ASME: Continued Relevance
An Interview with June Ling, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
The evolving world of standards and standards setting can be better understood through the work and history of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. June Ling, ASME associate executive director of standards and certification, discusses some of these changes.
ASME codes and standards are used by more than 100 nations around the world. Who uses the codes and how? How do standards strengthen the code?
A pre-eminent international construction code is the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, which comprises 30 individual books covering a wide range of pressure retaining equipment — including power boilers, stationary pressure vessels and transport tanks — and construction and in-service inspection of nuclear power plant components. To adequately address the various aspects of construction, the ASME BPVC references or incorporates standards developed by other organizations; by far the majority consists of ferrous and nonferrous material specifications developed by ASTM International.
The ASME BPVC was first issued in 1914 when state governments, manufacturers, users and insurance interests were faced with significant and frequent losses of life and property from boiler failures and explosions; they came to ASME to develop a uniform set of requirements that would serve to protect the public and reflect a consensus among the differing and competing interests of involved entities. It is this ability to bring together product competitors, the regulated and the regulator, those engaged in research and technology development, and other interested parties that serves to distinguish voluntary consensus standards from standards developed within a company or by a single interest group.
Another ASME code that has gained international usage is our B31 series of piping codes covering power piping; process piping; refrigeration and heat transfer piping; building piping; liquid hydrocarbon pipelines; gas transmission and distribution systems; hydrogen piping and pipelines; pipeline integrity management and personnel qualification. Recently, India took the step of direct adoption of specific ASME B31 codes in their regulations as the result of their assessment that such requirements best serve their needs as India develops its energy infrastructure and its distribution and delivery systems.
I think it is important to note that ASTM International standards have been an essential component of both of these codes as well as of other ASME codes and standards. Materials and test methodologies are an underpinning for the design and fabrication requirements contained in ASME codes and standards. For decades, industry has worked in harmony with ASTM and ASME when incorporating new technology and new materials, and this common effort continues as ASME codes of construction expand globally. One of the challenges both of our organizations face is how to better address local and regional technical needs and how to incorporate the advances of other locales in our standards.
You have long been involved with ASME and its standards work. What changes have you seen in the industry over time? How has ASME responded to those changes?
As the world has changed, so has stakeholder participation and expectations. Clearly, mergers and acquisitions have had an impact. Users of standards are seeking a single set of consistent requirements that would still provide them with the benefits of technical adequacy while facilitating export and acceptance in all markets and regulatory environments; owners and purchasers seek reduced costs through a wider and dependable supply chain; and governments seek to build their nation’s economy and global competitiveness through standards that best serve these goals. The convergence of technologies and the need for interoperability of systems and components have also led to a blurring of standards coverage and the need for greater collaboration and partnering among standards developers.
ASME has responded through investing in information technology and the development of electronic tools tailored to enable standards development, balloting and communication on a global basis. Additionally, in order to better address technological advances in well-established and regulated environments, ASME supports having both prescriptive and performance-based standards for the same family of products. Examples include the work conducted by ASME and other standards bodies within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 11 on Boilers and Pressure Vessels that resulted in a performance-based/essential requirements umbrella standard with a registration process for prescriptive standards from around the world, and the co-existence of prescriptive and performance-based standards within the ASME family of A17 elevator and escalator codes.
With the blurring of technologies, disciplines and borders, joint standards among organizations have also been on the rise. ASME’s longest standing partner has been and continues to be ASTM; more recently ASME has released joint standards with the Canadian Standards Association, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Nuclear Society as well as other U.S. organizations. Under license agreements, several ASME codes and standards have been translated into other languages, adapted for local application and adopted within that nation as industry or national standards. In other locales, the original ASME standards are adopted for use either voluntarily via industry or through mandatory regulatory reference.
As we respond to market and regulatory needs and issues in developed and developing nations, and as we respond to humanitarian needs in underdeveloped nations, ASME’s strategy is to work cooperatively to achieve technical alignment. Our objective is not to be the only standard; it is to reach a level of mutual understanding and technical alignment such that our standard is accepted as equivalent to the relevant national standard or simply accepted as is.
In your view, how has globalization affected the world of standards over the last few decades? What approach has ASME taken with regard to the global application and use of its codes and standards?
Since the early 1900s, use of a common ASME mark for pressure equipment has enabled the interstate/interprovincial commerce of pressure equipment built to a common set of technical requirements. In some respects, the more recent European Union New Approach — with the purpose of furthering a common market among EU nations, enabling placement on the market of equipment meeting a common set of essential safety requirements delineated in directives and EC marking to so designate — parallels what was accomplished in the United States and Canada through the ASME BPVC and its related conformity assessment marks.
Perhaps the most significant response we have made to the global application and use of ASME standards has been to go beyond just use and to seek the actual global development of our standards. Not all of the best minds on the planet speak English, and technology advances are happening throughout the world. Within the past decade, ASME standards participation has expanded beyond participation as an individual expert to include mechanisms such as our delegates program, contributing member appointments, international interest review groups and our latest endeavor of having international ASME committees consisting of local industry based in other nations and conducting ASME committee business locally and in their native language. Examples include an international working group in India on gas pipelines and the just formed international working group in China for nuclear power plant construction.
Science and engineering serve as a universal language, and through ASME’s standard process of openness, transparency, consensus and due process we hope to continue to strengthen our relevancy to national/regional industry and governments.
ASME’s strategic road map focuses on energy, global impact and workforce development. What role will standards have in these initiatives?
Standards are an integral component of each of ASME’s strategic priorities. As ASME moves forward in addressing low carbon technologies, from its R&D-based conferences (ASME runs about 40 such conferences per year across a broad spectrum of engineering technologies) through the capturing and dissemination of knowledge gained through industry- and government-funded demonstration and deployment projects, and through state-of-the-art reports, new and updated standards will be an important outcome of the global engineering interactions and exchanges that take place within the space of ASME and its partners.
For ASME, engagement in workforce development is a continuum, beginning with our K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) endeavors in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education; through university/college engineering and engineering technology curricula accreditation; mechanical engineering department head initiatives; student scholarships, design contests, internships, etc.; and through continuing education courses, training and personnel certification programs for the practicing technical and engineering workforce.
In the past two years, we have also focused on expanding training courses and certificate programs offered by ASME primarily based on technical standards. Initially, such standards will be ASME codes and standards to start, but our end goal is to also cover competitive standards as a service to industry that is faced with meeting numerous standards when supplying to a global market.
ASME continues to extend its global impact through greater understanding, use and actual development of its standards, and related training, product and personnel certifications. More recently, ASME decided to accelerate its global outreach and to invest in positively impacting those billions of people who live on under US$4 a day. This led to the launching of Engineering for Change (E4C) in January 2011 by ASME along with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Engineers Without Borders-USA. In addition to these three founding organizations, two new groups joined the E4C coalition in July as leadership sponsors: the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. E4C is a growing community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, nongovernment organizations, local governments and community advocates whose mission is to improve quality of life in communities around the world by facilitating the development of affordable, locally appropriate and sustainable solutions to the most pressing humanitarian challenges.
What opportunities and challenges for ASME do you see for the future?
Should we be able to meet this challenge of sustained relevancy, opportunities will be boundless. And, at the end of the day, ASME will have served its mission in partnership with the global community, and at the same time, grow in size and reputation.
ASME and ASTM International have worked cooperatively for many years. How would you characterize that cooperation? How has it benefited standards setting?
You have been honored with the ASME Melvin R. Green Codes and Standards Medal as well as the ASTM International William T. Cavanaugh Memorial Award. What do these awards mean to you, as you worked with both Cavanaugh and Green?
When I received the William T. Cavanaugh Memorial Award in 2003, I was thrilled by the high distinction bestowed but quickly realized that it was not for any personal achievements but more along the same lines of achievements accomplished through the collaborative endeavors of both ASTM and ASME.
Both Mel Green and Bill Cavanaugh had a way of mentoring that was not obvious to those being mentored; only in retrospect did I realize how much they influenced my thinking and thus my actions. They placed their organization and public safety mission ahead of any personal benefit; this they did time and time again without mention or hesitation. I also remember the laughter during good times and during stressful times, and I need to remind myself that such laughter is an important way to ensure the next generation finds the work of standards an enriching experience.
Mentoring is important in the standards world. This is especially true for ASME and ASTM as our system for the development of international standards is not the norm in the rest of the world. Many of the issues surrounding standards cannot be properly addressed by a surface or cursory understanding of standards per se; one size does not fit all when it comes to what best serves the needs of a specific industry or market condition, and the need for those with a robust understanding of the impact of standards on innovation, trade and commerce, quality of life, and the inherent benefits and pitfalls of standards will only increase as the world shrinks, flattens or goes world-about (as Mel would say) again.
As associate executive director of standards and certification, June Ling is responsible for ASME codes, standards, conformity assessment and training programs. Ling joined the society’s technical codes and standards staff in 1974. Before becoming associate executive director in 1995, Ling served in several positions at ASME; more recently, she was managing director, operations (1992–1995); director, pressure technology codes and standards (1990-1992); and director, nuclear and safety codes and standards (1985-1990). She has served on numerous technical and administrative standards committees and has interacted with government agencies, industry and standards developing organizations throughout the world. Ling is a member of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Standards and Technical Barriers to Trade under the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; and the ASME Council on Standards and Certification. Ling, who has a B.S. in physics from the City College of New York, is an honorary member of ASTM International; a fellow of SES – The Society for Standards Professionals; and an ASME fellow.