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Varying Views on Standardization and the Global Marketplace Voiced at Berlin Workshop

by Barbara Schindler

Opinions on the theory and practice of standardization were shared on April 28 in a unique event that took place in Berlin, Germany. A one-day workshop titled “Standardization in the Global Marketplace” was co-sponsored by ASTM International and Deutsches Institut für Normung, the German Institute for Standardization. The workshop was held at DIN headquarters, the site of the spring meeting of the ASTM International board of directors.

ASTM board members, along with their German industry counterparts, made presentations to an audience of 85 attendees. The speakers focused on the subjects of steel, medical implants, and materials and how standards are applied in these industries. Question and answer sessions followed each speech.

An Open Exchange of Ideas

Arthur D. Schwope, 2004 chairman of the ASTM board, launched the day’s program by welcoming the audience comprised of the ASTM International board, ASTM members from Germany, German industry executives, and staff members from DIN and ASTM International. He noted the cooperative business relationship shared by DIN and ASTM over the years and pointed out the similarities between the two organizations, namely that both produce high-quality technical standards.

Dick Schulte, past chairman of the ASTM board, began the series of ASTM presentations by making reference to an impressive statue of the German naturalist and explorer, Baron von Humboldt, which stands at an entrance to the DIN building. Schulte likened the many accomplishments of Humboldt to those of DIN. He thanked Torsten Bahke, director of DIN, for his organization’s hospitality in hosting the board meetings and workshop.

In Schulte’s presentation, titled “The Role of ASTM International Standards in Global Trade,” he stressed that “enterprises should form their own standards solutions and make appropriate decisions based on technological achievements and market demands.” He went on to explain, “It is illogical to expect that any mechanism, legal or political, can presuppose answers in a simple, monolithic way to complicated technical questions. These questions arise out of a vast network of markets and their requirements, and their solutions must be constantly evaluated and adjusted.” Since its inception, he explained, ASTM’s philosophy has been to respond to the needs of industry and society via an open forum.

Schulte reported that the number of members outside of the United States is steadily growing, with 70 percent of ASTM committees increasing their non-U.S. participants over the last three years. “These are not just numbers. They represent an international conglomerate of standards needs,” Schulte said.

Torsten Bahke led the lineup of German speakers with an overview of DIN, the national standards body of Germany. He spoke about the importance of standardization to economic growth, pointing to a research project completed in 2000 that confirmed that the annual benefit of standardization to the German economy is 1 percent of its gross national product.

“Standardization is a business strategy, a service to the economy,” stressed Bahke. He told of the application of project management techniques at DIN as well as DIN’s use of technology and its efforts to reduce the timeline of the standards development cycle.

Describing a concerted move away from country-specific standardization, Bahke explained that DIN is withdrawing its own standards in favor of regional and global standardization platforms. In his opening remarks, Bahke laid the groundwork for the expression of European views that followed — leaning strongly toward harmonized standards and harmonized regulation.

Steel

The German perspective on standardization in the steel industry was delivered by Dieter Ameling, chairman of the German Iron and Steel Institute, VDEh, and president of the German Steel Foundation. Ameling presented statistics on the European Union, which would be adding 10 new member states in another three days, on May 1. With the additional countries, the EU would surpass the United States in inhabitants, exports, and steel production.

Ameling explained that Europe is increasingly adopting International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for the testing and sampling of steel products, inspiring one listener in the audience to observe that after decades in the steel industry, he had had no personal experience of a customer using ISO specs to purchase steel. The listener explained that steel is traded on the world market using ASTM International, DIN, and Japanese (JIS) standards. Ameling provided examples of the content of ASTM standards complementing other standards, as well as examples in which data and measurements varied. He called upon the United States and the EU to develop uniform worldwide standards that he considers essential for the free flow of trade.

The ASTM International speaker on the subject of steel was Paul Whitcraft, who is the director of engineering and quality assurance at Rolled Alloys, Inc., Temperance, Mich., a worldwide specialty metals supplier. Whitcraft outlined the preferred standards in use today for the various forms of steel. “The choice of which steel specification is used is market-driven,” he said. “Harmonization does not mean one system of standardization. One system will not satisfy all needs.”

Whitcraft listed four ingredients for facilitating trade in a global marketplace: 1) recognizing and accepting multiple standards, 2) recognizing existing products and inventory, 3) recognizing that different markets have different needs, and 4) promoting rationalization and interchangeability. Whitcraft, a member of the ASTM board, is chairman of ASTM Committee B02 on Nonferrous Metals and Alloys and is a member of four other ASTM metals-related committees. He is also the secretary for ISO TC 155 SC2 on Wrought and Cast Nickel and Nickel Alloys, for which ASTM B02.92 is the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

Medical Implants

Joshua Jacobs, M.D., associate chairman of academic programs in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Rush Medical College, Chicago, Ill., gave the audience a surgeon’s perspective on the role of standards in biomedical device testing. Jacobs, a member of the ASTM board, highlighted the medical technological advancements in the field of prosthetic devices, as well as improvements in patient safety and the benefits of standards.

“Standards get products to market more quickly and aid in regulation. They enable technology transfer and promote trade,” said Jacobs, who is the former chairman of ASTM Committee F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices. He also participates on F04.93, the USA TAG to ISO TC 150 on Implants for Surgery. Regarding standards development Jacobs explained, “ISO can’t write all the standards needed for the upcoming possibilities in this field. Committee F04 can’t write all the standards needed. There is real potential here for cooperation.”

Cooperation was also mentioned by Harald Stallforth, executive vice-president of research and development for B. Braun Aesculap, a global healthcare product and service provider. In the summary of his presentation on standardization for medical implants, Stallforth said, “Cooperation in the sense of submitting ASTM standards to the ISO procedure would be beneficial and essential for all involved parties in order to avoid competition and to strengthen the system of international standardization and global trade.”

The perception of competition in the realm of standards development was articulated by Stallforth and other German presenters, who consider non-ISO standards that are currently accepted and used in the world marketplace, such as those of ASTM International, as being competitive.

A notice titled “Competing in the Field of Standards Is Not the Right Way,” was posted on the DIN Web site immediately following the workshop. It says, “ASTM’s policy is to position their standards internationally and therefore these are potentially in competition with international standards published by ISO. The ASTM speakers [presenting at the workshop] were of the opinion that standards are international when they are developed with international input and are used worldwide.”

Meanwhile, from the ASTM International viewpoint, the decision as to which standard is used in the marketplace is best driven by the stakeholders, and not a decision driven by a standards developing organization or political entity. A multiple-path approach, responding to the needs and requirements of various industrial sectors, empowers users to make the choice that’s right for them.

In his presentation, Stallforth also referred to limitations in ASTM's voting philosophy, "Due to the personal or company membership and voting in ASTM (as opposed to the ISO principle of national delegations) the ASTM standard is more or less comparable with the ISO 'Publicly Available Specification,' the lowest level of international consensus."

When asked about the one country/one vote structure in ISO’s voting procedure, Stallforth acknowledged that problems exist because a country that does not have input in the standard still has a vote, causing one listener to comment that value is lost, not added, when attempting to achieve political consensus as opposed to technical consensus.

Materials

Standardization as it relates to materials was the final topic of the workshop. The subject was covered in presentations made by Richard Kayser, Ph.D., director of technology services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., and Anja Dwars, manager of materials technology and laboratory at KSB AG, a German manufacturer of pumps and valves.

Kayser charted the changing needs of standards in the rapidly advancing field of materials, from determining how to make the same materials every time in the late 1800s to the nano, bio-inspired, and virtual materials available today. He explained that NIST and ASTM have a long history of working together — 350 NIST staff participate in ASTM International. One recent example of this cooperation is in a new ASTM task group on biomaterials, co-chaired by a NIST biomaterials researcher. The new task group will address reference materials needed to characterize scaffolds, artificial structures on which biological tissue is grown to replaced diseased or damaged tissue.

Normative references in materials standards were addressed by Anja Dwars, of Germany. In her presentation. Dwars suggested new notation schemes for dual references of standards.

Conclusion

Regardless of one’s personal philosophy on the best approach to standards development, the audience left the workshop with an appreciation for the work in which the speakers were involved. After hearing the passion that the speakers relayed for the advancements in their respective fields and their personal dedication to standards development, attendees left the room impressed by the caliber of technical expertise and commitment to standardization on display that day.

Arthur Schwope closed the workshop by recognizing the achievement of the unified Europe. With regard to the subject of the workshop he concluded by saying, “Standards might not be a business, but standards are about business, and business is about trade.” //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Barbara Schindler is the director of Corporate Communications at ASTM International. From 1988 to 1999, she served as editor in chief of SN.