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September/October 2009
ProVocative

The Benefits of Standards and Standards Development

An Interview with Taco van der Maten

Taco van der Maten, product manager XRF (X-ray fluorescence), PANalytical, Almelo, the Netherlands, talks about standards, the standards process, chemical regulation and his work in ASTM Committee F40 on Declarable Substances in Materials.

You have been very involved in developing F2617, Standard Test Method for Identification and Quantification of Chromium, Bromine, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead in Polymeric Material Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectrometry. How does this standard respond to a marketplace need? What advice would you offer to other ASTM members in developing standards?

F2617 responds to restrictions imposed by the European Union RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations, and the U.S. regulation, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. RoHS limits lead and other elements listed in the standard, and specific types of brominated flame retardants in materials in electronic and electrical equipment, including polymers, and REACH regulates the import of toxic materials above 1,000 kg on an annual basis. As polymers can contain toxic materials, like the ones named in the standard title, they also have to comply with REACH. CPSIA regulations limit lead in children’s toys. F2617 fully supports all these needs.

The development of F2617, like other standards, has been an interactive and iterative process. We started working on the method, both over the Internet and in face-to-face meetings, in April 2006. Face-to-face meetings with technical committee members are a very important part of the process, particularly with non-native English speakers like me; it’s important to make the most of them as well as ASTM’s other development tools. Face-to-face meetings help to see if the message comes across and if you have mutual understanding of the subject under discussion. And if you define your goals and tasks, including who does what and by when, clearly in the beginning, the method development process goes more smoothly.

What benefits does the ASTM process hold for industry and government? How is it similar to or different from the process of other standards organizations where you are involved?

Time-to-market of test methods can be very efficient with ASTM standards preparation, which provides the ability to adapt swiftly to societal and market needs. For example, if lead testing is important then uniform test methods should be in place as soon as possible. That can save lives!

ASTM is very proactive in providing tools — within its mandated consensus process — to expedite standards making, and it can respond quickly to immediate industry needs for new standards. ASTM does its best to level barriers in the process to help committees as much as possible. The meetings and Enhesa database for tracking global environmental legislation are just two examples of the group’s resources.

Other standards groups have more formal, top-down, processes in standards development with more steps involved. However, the final information is also valid and useful.

If a company uses standardization as a business strategy, does it approach standards differently from a company that does not? If so, how?

Not using standards means discovering the wheel over and over again and taking time you would rather not or cannot put into research or improvements.

A company who uses standards approaches business differently, I would say. Clients then know what you want to achieve and where you stand. More mature businesses like ours prefer to be able to repeat tasks in a controllable, effective way, and standards help them with that. Using standards reflects the image you want to convey to the market: we are trustworthy; we do as we promise now and tomorrow.

Using standards boosts the customer’s confidence. Also, being able to talk the same “standards language” as your customer or supplier speeds up your business and reduces costs.

If you take REACH as an example, because it is fairly new legislation, many companies are trying to comply with and investigate the same issues. In Committee F40, we propose uniform ways — through standards — of complying with REACH. This saves companies a lot of time and money. Through ASTM F40 standards, businesses are able to adapt more quickly as the community discusses improvements or changes.

PANalytical includes a sales and service network in more than 60 countries. How do standards, and from what organizations, make a difference in your company’s approach to business? What value does PANalytical place on standards?

Standards are very important for our customers and thus for us. Industry needs to have confidence in test results to build reliable bridges and skyscrapers, to have fuels of uniform formulation, to create safe products, etc., and to engage in trade. Standards do that.

Industry customers buy PANalytical equipment to be sure they can produce trustworthy results. In turn, our customers can deliver, for example, data about the concentrations of various metals in ores, sulfur in crude oil or additives in polymers to their customers. Providing wrong results can mean big losses or even claims. That could mean profit or loss or even going out of business if the wrong concentrations are reported.

Standards show our capabilities and help customers fulfill their obligations in delivering their products. For products that have to comply with RoHS, for example, using F2617 means that the elemental concentrations in polymer parts are determined unambiguously and that containers full of children’s toys can safely reach the marketplace and be sold.

Industry wants usable and succinct standards that are not instrument vendor specific. Trusting our own strengths, we at PANalytical support standards in which instruments of different vendors are allowed, not ones written to a specific type of equipment from one specific vendor. It is also valuable for us to have standards from different organizations because it gives the customer the understanding that we are informed on and comply to standards globally. Standards give us the opportunity to show that we are capable and deliver industry solutions.

Our European customers tend to use standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). With Chinese customers, depending on where you are, you may have more credibility with their standards. On the other hand, consider a large multinational company that is U.S.-based; it is likely that their European subsidiaries will use ASTM standards, and the European subsidiaries of a Japanese company are more likely to use Japanese standards. It is more complicated than, say, you’re in the Netherlands so you use European standards. It’s not so black and white.

 

Taco van der Maten became product manager, X-ray fluorescence, at PANalytical, Almelo, the Netherlands, in 2006. In this position he is responsible for PANalytical’s global polymer, oils, fuels and petrochemicals markets. He is a member of the Dutch National Standardization Institute (NEN) and a committee member of the International Electrotechnical Commission Technical Committee 111 on Environmental Standardization for Electrical and Electronic Products and Systems. In the latter, he has participated in creating methods for sampling and determination of restricted substances in electronic products (RoHS). Van der Maten joined ASTM International Committees F40 on Declarable Substances in Materials and D20 on Plastics in 2006. He became vice chair of F40 in 2007 and is the task group leader for ASTM F2617. Prior to joining PANalytical he held several positions as chemist and spectroscopist at Royal DSM N.V. He started his career as a research chemist in 1985 at Heineken breweries in the Netherlands.