time and have complemented each other nicely. ASTM standards are fundamental building blocks of the ACI building code, and the two organizations share many members.
Given the integration of ASTM standards into the the ACI building code, I think we could gain wider Latin American participation in the standards development process if ASTM International were to leverage the wide use of the code in Latin American countries. I imagine that encouraging international users of the ACI code to participate in ASTM standards development would benefit both ASTM and ACI.
ASTM International has renewed its efforts to educate university-level students, professors, and even professionals about the benefits of including standardization in engineering and business curricula. What would you say to a graduating student about the need to understand standardization before entering the workforce, eventual professional involvement in standardization and the importance of standardization to business and trade?
When I went to school, I learned about ASTM standards through reference to materials like “A 615 bars” in my engineering courses. There was no effort that I recall to build an understanding of the importance of standardization into the curriculum. In fact, I was in engineering practice before I understood the significance of standards development, and I gleaned that from the standards in the building codes that I was using.
What we need to do is find a way to get across to faculty, who often don’t have much free time on their syllabuses, the significance of standardization to the practice of engineering and to business and global trade. It might be possible to build bite-size modules for professors to insert into their syllabuses. In civil engineering, it could be done during a discussion of the relevant codes.
||Tony Fiorato and technician Roberto Celestin examine specimens tested in accordance with ASTM C 78, Test Method for Flexural Strength of Concrete. The tests were conducted using the newly retrofitted universal machine behind them. The retrofit transformed a 60-year-old machine into a modern, computer-controlled system.
In the United States, we just assume that, as the leading economy, our system of standardization is going to drive the future of trade and standards development, and that’s just not true. I think we need to fight for it, and certainly educating educators about how to inspire an understanding of the significance of standardization to everything from profits to global trade agreements is one way to promote the cause.
How have you benefited from your membership in ASTM International personally and professionally?
Personally, being involved in ASTM International has been a great learning experience for me. I have learned so much from colleagues at the committee meetings, even more than you can often learn in the classroom. You also learn how to work with people, how to compromise, and how to build consensus, which I think helped me in dealing with people and understanding them.
Technically, I’ve learned so much about my field through ASTM. When you have to write something down in the form of a standard so everyone can understand it, whether it’s a material specification or test method, it forces a discipline on you that you can’t get anywhere else. It truly forces you to clarify your thinking.
What challenges and opportunities do you see ahead for ASTM International in the next five years and how is ASTM positioned to meet these?
One of the things I think we continue to struggle with is getting government agencies, trade associations, and some industry groups to appreciate the importance and relevance of standards to competitiveness. I worry that our own government will trade away the importance and use of ASTM standards for the sake of expediency.
It’s hard to think of a more critical issue for the future of the U.S. economy than this need to impart the significance of standardization to every level of commerce. And what will drive our position in the world economy is to permit and encourage the use of voluntary consensus standards such as those from ASTM. We need our federal government to appreciate this and to actively support this as best they can. Of course, I recognize there are political realities. But we are well-positioned to address this, especially with the reopening of the Washington, D.C., office. This enables us to be more in communication with the people representing these groups.
I don’t think we could ask for a better spokesperson for ASTM than President Jim Thomas, but I think he needs more of us industry representatives, board members, technical committee members out there behind him beating the drum with this message. Sometimes I think we don’t call on our members enough to help with outreach activities in their industry and business sectors.
Additionally, I think ASTM International needs to work on harmonizing in areas where we have duplication of standards within the United States. That’s important for us to face head-on. Of course ASTM is not the only one that needs to do this; other SDOs need to come on board, but I think it would be a great benefit to them as well as to ASTM. We need to find ways to bring that to fruition and communication is important. //