Collaborating for Consensus
Partnering is an important strategy for 21st century business and government. Bringing multiple stakeholders to the party can yield cost-effective results in many arenas.
Of course, when the goal is to develop and implement standards, ASTM International is no stranger to partnerships. Everything the organization does is built around consensus, cooperation and involving multiple parties in a common endeavor. With that built-in culture and expertise in a spectrum of areas, ASTM has also become the go-to organization for a wide range of recent standards efforts involving well-known, high profile organizations.
A case in point is the work of ASTM and IAPMO, now about three years old, to develop heat metering standards. IAPMO, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, has long coordinated the development and adoption of plumbing, mechanical, swimming pool and solar energy codes for jurisdictions across the United States and globally.
IAPMO's partnership with ASTM was sparked by an effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that recognized the potential importance of standards that could enhance the adoption of cleaner technologies for heating and cooling applications. An issue that concerned the agency, according to James Critchfield, the EPA's director of clean technology initiatives, Washington, D.C., was that the means of objectively comparing the accuracy and performance characteristics of heat meter products did not exist in the U.S. market. "For example, several states interested in recognizing renewable heating and cooling resources through state [renewable portfolio standards] or incentive programs were presented with the prospect of having to develop their own accuracy and operational requirements for eligible metering equipment," says Critchfield. Metering is fundamental to measuring and attributing the energy, financial and environmental benefits of projects.
For states providing incentives, metering inaccuracy can represent "money on the table," because, as Critchfield notes, "states are sensitive to incenting projects with public monies that do not produce benefits." As a result, a trend had emerged for some state policymakers to move away from capacity-based incentives to performance-based incentives, which would provide payments solely based on actual delivery of benefits. The California Solar Initiative Thermal Program adopted performance-based incentives and other states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, began to look at similar strategies within their state renewable portfolio policies.
The ultimate issue for EPA - and for industry - was the concern that if each state adopted different accuracy and operational requirements for heat meter instrumentation, it would make it more difficult for manufacturers to produce metering products economically and would ultimately retard the adoption of heating and cooling technologies. Forcing companies to customize products for 50 (or more) jurisdictions would have been a very bad result.
"It became clear to us that it would be very helpful to get out in front of this issue," says Critchfield.
At that point, explains Pete DeMarco, senior vice president of advocacy, research and program development at IAPMO, EPA put out a call for organizations to take up a standards development process for heat metering. "We took a look at the subject and realized that ASTM had already accomplished a great deal in that direction through the E44 committee, so we reached out to the organization to discuss the feasibility of working together," explains DeMarco.
The inquiry quickly blossomed into a memorandum of understanding outlining mutual expectations and details of the process for working together. Heat metering can be used with many kinds of thermal technologies, many of which are underutilized in the United States, DeMarco explains. "It applies to any application of heat or use of heat as a source of energy whether in the home or for process heat in industry," he says. Having a common basis of metrics is crucial to ensure that incentive programs work or even to make it easier for organizations to work with third-party energy providers, he says.
The heat metering methods can be used with any kind of waste heat that can be captured and utilized as well as with solar. "It can apply to solar thermal or to radiant technologies," DeMarco says.
"We highly value our relationship with ASTM. It is a great project and we look forward to more collaboration with ASTM where we share common goals," he adds.
Another well-established partnership pairs ASTM International Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies and America Makes, a flagship institute for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation institutes, driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. America Makes is the national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3-D printing and promotes anything, including standards, that can speed up the successful adoption of additive manufacturing techniques.
Last year, ASTM and America Makes signed an MOU that outlines a framework of cooperation for developing ASTM standards in the area of additive manufacturing. Edward Morris, director of America Makes, Youngstown, Ohio, says his organization's broad goals, accelerating the use of additive technology and fomenting innovation in the United States, is built on collaboration. "To accomplish our goals we are continually looking at barriers ... and trying to identify where to put investments and research and development efforts. We connect the dots," he explains.
Standards are a key to the wider adoption of additive manufacturing, he notes. "Additive manufacturing needs to have an appropriate body of standards so that engineers can do their designs using materials with properties that the standards community has embraced," says Morris.
Morris says this is particularly important in an emerging technology such as additive manufacturing. "There are numerous handbooks on materials properties for traditional applications such as forgings and castings, but you need similar underpinnings for additive manufacturing, so it was extraordinarily logical to partner with ASTM's F42 committee, which has a focus on this topic," he adds.
"Our partnering with ASTM and the F42 committee is important to our joint success and we look forward to growing the relationship in the future," Morris says.
Safety for law enforcement personnel also turns out to be an area where standards development is important. One of the most recent partnerships to get off the ground pairs ASTM with the U.S. National Institute of Justice and focuses on a standard related to ballistic resistant shields. Shields are essential to the safety of law enforcement officers, especially during active shooter incidents. A proposed new ASTM International standard from ASTM Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications will be used to establish minimum performance requirements for this life-saving equipment.
George Tillery, office director, Office of Science and Technology, at the National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C., explains that NIJ itself develops equipment performance testing standards for the unique equipment used by criminal justice agencies in order to help ensure that equipment is safe and effective.
"The need for new standards arises from the process NIJ uses to identify high priority criminal justice technology needs," says Tillery. Standards are then developed by committees involving expert criminal justice practitioners, scientists, engineers and, as practicable, representatives of the vendor community through a consensus process.
Between 1972 and 2012, NIJ published more than 60 standards. However, Tillery says, NIJ has only developed standards where one did not exist or where an existing standard did not meet the needs of criminal justice agencies. In the current fiscal environment, NIJ's ability to develop and maintain standards is more constrained. "NIJ intends to overcome this challenge by establishing strategic partnerships with voluntary consensus standards bodies," says Tillery. To the extent possible, NIJ will encourage these bodies to develop and maintain needed standards. Where the business case cannot be made for developing and maintaining a complete standard, NIJ will instead encourage the development and maintenance of relevant test methods that can be incorporated into NIJ-developed standards, reducing the requirement for federal funding, according to Tillery.
In the future, NIJ will only fund the development and publication of standards and test methods where a voluntary consensus standards body cannot be encouraged to do so.
Tillery says NIJ standards incorporate elements from voluntary consensus standards to the greatest extent possible.
Over the past several years, NIJ staff members have been participating in ASTM Committee E54 and have become familiar with their technical committee members' expertise and eagerness to embrace new equipment standards. E54 addresses voluntary consensus standards that influence areas of homeland security, including law enforcement, across a diverse set of equipment needs. Standards for many of NIJ's unique equipment needs fall within ASTM's capability.
Standards can play a role in unexpected areas, too. The Critical Materials Institute, which is headquartered at the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, is focused on efforts to develop solutions to domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials vital to U.S. energy security.
Alex King, D.Phil., director of CMI, Ames, Iowa, explains that his organization takes three distinct strategies toward securing supply chains. One approach is to diversify the supply chain to remove the vulnerability of relying on only a single source for a given material. The second is to try to find alternative materials that can do the same job. "That's probably the most difficult approach," says King. The third approach is reducing waste in manufacturing and improving reuse and recycling. "We try to foster all three approaches by developing technologies that allow each of them to be more successful," says King.
Rare earth material standards play a role in each area but are particularly relevant to better use of materials and to reuse and recycling. For example, he notes, until recently, manufacturers tended to use some materials just because they were available. In the case of rare earth elements, they often were incorporated in magnets as a way to improve performance. However, notes King, many applications could use magnets with reduced amounts of certain rare earths while still delivering necessary performance.
Standards, King believes, could help clarify performance requirements and the link between those requirements and the use of scarce materials, allowing engineers to better optimize the use of materials. Similarly, at the end of the product life cycle, standards could play a role in providing indicators of what materials are present in a device and where so that recyclers can make economically viable choices about what to disassemble and what to simply scrap.
The end result should be a supply chain strengthened by standards and, King notes, a more economical and reliable supply of critical, hard-to-obtain materials.
As with other partnering efforts, it's progress that would have been difficult to accomplish without sharing resources. ASTM's special capabilities are also crucial. "We worked for about a year to develop an MOU that would capture our goals and harness our capabilities," says King. And now, it's time for CMI and ASTM to bring needed standards into reality.Alan Earls is a writer and author who covers business and technology topics for newspapers, magazines and websites. He is based near Boston, Massachusetts.