Q&A with Ralph M. Paroli
NRC is the Canadian government's "go-to" research and technology organization, or RTO, and plays an important role in strengthening Canada's innovation landscape.
I have been fortunate to work for the NRC since I was an undergraduate. For nearly 25 years, I was in construction research, but now I am with NRC Measurement Science and Standards - better known as metrology. Similar to ASTM standards, accurate measurement underpins industrial success across all sectors.
As Canada's National Metrology Institute, we earn the confidence of government and industrial clients through the delivery of high value-for-money scientific measurement services and research. We ensure the basis for fair trade and commerce, enhancing societal well-being and enabling market opportunity through evolving and emerging technologies that rely on precision measurement. Like ASTM, NRC has been around for a long time. In fact, NRC is celebrating its centennial this year.
My role and the role of all R&D directors at NRC is to continually adapt our research activities to ensure we are undertaking projects that are most valuable to Canada and its industry. We ensure that our investments in science and technology deliver the tools needed by businesses to create jobs and compete in global markets. We work with clients and partners in government to develop solutions for Canada's needs through innovation, strategic research, and scientific and technical services.
The part of my job I enjoy the most is my interactions with NRC staff at all levels and those in industry. It is great to see how both work together to advance innovation, and we learn so much from each other.
We are involved in various technical committees for global standards developing organizations like ASTM International. I myself have chaired Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing, for example. Also, the Measurement Science and Standards group actively participates in the Standards Council of Canada's standards development activities such as the ISO/IEC mirror committees.
Reliable and accurate standards play a critical role in ensuring the validity of research, which in turn drives innovation and technology. By itself, an idea is great, but it needs to be refined through research to arrive at a product or material or process.
All research and testing done during this process makes use of standards, whether to calibrate a testing instrument or to ensure that the material meets certain performance criteria. At the end of the R&\;D process, you want to ensure that your innovation will be adopted. For this to happen, users need to be confident that what they are purchasing will do what it is intended to do.
Stakeholders - industry, the public and users - are crucial to developing valuable standards. Once a consensus is reached, all innovators and companies can show that their product or system meets this standard by carrying out the testing protocol listed in the standard. If they need to, they can seek certification against a given standard as well.
The positive impact of this is becoming clearer each day. The immediate impact is that it reinforces ASTM's leadership as a global standards development organization.
It makes sense that only one standard needs to be developed for Canada and our biggest trading partners, including the U.S., even if it means adding special testing conditions for one country or the other. For example, Canada may be more concerned about cold weather and so may add special testing conditions in the appendix of a product standard to ensure that the product will perform in cold weather.
ASTM has always been open to this approach and this has been done in the past - this is one of the reasons I became involved in ASTM. It is very useful for all stakeholders, but particularly for industry, to know that ASTM standards are referenced thousands of times in international regulations and building codes.
Since ASTM is accredited by SCC, those involved in developing a particular standard do not need to repeat the process within Canada. At the onset, SCC can let ASTM know that they would like to be involved, and this will help save time, money and effort. I hope that the long-term impact will be a more rapid harmonization of standards across North America and around the world.
My interest in sustainability began in the mid-1990s. Back then, I participated on the environmental task group of an international committee on roofing materials and systems. In 2001, we published guidelines for sustainable roofing, which summarized best practices for sustainable roofing from around the world. It also provided 21 basic principles, or "tenets" of sustainable roofing, applicable to membrane roofing systems on permanent buildings.
During this time, I became the director for building envelope and structure at NRC Construction and we started focusing some research on sustainability, including recycling, durability and energy conservation methods like reflective roofs.
In regard to sustainability overall, standards by themselves are not sufficient. One needs to put the standards into practice.
This is exactly what ASTM has been doing for so many years. Developing standards with input from stakeholders - users, industry, etc. - helps the public select materials and systems. Developing PCRs and EPDs is an extension of this, with a focus on environmental impact. As a program operator, ASTM is now educating the public by taking into account the entire supply chain and life cycle of a product. Many purchasers now look for these EPDs in addition to standards when making a purchasing decision. Both are about ASTM helping industry increase trade on a global scale while helping purchasers choose the most appropriate material or system based on their needs.
Manufacturing is a critical sector in Canada. It employs approximately 1.7 million Canadians. From my experience, I know that companies that adopt advanced manufacturing technologies and processes have a significant advantage in producing high value-added products and services. Recognizing this reality, the government of Canada provided funding to NRC for the creation of the Factory of the Future program to support Canadian industries by delivering technologies and innovations needed to remain globally competitive in current and future markets.
NRC continues to drive innovation toward emerging technologies that will help Canada's evolving manufacturing industries sustain themselves in competitive markets.
I think it is fantastic that ASTM is putting emphasis on SMEs for 2016. This is something we also have experience with in NRC. For over 50 years, our Industrial Research Assistance Program, or IRAP, has been helping small- and medium-sized enterprises take knowledge and innovative products to the marketplace.
Supporting SMEs leads to job creation, benefits to society, increases to profit and tax bases in the economy, increased research and development expenditures, commercial benefits, new equity financing, development of new products or services and the development of new processes and growth for a firm.
Standards help with trade, so what better way for an SME to understand the market than by participating in a standards development forum where all stakeholders are represented? You learn about product specifications, packaging, etc. - all details needed to help you be more competitive. At the same time, you get a better understanding of the international situation as well as how to overcome trade barriers through discussions with your peers.
ASTM is very welcoming to all those who wish to participate. Unlike other groups where people need an invitation to participate, anyone who wants to join a technical committee may do so at ASTM.
The need to develop the future generation of leaders and participants is not unique to ASTM activities. It applies to every organization. The best way to attract new participants is by doing exactly what ASTM has been doing for as long as I have been involved and longer: Ensure that you are leading innovation in well-established areas and keep looking at the emerging areas by listening to your members in the field.
ASTM provides the infrastructure to develop standards and new areas, but it is the members themselves who put the effort and the direction as to what standards are needed. One of the greatest difficulties when you are starting out, professionally or as a business, is to get known. The members of the technical committees I've been active on have always been open to hearing the views of everyone, regardless of how many years of experience one may have. When you provide comments on ballots, your comments are given full consideration by others. They take the time to explain whether they agree or disagree with you.
Joining an ASTM committee is a great way to learn about your field when you are a young professional. Once participants are involved, it is up to the committee officers and others who have been involved in those committees to help the new participants stay involved. This is what happened in my case and I know in other cases as well. There is a place for everyone, and the organization that sends its employees to participate benefits greatly because those young individuals are getting leadership experience, which then gets applied in their home organization.
For example, I believe that to be a "complete metrologist" you need to be a scientific expert, client-focused, diplomatic, professional and helpful. There is no better place than ASTM to develop all of these skills.
ASTM standards are held in high regard around the world. In fact, there are very few countries that do not use ASTM standards. Users do not care about the country of origin for the standard - they want to know that the standard helps promote safe and durable products.
One such example is Health Canada's Cribs, Cradles and Bassinets Regulations. These became effective in November 2010 under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Toward the end of July 2015, it was proposed that the CCBR be revised to include major modifications regarding hazards identified for cribs, cradles and bassinets that were not included in the 2010 regulations. These changes now reference ASTM standards for these products and should improve their safety and further prevent and minimize injuries.
Moreover, this aligns with CCBR and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requirements. Everyone - the consumer, industry, etc. - wins with this approach as, in the end, these products should have the same safety requirements regardless of whether they are used in the U.S. or Canada or anywhere else in the world. There are many other examples in construction, amusements rides and so on.
I am quite honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as chairman of the ASTM board in 2016. From its reputable members to its competent staff, ASTM is a fantastic organization. Everyone strives to bring out the best in a product or system or process. Everyone is there to provide expert opinions and learn from other experts.
As a citizen of Canada and France, I can attest to the fact that ASTM and its members value the input and opinion of experts, regardless of country of origin, in their quest to develop world-class standards.
I would like to see the international membership grow. One way is to get information out in more languages. Many of the articles in this issue of SN will be available in French, for example. ASTM's Compass® allows users to search for information in a multitude of languages. I hope to see these types of efforts expanded over the coming years.
I hope to gain insights from our international members regarding how we can get more international participation. I look forward to learning more about the various committees and what ASTM can do to help each committee advance its own goals and objectives.
Ralph Paroli directs R&D in measurement science and standards at the National Research Council of Canada.
The Measurement Science and Standards research portfolio is part of the Emerging Technologies division at NRC and serves as Canada's national metrology institute. It provides measurement science advice and technical services to government and industrial clients, forming the foundation of fair trade and commerce and enabling market opportunities through evolving and emerging technologies that rely on precision measurement.
Among its capabilities, the Measurement Science and Standards group offers instrument calibration, chemical purity analysis, certified reference materials, mass spectrometry analysis, precision instrumentation and newly developed capabilities in emerging areas such as nanoscale measurements and black carbon emission metrology.
Third-party calibration laboratories seeking accreditation to international quality standards benefit from NRC's metrology assessment services, which gives them a competitive advantage. Here are some examples of the value this NRC team provides to Canadian business and industry every day.
What time is it? The National Research Council knows. Responsible for Canada's time signal, the NRC maintains the cesium atomic clocks that provide official time for Canada. These are accurate to a few millionths of a second per year. Time difference measurements with a precision within a few nanoseconds are routinely made between these clocks and a number of signals derived from secondary clocks and radio transmissions received at the laboratory.
Companies and laboratories from around the world use NRC's certified reference materials (CRMs) for environmental testing, food and agricultural products, nanomaterials, stable isotopes and more. NRC's CRMs for toxin measurement are used by regulatory labs worldwide to protect the public from shellfish poisoning and facilitate the international trade of seafood products.
When delivered with precision and in doses that meet exacting standards, ionizing radiation can help diagnose and treat disease. Proper calibrations ensure that treatment doses are consistent from one patient to another. Calibrations are equally important for clinical trials, where new techniques or treatment regimens are being evaluated correctly, because reliable assessment depends on dose precision and consistency.
White means big money in the pulp and paper industry. "Whiteness" is a key product specifier of paper that translates to its market value. NRC developed a reference instrument for traceable measurements of whiteness that is used to establish the absolute whiteness level for various types of paper. For almost two decades, NRC has been the world's keeper of optical property reference standards for the paper industry as set out by the International Organization for Standardization.Ralph M. Paroli, Ph.D., is director, research and development, in the Measurement Science and Standards portfolio at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.