||How Property Test Standards Help Bring New Materials to the Market
by Stephen W. Freiman and George D. Quinn
NISTs Steve Freiman and George Quinn start this feature with
the premise that property test standards are not barriers to trade
when it comes to new materials entry to the market. Using the
example of test methods created by ASTM technical committees,
they show how standardization works to positively influence trade
Let us begin with a bold statement. Based upon numerous conversations
with individuals in industry and elsewhere, it is our conclusion
that, For new materials, property test standards are not a barrier
to trade. Experience suggests that neither the existence nor
the lack of property test standards enable one country to influence
sales of new materials or impede trade in some way. Indeed, standards
sometimes lag behind the introduction of new materials to the
What then, is the importance of property test standards? The road
for a new material from the research laboratory to commercial
application may be smoothed by standards. As a new, improved material
is introduced to the marketplace as an alternative to familiar
materials, data generated by standard test methods can facilitate
the acceptance of the new material. More radical changes occur
when innovative materials and products are introduced for which
there are neither precedents nor standards. The path from the
research laboratory to the commercial sector is often strewn with
pitfalls of inconsistent data that cause confusion, inefficiency,
and added costs. Recognition of the data inconsistency problem
usually occurs when an innovative material has matured to the
point that multiple sources or users are involved. They may have
collected data using different methods or variations of a method.
With recognition of the problem comes a commitment to standardization,
but the standardization process can be time consuming, frustrating,
and may even delay commercialization.
The ability to make common measurements on the same materials
at various places on the globe is critical to world commerce due
to the increasing globalization of markets. We must have consensus
based standards and specifications to facilitate trade. Both users
and suppliers of materials around the world need the assurance
that the property of the material obtained in one country was
obtained in the same way as in another. For new materials in emerging
markets such standards are particularly important. In this article,
we will attempt to provide specific examples of standards really
making a difference for the entry of new materials into the marketplace.
Advanced Ceramics As an Example
We intend to use advanced ceramics as one broad class of materials
from which examples of standards relating to market development
will be extracted. Standards are important for other materials
as well, but the examples that we will show are wide-ranging enough
in character that they make a case for themselves.
It is important at the outset to define what we mean by advanced
ceramics, because the first thing that people think of when the
word is mentioned is traditional ceramics such as bathroom fixtures,
dinnerware, or tiles. Ceramics are much more than that. Ceramics,
as a class of materials, are extensive (in some respects, any
inorganic non-metal), and they are present in many different applications
including automotive components, biomedical devices, cell phones,
and ball bearings. Advanced ceramics are used in these myriad
applications because of their unique structural, electronic, magnetic,
and optical properties.
Standards Lead to Cost Savings
Obviously, one of the problems with ceramics is that they are
brittle. So whenever we use them, whether in structural applications
such as engine components or elsewhere, it is important for the
designer to be able to predict the safe, reliable operation of
a component over a long period of time. So for anyone developing
a new ceramic material, being able to accurately measure its strength
is an important consideration.
The easiest way to test the strength of a ceramic is to bend it
in what is called a flexure test. Ceramic specimens will usually
remain elastic up to specimen fracture. The rectangular prismatic
specimen is cut from ceramic plates or components. This type of
test is the bread-and-butter method of the ceramics industry and
is much simpler than traditional tensile strength tests with dog-bone
shaped specimens. The latter are costly to machine in hard ceramics
(greater than $100 per specimen), require a lot of material, and
require meticulous alignment during the strength test.
Before the development of harmonized measurement procedures, everything
about the flexure test could change from one laboratory to the
next. So material suppliers would test their products in different
ways, giving rise to the reporting of different properties, because
they were, in fact, using different kinds of tests. In addition,
one of the significant costs in testing ceramics is associated
with machining a specimen. Grinding must be done with diamond
abrasive grit wheels. Because of their hardness and susceptibility
to damage, machining costs for ceramics are significant. Prior
to the development of standard test methods, preparation of a
typical specimen costs in the range of $20 to $33 in todays dollars.
With the development in 1990 of ASTM C 1161, Test Method for Flexural Strength of Advanced Ceramics at Ambient
Temperature, developed by ASTM Committee C28 on Advanced Ceramics, the cost of those tests dropped to $10.
Why? Because now standard fixturing can be employed, and machine
shops know that they are always going to make exactly the same
specimen for everybody. This allowed the test costs to drop precipitously,
resulting in savings on the order of $800,000 to $1.5M a year
for the ceramic industry.
Savings benefits accrued in other ways. Flexural strength testing
was often performed for quality control purposes. A producer or
user repeatedly tested sample sets of specimens from new batches
during the material or product development phase. Prior to standardization,
it was recognized that the myriad methods then in use were not
optimized and were faulty. Nevertheless, it was rationalized that
the data was good enough for comparative purposes. While this
attitude was probably adequate for testing within a single laboratory,
the limitations were quickly felt when data was exchanged between
multiple producers and users. Data discrepancies led to confusion
and even distrust. Furthermore, rudimentary quality control or
materials development data often did not meet the more stringent
requirements for design or materials specifications. This often
led to costly, duplicative testing. The adoption of a simple,
technically rigorous standard method solved the problem. Now almost
everyone tests flexural strength of advanced ceramics to ASTM
C 1161. Data collected for quality control purposes is immediately
acceptable for the most stringent design applications and the
costs of redundant testing have been eliminated. The intangible
costs of doubt and distrust between producer and user have also
been significantly reduced.
Standards Speed Acceptance by Regulatory Agencies
With aging populations, many of us are going to need replacements
for various physical parts. Biomaterials are a rapidly growing
market segment, and artificial hips are one of the most prevalent
uses of such materials. At present, most of the balls of such
hip replacements are made of metal. But if one wants to replace
hips in younger individuals, and leave them in for longer periods
of time, then we must look for materials that are more inert,
harder, and which have better biocompatibility.
Thats where the ceramic material comes in. However, the use of
any new materials for such applications must have the approval
of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA would like to see
consensus standards and specifications in place to enable them
to more rapidly certify new materials. Although the FDA has the
authority to write regulatory standards, they now rely on consensus
standards developed in both national and international venues.
Standards for biomaterials have been developed through ASTM. Committee
C28 wrote the material test standards for the material properties,
namely flexural strength, elastic modulus, hardness, and fracture
toughness. Then ASTM Committee F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices used these standards
as building blocks in three new implant material specification
standards. This is one example of the benefits of two ASTM committees
collaborating with two federal agencies (the National Institute
of Standards and Technology (NIST) and FDA) in the construction
of a grand standards infrastructure to meet the emerging market
needs for new advanced materials.
Standards Facilitate Purchasing
One especially relevant example of the importance of new materials
to modern technology, and an area where standards can be influential,
is the cellular telephone and wireless communication in general.
Without going into detail, we can state unequivocally that wireless
communication would not exist today were it not for the unique
electrical properties of key ceramic components. The development
of these new materials for the wireless industry provides a good
illustration of how a lack of standards can directly affect commerce
in new materials. The following examples are particularly interesting
because they are paraphrased from comments made by one of the
leading manufacturers of wireless materials in this country:
One problem with a lack of standards is that one company can
promote its material over another, when in fact the only difference
between the two materials is the fact that their properties are
measured in two different ways. One sees apparent conflict; the
buyer is not quite sure which is the right property of the material.
Another important issue is the potential confusion in interpreting
data. If one isnt sure how the particular property was measured,
then there is clearly a problem in understanding what that property
Thirdly, two vendors may supply a different product even though
the material was ordered to the same specification.
All of the above conditions lead to the overall problem that customer
may have to qualify each of its vendors particular products.
Property test standards lead to a harmonized set of materials
data, thereby relieving most of the above mentioned problems.
When Are Standards Needed in the Development Process?
We want to touch on the issue of timing in the development of
standards relative to the application of new materials. When a
new material is developed, and if there is only one company manufacturing
it for a particular application, specifications can result from
a private agreement between the manufacturer and the end user.
At this stage it is relatively easy to have this kind of communication.
As the material matures, however, more manufacturers of ostensibly
the same material appear, and there are more end-users that find
the material attractive. At this point some kind of standard becomes
important, because it defines the way that the critical properties
of the material should be measured.
The development of ceramic ball bearings is an example of such
timing. Because they can operate in inert environments without
the need for lubrication, ceramic bearings are becoming more and
more prevalent in applications such as high-speed machine tools,
turbo pump motors, food processing equipment, and even dental
drills. Initially, however, before the markets for such bearings
developed, only a relatively few materials (essentially different
varieties of silicon nitride) were available. Individual manufacturers
agreed with individual users on the properties that are needed.
As the market matured and users groomed second sources, these
informal arrangements were no longer sufficient. A new formal
standard specification for these advanced ceramic materials has
been developed within ASTMs Committee F34 on Rolling Element Bearings. Just as in the case of the ceramic
surgical implant specifications, the process has been aided by
the existence of a battery of generic ceramic property test method
standards, e.g., flexural strength, hardness, elastic modulus,
and fracture toughness created by ASTM Committee C28.
In contrast to the bearing case, radical new materials and applications
may develop for which there are no property test standards. New
materials often require new methods. A variety of expedient test
methods often arise. No one wants to spend a lot of time and effort
on refining test procedures when the material, product, or the
market is unproven. Gradually it becomes apparent that the multiple
methods are creating conflicting data, confusion, and doubt. The
recognition that standardization is needed usually occurs when
a material or product has reached the point that multiple vendors
or users wish to compare data. It seems obvious that a consensus
standardized method is needed, but, by then, large internal company
databases may have been compiled, or very specific test procedures
or specifications been locked in. There may be a genuine reluctance
to have the databases or procedures rendered obsolete. At this
point the interested parties may come together in consortia or
in formal standards development organizations such as ASTM and
begin the process of forging a consensus standard. Once standardization
is accomplished, the impediments of data incompatibility, data
distrust, and duplicative testing are usually eliminated and commercialization
proceeds more smoothly.
We need not describe here how material property test standards
are created, but we make two generalizations. Experience suggests
that the sounder the technical basis of a method, the easier it
is to achieve agreement. The more prestandardization groundwork
addressing technical measurement challenges that has been accomplished,
the faster and less contentious is the formal standardization
Materials Prestandardization Research
Prestandardization research may take many forms including investigating
new measurement methods, clearing up gaps or inconsistencies in
existing methods, preparation of reference materials, and conducting
interlaboratory round robins. Prestandardization research is often
conducted by leading national institutes such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Physical Laboratory, and Germanys Federal
Institute for Materials Research and Testing that have the time,
resources, and the charters to investigate these matters more
thoroughly than companies, universities, or other government laboratories.
In this era of the global marketplace, it is particularly important
that prestandardization research be coordinated on an international
level. To that end, one particularly effective forum for prestandardization
research in materials has been the Versailles Project on Advanced Materials and Standards. VAMAS was formed in 1982 as one of 18 such cooperative projects,
at the economic summit in Versailles, hence the name. The mission
of VAMAS is to support world trade in products dependent on advanced
materials technologies by providing the technical basis for harmonized
measurements, testing, specifications, and standards. The project
promotes collaboration among the outstanding materials laboratories
throughout the world, bringing together experts in many materials
fields. VAMAS is governed by a steering committee composed of
the signatories of the agreement plus the European Commission.
This steering committee is currently chaired by the United States
through NIST. However, hundreds of researchers from many other
countries participate in the work of VAMAS.
VAMAS has formal linkages to both ISO and IEC and perhaps of equal
importance, the individuals who participate in VAMAS typically
also participate in their national standards bodies and in international
standards development. These individuals see each other frequently,
work together, and ultimately develop a mutual trust, which facilitates
the development of standards on an international basis.
There are now 18 technical working areas in VAMAS (Table 1) addressing many different aspects of materials.
Table 2 illustrates how, in the area of ceramics, VAMAS work has led
to national, regional, and international standards. VAMAS Technical
Working Area 3 on Ceramics has been particularly effective and
has completed an astonishing 13 full-fledged round robins with
over 12,000 experiments over the course of 15 years.(1) At a recent
ASTM conference on fracture testing of ceramics, an overview paper
(2) reviewed how five VAMAS round robins with over 35 laboratories
and 4,500 experiments had contributed to the formation of the
new fracture toughness standard C 1421, Standard Test Methods
for Determination of Fracture Toughness of Advanced Ceramics at
Ambient Temperatures, in Committee C28. This new ASTM material
test standard is used by the materials specification standards
crafted by Committees F04 and F34 on Rolling Element Bearings.
Furthermore, the ASTM standard is very similar to and compatible
with comparable standards in Japan and Europe, and three draft
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards
under development in TC 206, Fine Ceramics. By emphasizing international
cooperation and collaborative prestandardization work at an early
stage, VAMAS has eliminated many of the problems of reaching an
NISTs Role in Standards
Leadership in measurement and standards development is an integral
part of the mission of the NIST laboratories. NIST carries out
this mission in a number of ways: leadership in voluntary standards
organizations such as ASTM, ISO, IEC, et al., the writing of standards,
development of standard reference materials, leadership and participation
in interlaboratory studies through organizations such as VAMAS,
and the development of the technical bases for new measurement
procedures. Through participation in organizations such as VAMAS,
for example, NIST can leverage its resources to facilitate and
accelerate the incorporation of technically robust measurement
procedures into the international standards community. We continue
to communicate with various industry groups through workshops,
etc. to try to ascertain their most pressing standardization needs,
and to develop collaborative relationships that allow these needs
to be pursued together.
We have attempted to show how property test standards can facilitate
commerce in new materials. Summarizing:
1) These standards help produce reproducible, consistent data.
2) They lead to better specifications for materials. The buyer,
the end-user for whom these materials are important, knowing the
true properties of that material, can select the material which
best suits his application.
3) Property test standards lead to harmonized performance characteristics,
which in fact is what we are looking for. Further, for a new material,
the existence of data generated by a standard immediately makes
that material more credible and more likely to be selected for
a particular application.
4) Standards can be educational tools, in that they not only instruct
a user on how to properly run a test, but also can teach users
on how the data may be used and interpreted.
In conclusion, the existence of standards promotes new materials,
and paves the way for their introduction into the marketplace.
In addition, standards aid the end-user by providing the kind
of data that is needed in order to put these new materials in
place in a wider variety of applications. //
(1) G. D. Quinn, VAMAS After Twelve, Bul. Amer. Ceram. Soc.,
Vol. 78, , pp. 78-83 (1999).
(2) Quinn, G. D., The Fracture Toughness Round Robins in VAMAS:
What We Have Learned, in Fracture Resistance Testing of Monolithic
and Composite Brittle Materials, ASTM STP 1409, J. A. Salem, M.
G. Jenkins, and G. D. Quinn, Eds., American Society for Testing
and Materials, West Conshohocken, PA. (To be published in 2002.)
Copyright 2001, ASTM