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feature

September/October 2008
Feature

Owens Corning and ASTM International

The Company’s Chinese Operations and Use of Standards

globeWhen Owens Corning opened operations to China, it worked with in-country standards developers and employees to introduce the use of ASTM International standards for its energy-saving building construction products.

Owens Corning is a world leader in construction materials and fiberglass composite materials with headquarters in Toledo, Ohio. Its manufacturing, sales and research operations employ about 18,000 people in more than 26 countries and regions on six continents. Its global sales for 2007 were $5 billion.

The Owens Corning headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region is located in Shanghai, and it employs more than 2,000 people. The area encompasses Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Southeast Asia and has factories, sales offices and extensive distribution networks. Currently, Owens Corning has six construction materials factories and three composite materials factories in Beijing, Guangzhou, Jiangyin, Nanjing, Shanghai and Tianjin. Its products include fiberglass insulation materials, FOAMULAR rigid foam insulation boards, decorative vinyl siding wall panels, fiberglass-asphalt shingles, LANGEO STONE masonry products and other building materials as well as the Silentex system and other composite materials used in the automotive industry.

Cooperation Begins with Customer Requirements

Owens Corning came to China in the 1980s, bringing high-end technology, and quality products and systems with it. Because China’s domestic product and technology standards at that time were out of date, introducing technology products in the sales process caused confusion in standards and customer awareness on the one hand, and some outmoded standard indicators that could not respond to the latest developments in product technology and even constrained technology development and new product promotion on the other hand.

For the consumer, requirements such as product performance and environmental safety are the ultimate standards for measuring a product’s value. Different modes of production and different technical systems may require different intermediary technical control indicators, but the final judgment should be the guarantee that the common interests of consumers and manufacturers are protected. Given the trend of a globalized market economy, figuring out how to synthesize a variety of product standards in the many Chinese regions with differing products and technical systems to ensure that consumers can judge levels of product quality is an important task.

The principal disparities between China’s domestic standards and the most advanced international standards are as follows:

  • China has become the world’s major production base for multinational enterprises under the influence of its policy of attracting foreign investment, and a large number of new materials, technologies and processes continue to emerge. This situation is not reflected in regulations in a timely manner, however, and the formulation of standards seriously lags behind the introduction of new products. Some standards are updated too slowly, which is incompatible with current market demands and makes it difficult to ensure that consumer demands are fully met. Nor is the situation conducive to forming a fair trade environment.
  • Establishing a market position in the technical systems of various countries in quick succession has produced serious competition in setting standards. Ensuring that standards are fair and mutually comparable is an important issue.
  • Standards for foreign products are principally formulated with reference to product use, and conformity assessment is set up to correspond to basic use requirements so that they can be called trade standards. Their technical content provisions are generally concise and general so they are flexible in use, however, business standards or the requirements of production processes are still based on organizing production technology. For historical reasons, domestic product standards are still at the production and trade stage of standards. They are still based on business providing production technology, and they further provide safeguards to protect consumer interests so the standard assessment indicators are set fairly high, and the assessment of content is too meticulous.

ASTM International standards related to Owens Corning manufactured products are principally methods. Emphasis is on uniform technical terminology, test methods and assessments, assuring that data provided by various sources can be compared. The standards result from a core of basic standards for a set of products related by their final use. Moreover, standards for a product only regulate the product performance indicators and the test methods themselves.

In contrast, many Chinese standards regulate products by raw material or process requirements. Currently, steps are being taken to compile rules in reference to ASTM International and other advanced international standards, emphasizing the establishment of assessment items and indicators based on product use, and gradually deleting items and indexes from standards that emphasize production techniques. ASTM standards are scientific, technologically advanced, timely, generally applicable, consistently amenable to consultation and voluntary. With promotion in the market and among customers, they will gradually become accepted in China.

Consumers, Fair Competition and Environmentally Friendly Technology

Owens Corning predominantly follows ASTM International standards in introducing the latest technologies and products in China. Standards for polyvinyl chloride peg boards, glass wool products, light gauge steel structure, asphalt shingles, waterproof materials and other products for domestic construction and decoration are produced to meet ASTM standards because they result from practical experience and long-term verification in the international arena. They have been verified through practice, and formulation of their procedures is simplified. Adopting advanced international standards and thereby raising China’s standards promotes product quality improvement.

Take asphalt shingles as an example. The international production of asphalt shingles is divided into two systems. One is the American asphalt shingle system, which uses oxidized asphalt with high filling material content and low soluble content. Its base is mainly fiberglass and contains little organic felt. It has a covering of mineral aggregates. The other is the European bitumen shingle system, which uses oxidized as well as modified asphalt, and mixed asphalt. It has high soluble content. The performance indicators and testing methods of European bitumen standards are derived from standards for modified bitumen waterproof membranes.

When Owens Corning began asphalt shingle production in China in the 1990s, China’s domestic asphalt shingle standard JC/T 503-1992 was similar to the European bitumen shingle standard. It referenced the formulations for modified bitumen membranes and soluble content. First-class products go up to 1,900 g/m2; other products are up to standard at 1,450 g/m2. This formulation far exceeded the requirements of ASTM standards, presenting an enormous technical barrier for manufacturers using American technology as represented by Owens Corning. In some provinces and cities, products did not conform to the standards current in China at that time. Disputes between sellers and engineers were frequent.

From the consumer’s perspective, ASTM-compliant Owens Corning asphalt shingles were guaranteed for 15 to 50 years. Their waterproofing and wind resistance was superior to that of domestic Chinese products of the time. Furthermore, because of their relatively low soluble content and their advanced filler material technology, they had excellent fire resistance. From the perspective of environmental protection and sustainable development, ASTM-compliant Owens Corning asphalt shingles used far less petroleum pitch, which lowered costs and reduced unnecessary resource consumption. However, out-of-date domestic standards continued to limit the popularity of Owens Corning products in the market.

Under these circumstances, at the initiative of Owens Corning, the Chinese Asphalt Shingle Code Committee launched a revised process for asphalt shingles, referencing the ASTM standards system. To help the standards drafting group gain a better understanding of asphalt shingle production and use as well as standards and testing in the U.S., the committee was invited to tour the Owens Corning Science and Technology Center in Granville, Ohio, and the company’s world headquarters in Toledo, Ohio. They visited the Science and Technology Center Laboratory, observed on-site sampling and specimen preparation of asphalt shingles, and physical and mechanical properties testing, including heat resistance, stretch resistance, peel strength, flexibility and the loss-rate of mineral aggregates. The group gained an understanding of the entire testing process in conformance with ASTM standards and a relatively thorough understanding of U.S. asphalt shingle manufacturing, product quality, product standards and test methods, which helped create the conditions for them to establish asphalt shingle standards that integrate China’s own needs while using advanced foreign standards as well.

In 2003 and 2004, the China Waterproofing Association made two visits to ASTM International headquarters. There they gained a detailed understanding of the current status of American waterproofing materials and asphalt standards and how they are formulated and revised, facilitating ultimate acceptance by the Asphalt Shingle Code Committee of recommendations from such manufacturers as Owens Corning that ASTM standards be incorporated in China’s newly revised standards for asphalt shingles.

Through cooperation with ASTM, many ASTM International test methods and standards have been introduced in China, initially as an important component of Owens Corning standards, adding strength to efforts to guarantee product quality and safeguard consumer interests. After this, many ASTM standards have been adopted for inclusion in domestic standards, promoting the improvement of technical standards in domestic materials industries and providing a fair and objective basis for assessing all manufacturers’ products. For example, in the case of wind resistance testing methods for polyvinyl chloride peg boards, relevant ASTM standards provide an effective solution for difficulties in wind resistance testing for peg board products and reduce confusion and doubt in the market about this kind of data. Standardized test methods and consistency in the testing process will make the commercialization process go more smoothly.

The Value of Cooperation

Through the cooperation of Owens Corning, ASTM International, relevant Chinese government officials and the Asphalt Shingle Code Committee, it has been possible to join current American and international standards systems, achieve strategic objectives in Chinese standardization, promote commercial exchange between China and the rest of the world, and contribute to an open, transparent international system of standards development. In the future, China will benefit from these standards and systems, thereby promoting the development of China’s products and technology and the smooth conduct of its international trade, and ensuring that the objectives of protecting consumer interests and environmental safety are achieved.

 

Becky Wang is the code and testing leader in the AP Innovation team for Owens Corning in Beijing, China. She has more than 10 years of experience in code and standards establishment and is a member of more than 20 code committees.

Tony Jiang is a code engineer for Owens Corning in Shanghai, China. A member of more than 10 code committees, he has three years of experience in code and standards establishment.