Paul K. Whitcraft
2009 Chairman of the ASTM International Board of Directors
To talk with Paul Whitcraft is to learn how ASTM International standards are embedded deep in the industrial products we take for granted. Whitcraft, director of quality, safety and engineering for Rolled Alloys at its facility in Temperance, Mich., is active on ASTM Committees A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys, and B02 on Nonferrous Metals and Alloys. These groups oversee standards that have served their industries, in some cases, for more than a century. Whitcraft shows that the work of these committees is as critical as ever, and — as he embarks on his year as chairman of the board — he connects the vitality of ASTM standards with the challenges and opportunities faced by ASTM International as a whole today.
What was your first contact with ASTM International? Why did you join?
My first exposure to ASTM was with Subcommittee A01.10 on Stainless and Alloy Steel Tubular Products. It was the late 1970s; I was working with Carpenter Tube and was shepherded by my colleague Seldon Doughty. He was the marketing manager for Carpenter’s Tube Division and was the ASTM representative for our organization. I went to the ASTM meetings partly because I did a lot of marketing work and ASTM standards were critical to the way that our welded stainless pipe and tubing were being supplied and purchased. From a marketing standpoint it was important for me to attend, but I was also the mill metallurgist at the time so I was responsible for the quality of the products that were going out the door.
Most of our products were produced and sold to ASTM stainless tubing and pipe specifications. The contents and requirements of these specifications were vital to transactional sales and established a level playing field for a highly competitive business. I was impressed by the fact that all of our major competitors were at the technical meetings as well as a good representation of our customers. I eventually took over representation at ASTM for the Tube Division.
What I recall most about these technical committee meetings were the frequent passionate discussions about a technical concept or some specific wording that was being proposed. I remember Bill Sylvester authoritatively controlling the meeting, mixing in some humor and guiding the discussion to a conclusion. There was also the opportunity for oratory, and Warren Pollock stands out in my mind in this regard. The process of exchanging viewpoints, defining concepts in words and ultimately reaching a compromise that everyone is comfortable with is, to me, the essence of the ASTM technical committee process.
Because Carpenter’s Tube Division also produced nickel alloy products, I later joined B02.07 on Refined Nickel and Cobalt and Their Alloys in 1982. Joe Tackett was the chair of this subcommittee, and he provided a great deal of assistance to me when I assumed the role of secretary, and later, chair.
When I joined Rolled Alloys in 1991, the company was already participating in the ASTM process and supported my continued involvement. Our reasons for participating remain largely the same — the opportunity to influence specification requirements, remain current with industry technology and developments, and interact with technical experts in the industry.
How are Rolled Alloys’ products used?
The service that Rolled Alloys supplies is that of a material handler. We manage inventory for companies so that they do not need to have a large investment of raw material sitting at their facility. We take care of the management and deliver the size and shape that they need to their facility on time.
Rolled Alloys grew out of a product line that was launched in response to competition to the original company’s main product line, cast alloys for the heat treat industry. Wrought products, or rolled alloys, offer advantages in certain applications, and this part of the business was split off in 1953 when Rolled Alloys was founded. Metals for the industrial heating and heat treat industries are still a core business, but Rolled Alloys has since expanded the product line to provide materials that find applications in the aerospace, chemical process, power generation and environmental control industries.
Our products are used in aggressive environments where resistance to wet corrosion or elevated temperatures is needed. As a result, we are involved with a lot of different industries, and that is one of the things that keeps work interesting for our engineers, including some of the young engineers, that we have employed here. A significant part of our business now is in the aerospace industry, for flying turbine applications, and those products are typically produced to ASTM and SAE International’s aerospace materials specifications. In addition to the aerospace market, we also are heavily involved in the power generation, environmental control, chemical process and petroleum refining industries.
How does Rolled Alloys use ASTM International standards?
As I’ve mentioned, Rolled Alloys is, in the simplest sense, a distributor or trader. We inventory materials that are in demand and provide them to the material specifications that are requested. Because we supply materials to a wide variety of industries, it is common for us to order stock materials to several common specifications, but the ASTM International standards are the most widely used. In this fashion, the ASTM specifications are part of the language of trade and they simplify transactions.
Rolled Alloys has done some alloy development and we have used ASTM International as the forum to develop specification coverage for these materials. We also perform hardness testing and corrosion testing in our own laboratory to satisfy special customer requirements. It is also common for us to send sample material out to third party labs for other mechanical, chemical analysis or nondestructive tests. These tests are usually performed to established ASTM test methods. The existence and acceptance of these test methods greatly simplify and speed up the process of outsourcing testing. Most companies undervalue the existence of these standards and test methods. Imagine if every steel transaction had to be negotiated independently to reach agreement on chemistry, mechanical properties, tolerances, packaging, etc.
Rolled Alloys recently opened a facility in China. What was the impetus for this move?
We gave a lot of consideration to where we should next expand Rolled Alloy’s influence, and after a fair amount of consideration, we decided that China was an appropriate place to go. Part of that was driven by the fact that some of our customers were already operating in China and already had suppliers there. Essentially, we followed our customers there to make sure they had a supply of the materials that we deal in.
The manufacture of aerospace components in China has been growing for a number of years. And there has been tremendous growth there in the chemical process and power generation industries; they need both the marketing and engineering technology that we can supply and the materials that we handle. So it seemed the logical place to try to take a foothold, and it has worked out very well.
In addition, Rolled Alloys excels in the area of applied materials technology and in assisting users to select the most cost-effective materials to solve corrosion problems. We are training our engineers and marketing personnel in China in how the use of the materials we supply can benefit their customers. In addition to the industries mentioned above, we expect to find opportunities in environmental control.
What are other emerging markets for Rolled Alloys products? Are ASTM standards useful to your company in marketing in these areas and, if so, how?
We have had some exports to India and South America, and we are seeing an increase in activity in these areas. Because ASTM standards are utilized globally, users in these markets are already familiar with the standards and recognize material produced to them as desirable.
The construction materials that we supply are suitable for use in a wide range of markets or industries. As new industries develop, equipment manufacturers look for materials of construction that are readily available. We have begun to see opportunities in renewable energies such as biofuels and geothermal. We expect that there will be further opportunities in areas such as solar, wind and tidal energy production. If specific needs or new alloys are needed to sustain these industries, ASTM committees can respond rapidly to produce the necessary standards or revisions.
Your industrial sector happens to be the one that founded ASTM in 1898. What challenges do committees face that serve established industries such as metals in terms of maintaining standards and membership?
It is easy for people to believe the commonly held perception that the steel industry in the U.S. is stagnant or failing. Everyone has the picture of the “rust belt” in their minds. In reality, the activity of the last four years has exceeded any previous four-year period in the 35 years I have been in the industry. Granted, my involvement has been in the specialty steel arena, but even the basic steel industry in the U.S. — and globally — is huge.
New alloys are still being developed and marketed. The technology of steelmaking continues to improve. Our specifications and test methods reflect these changes in a timely and cost-effective manner. When a new alloy is developed and ready to be marketed, inclusion in an ASTM International standard is one of the first steps in the marketing plan.
There are a number of issues in established industries that do tend to stifle member participation. First, in some ways we have done our job too well. Our core specifications are established and tested. They do not require a lot of maintenance and when a new alloy needs to be added, it is a relatively straightforward process. Electronic ballots make it simple for members to comment or vote on changes, and the need to meet as a group is not as imperative as it once was. Second, manufacturing industries operate in a global economy and there are real pressures to reduce costs. For many organizations this translates to reducing the number of technical personnel — the ones most likely to attend ASTM technical committee meetings. This pattern exists in other technical societies with which I am involved. Third, consolidation in the manufacturing industries has reduced the number of potential producers and users. Finally, many of these established industries have done a poor job of attracting young engineering and science professionals.
Chairs of committees involved in established industries will continue to face the challenges of reduced direct participation at technical committee meetings. But the reality is that these standards are relevant, technically sound, widely accepted and necessary. I believe that when the need truly arises, the volunteer participation that is needed will materialize. In the meantime, we should take our message to the industry leadership and encourage our younger colleagues to become involved.
In your years serving in leadership positions on ASTM technical committees, what are your impressions of how the standards development process has evolved?
Well, first of all, you have to remember that when I joined ASTM there was no Internet, there were no cell phones and no such thing as facsimile machines. A lot has changed. All of our ballots were paper and all correspondence was via mail, telephone or face to face at meetings.
In many industries, human resources have been cut, and employees spend their time where they’re going to get the most return for their money. Fortunately, ASTM activities can now be handled remotely by electronic means. Ballot items can be submitted and reviewed from anywhere in the world. Proposed changes can now be made electronically in documents so there is less chance of error. Document development and negative resolution can be handled online or in virtual meetings. The ASTM tools for managing the standards development process, from tracking membership to closing ballot items, are leading edge technology. The average time for creating a new standard or publishing a revision has been significantly reduced from when I first joined ASTM.
I think there will always be a need for face-to-face meetings because to me there is no better way to understand what someone’s issues or concerns might be than by actually sitting down and talking with them.
As the ASTM community continues to grow, these electronic methods of participation make it more possible for people to participate regardless of geographic borders, which is critical to developing relevant standards.
Are you seeing more international participation on your committees?
Yes, we do see more international involvement in the development of our standards. The specialty steel industry and the nickel alloy industry have always had some involvement from countries outside the United States because some of the major producers of those materials are from outside the U.S. But I think we have seen even greater activity in the last five to eight years because production has increased, the U.S. is a large market and manufacturers in other regions have an interest in producing and certifying to what the U.S. market is looking for — and by and large the U.S. market is looking for ASTM International standards.
ASTM standards are required around the world as well. Rolled Alloys markets internationally — we have locations around the world, we have been in the United Kingdom for many years, we have facilities in Canada, Singapore, China. We see a large demand for ASTM standards in those regions as well. ASTM standards in many cases go hand in hand with ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) International Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code requirements. They are embedded in a lot of designs for chemical process plants, power plants and so forth. It is interesting that even in the European Union, where they developed the Pressure Equipment Directive, which is essentially their equivalent of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, there are still ways that materials produced to ASTM and ASME standards are utilized at the manufacturer level.
Rolled Alloys also has the advantage of buying globally, so in some cases we are buying foreign product and selling it in one of our international locations, and we see that the language of ASTM is spoken throughout the world.
(Editor’s note: See the article, “ASTM Metals Standards” for more about ASTM standards in plants around the world.)
What is the value of ASTM International membership as you see it? What tips would you give to a potential committee member for how to justify their volunteer ASTM work to their management?
From an organizational perspective, having an employee participate in ASTM International is a low-cost way to maintain awareness of the advancing technology in your industry. The full benefits are realized by participating and interacting with committee personnel at meetings, but simply keeping current with committee activities, minutes, ballots and agendas all contributes to this knowledge base. By participating in the standards development process, an organization can facilitate the process of getting its product or service to market. From a defensive point of view, it can help an organization prevent a standard that is unfavorable to its interests — usually the result of some unintended or unforeseen consequence.
World-class organizations value employee development and competence. Participation in ASTM technical committees helps develop communication, leadership and teamwork skills. It is low cost, on-the-job training.
Finally, from a marketing perspective, any exposure is good exposure. So if you have your company’s representatives interacting with your customers, potential customers or even your competitors, you are making a statement that your company is a leader; it gives you name recognition in your field.
What challenges and opportunities do you see for ASTM in the next few years?
I think it will be important for industry to understand more about the standards development process, and the politics thereof, on a global basis. U.S. industry takes for granted that there will always be standards that are favorable to our products. ASTM International standards and those of U.S.-based standards developing organizations are deeply embedded in our infrastructure and throughout the world, so there is not an immediate threat. But, efforts are under way to shift the use of standards to those that may not permit input from U.S. producers and limit the definition of international standards. ASTM is probably in the best position to deliver this message to industry through our committee members. It is my opinion, because of ASTM International’s membership size and international participation, the wide international acceptance of our standards, and the broad range of products and services that we address, that ASTM is in the most favorable position to make the case for maintaining multiple paths for international standards development.
Another challenge for ASTM will be to continue to draw in participation from other countries to contribute to the development of new standards. Participation by more countries in ASTM activities will ensure that U.S. organizations and individuals will continue to have the open and transparent process of ASTM International in which to work. Standards developers that restrict participation by geographic boundaries, or are heavily weighted to geographic regions, severely limit the participation of U.S. organizations.
Attracting and keeping the involvement of small- and medium-sized businesses is a challenge that I know my technical committees have faced, as other committees probably do. Even the larger production mills are working in the worldwide economy; their competition is global and they need to use their resources as effectively as possible. And in some cases, because the standards are already there and are acceptable to them, they feel participation in the standards development process is an area in which they can cut back. That is a problem, echoed in smaller businesses, that needs to be addressed, and I think ASTM International is addressing that with the electronic tools we offer. Getting small businesses to recognize that they have a role to play in standards development is something we have to focus on.
The challenge of getting younger people involved in technical committees is related to the issues facing small business and is not a problem unique to ASTM; other professional organizations face the same problem. And ASTM is doing what it can with its student membership program and outreach to universities. We are trying to achieve name recognition with students so that they understand, when they come across a voluntary standard, where it comes from and that they can have a voice in the process.
Each of these challenges offers opportunities for new members, new standards, new technology and products, and more cooperation among countries. In short, they offer more of the fundamental benefits that ASTM International has provided for more than 100 years.
Paul K. Whitcraft is the director of quality, safety and engineering at Rolled Alloys Inc., a worldwide specialty metals supplier in Temperance, Mich.
With a B.S. degree in metallurgical engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., Whitcraft started his career at Carpenter Technology’s Tube Division and then moved to the company’s Steel Division. In 1991, he joined the staff at Rolled Alloys as regional marketing manager, and in 1992 he was assigned to his current post. His career has focused on stainless steel and nickel alloy production, corrosion resistance and establishing and operating quality systems.
Since 1975, Whitcraft has been active in several ASTM committees: A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys; B02 on Nonferrous Metals and Alloys; E01 on Analytical Chemistry for Metals, Ores and Related Materials; F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices; and G01 on Corrosion of Metals. He is a past chairman and honorary chair of Committee B02, which recognized him in 2002 with the Award of Merit for his leadership and technical contributions. Whitcraft currently chairs Subcommittee B02.07 on Refined Nickel and Cobalt and Their Alloys, and he is the secretary for Subcommittee 2 on Wrought and Cast Nickel and Nickel Alloys, for which Subcommittee B02.92 is the U.S. Technical Advisory Group, in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Technical Committee 155 on Nickel and Nickel Alloys.
In addition to ASTM International, Whitcraft is a member of NACE International, ASM International, TAPPI and SAE International, and he has worked toward the adoption of certain ASTM standards for the use of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code within ASME International.