Bookmark and Share

Standardization News Search
Issues in the International Standardization of Steel

by Satoji Maehara


For years, the Japan Iron and Steel Federation (JISF) has pursued standardization in the field of iron and steel. Its principal areas of activity include the development of JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) as a task commissioned by the Japanese Industrial Standardization Committee (JISC), the execution of the development of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards as one of the leading organizations in Japan, which is a secretariat for ISO, and keeping current with developments in major standardization efforts, such as ASTM International and EN (European Standards).

Our greatest concern at present is to search for the role of a new system of international standards in the field of iron and steel in a manner that is in harmony with the 21st century — an era in which globalization will make even greater strides than in the past. We have taken the first step toward bringing such a system into reality. This article provides a review of the new international standards we have envisioned, and what activities have been undertaken toward the actual establishment of such standards.

Steel and Standardization

In searching for the role of new international standards in the field of iron and steel, as a starting point, it may be useful to review what has transpired in the past in the area of standardization.

Steel and standardization have been closely tied to each other. Indeed, they have grown by impacting each other.

The advent of the Bessemer steel-making method during the 19th century led to a quantum increase in the productivity of the steel-making process. The iron and steel now produced in huge volumes served to meet the rapid increase in demand for an infrastructure, such as the construction of railroads. It was during that period that various industrial standardization efforts got under way. It is noteworthy that industrial standardization was first initiated in the field of iron and steel.

In fact, it may be worth recalling that ASTM, which is one of the most time-honored standard development organizations, came into being because of the need to develop standards for railroads toward the end of the 19th century. Indeed, the first technical committee that was established was one specializing in iron and steel, and the title of the first ASTM standard ever published was ASTM A 1, Specification for Steel Rails.

It is an undeniable fact that standards are essential for the production and distribution of iron and steel. Steel is used in a broad spectrum of infrastructure construction, including buildings, roads, bridges, railroads, automobiles, ships, and utility supply systems. Different applications require different properties. For example, whereas liquefied natural gas tanks require steel that excels in low-temperature properties, power plants require steel that is strong in high-temperature properties. Thus, the name of the game in steel-making is to accurately meet the different needs presented by various applications and to build the appropriate properties into the steel through the use of the latest technology.

Thus, steel is an industrial product endowed with complex, wide-ranging properties. The standards represent a set of required properties simply, in a code such as JISG1234GrA, using only about 10 symbols. Such a code also provides a common language that permits all parties involved in the lengthy and complex steel supply chain to effectively communicate with one another. Therefore, a standard is of critical importance for steel.

Environment Surrounding the Standardization of Steel

It has been common practice that the party ordering steel specifies its order to the steel manufacturer in terms of the standards established by the party’s own country. For example, an American customer would place an order from a Japanese steel maker by specifying his requirements in terms of the ASTM standards. Likewise, Japanese or East Asian customers would normally place an order by using the JIS standards. Although the ISO standards were developed in the latter half of the 20th century, it appears that they are not used very much in actual business transactions.

In 1985, the EU (European Union) announced its New Approach, which represented a new set of policies in anticipation of the integration of the European market. In that climate, the EU developed a new set of standards called the European Standards (EN) as a common set of standards applicable to the Union. It has been legally mandated that the individual countries in the EU abolish their own national standards in favor of the EN standards, and countries have complied. In the gigantic supply chain, all parties involved have committed themselves to abandon the hitherto familiar national standards and have begun to use the new EN standards. Such a large-scale transformation is possible only when a powerful organization takes the initiative and allocates the resources necessary for its implementation.

In the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was established in 1995, member countries have signed the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. Regarding standards, the TBT Agreement proscribes: “Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, the standardizing body shall use them, or their relevant parts, as a basis for the standards it develops.” Although there are differences between mandatory standards (regulations) and voluntary standards, basically, each country is legally mandated to bring its own domestic standards into compatibility with international standards. Although the questions “What is an international standard?” and “What are the requirements spelled out in such a standard?” are subject to interpretation, in this article, we assume that the international standards are synonymous with the ISO standards.

To comply with the philosophy of the WTO/TBT Agreement, for three years during the period from 1995 to 1997 in Japan, JIS and ISO standards were compared and reviewed in the various fields covered by JIS. That program involved an effort to bring the JIS standards into compatibility with the ISO standards to the maximum possible extent. Since then, it has been required that any revision of a JIS standard be conducted by comparing and studying the corresponding ISO standard in order to ensure compatibility.

International Conditions Surrounding Steel Standards

In the field of iron and steel, the process of reviewing JIS-ISO compatibility involved a comparison between 150 JIS standards and ISO standards for compatibility.

The JIS standards were compared not only with the ISO standards, but also with ASTM and EN standards. As a result, it was confirmed that the JIS standards are largely similar to the ASTM standards in content and that there are significant differences between the JIS standards on one hand and the ISO and EN standards on the other hand. In addition, contrary to the popular notion that the EN standards are extremely similar to the ISO standards, it was confirmed, unexpectedly, that there are a number of differences between the EN and ISO standards.

We presented the results of the study to parties involved in the creation of the standards in various countries, and have had a number of frank discussions with them. One agreement that emerged from those discussions is that, whereas the JIS, ASTM, and EN are being used in various business transactions, depending upon the geography, the ISO standards are not widely used in any region in the world.

A typical example of steel standards differing significantly between Japan, the United States, and Europe is a case involving the steel materials for pressurized containers. Compared with the JIS or ASTM, the EN standards require a high degree of yield strength while allowing a low degree of tensile strength, resulting in a high yield ratio. In terms of chemical composition, compared with the JIS or ASTM, the EN standards require a high manganese content, which is understandable from the point of view of obtaining a high yield strength. (Incidentally, the ISO standards largely parallel the EN standards.)

For the fabrication of steel structures, countries have established standards regarding the selection of materials, structural design, and implementation methods, and these standards are given higher priority than the steel standards. These design standards vary between Japan and the United States on one hand and Europe on the other hand. Whereas in Japan and the United States, design stress is calculated according to tensile strength, in Europe, the same quantity is calculated based upon yield strength. The different stress criteria result in different performance characteristics on a given piece of steel material that is used, which, in turn, result in differences in mechanical properties and even chemical composition. An important point is that Japan, the United States, and Europe have all established standards based on adequate performance data, by incorporating the latest technology, and by taking safety factors into consideration. Given that these standards represent an optimal consideration, balancing safety and cost, among the total combination of the selection of materials, structural design, and implementation methods, naturally, it is not a matter of which is better than the other.

There are a number of cases where steel standards vary among Japan, the United States, and Europe, from country to country, and from region to region, such as in coated steel sheet standards.

Given the current situation where there are significant differences in standards among countries and regions, the problem cannot be resolved solely through the efforts of steel standards-making personnel. However, would it be possible to build a new set of international standards, centered upon the ISO standards, so that mutually compatible national standards will envelop the various countries, instead of just sitting back and hoping that markets and standards will converge into a set of conditions? Therefore, we have begun to think that, given that Japan is a secretariat country in ISO, perhaps the Japan Iron and Steel Federation should undertake a standardization effort with a view toward the establishment of a new set of international standards.

Creating and Maintaining Market Relevance

Standards must be used in actual business transactions. Therefore, they must be a body of rules that adequately reflect market conditions. In other words, they must be standards that are rich in market relevance. A set of standards will be used actively if the “image” mirrored by it accurately represents the steel properties that are demanded in the marketplace.

If the market relevance of ISO standards can be enhanced, if they can be improved into “standards that are actively used in the marketplace,” and if a set of international standards can be established that integrate the various national standards, international trade will be further promoted. In this manner, the benefits of standardization, such as cost reduction and a speedier distribution of goods, can be expected to accrue.

Major steel standards in the world, including JIS, ASTM, and EN, embody a high degree of market relevance for the respective markets they are intended to serve, and consequently, they are actively used. However, there are significant differences among them. Exactly where the ISO standards, which should be the center of these standards, should be positioned is an issue. Bringing the ISO standards closer to a given set of standards can reduce the market relevance of the other standards. What should not be done is to simple-mindedly “take the average,” which would result in loss of market relevance for all markets. How can this conundrum be solved?

New Set of International Standards

It was in 1996 that Japan, as secretariat for ISO/Technical Committee (ISO/TC) 17, proposed an approach to the construction of a new set of international standards in ISO/TC17. At the ISO/TC17/SC3 (Steels for Structural Purposes) conference held in Paris in 1996, an amendment to some of the requirements in the ISO standards was debated. European members proposed an amendment based on the EN standards, and Japanese members proposed an amendment based on JIS. Because the JIS standards and the corresponding ASTM standards were similar, the debate largely revolved around a comparison between the EN standards and the JIS/ASTM standards. With the understanding that it was not a matter of which is good and which is bad, there was an active discussion on what position should be taken by ISO, given the fact there was a considerable philosophical gap between the EN and JIS/ASTM standards. Japan demonstrated the EN requirements and the JIS/ASTM requirements side-by-side with the ISO standards, and proposed that the selection of the standard to be adopted should be left to the discretion of the purchaser of goods. After active discussion, the Japanese proposal, with the endorsement of the chair and the various members representing their respective countries, was formally approved. The rationale for this action may be summarized as follows:

• EN and JIS/ASTM are rich in market relevance.
• There are no technical advantages vs. disadvantages between EN and JIS/ASTM.
• If there was a question of which is better, the matter would be decided by the market (rather than by standards-making specialists).
• Therefore, EN and JIS/ASTM requirements should be listed side by side to provide clear options from which the marketplace would make a choice.
• Provisions that can be unified should be unified. The final result should not be a “shopping list” encompassing all the provisions of EN, JIS, and ASTM.

After subsequent debates, a revised edition of the amended ISO standards will be issued shortly. The documentation in which the requirements of the two sets of standards are listed side by side is referred to as “cohabitation.” It should be noted that “cohabitation” type standards are also being developed in subcommittees within TC17 other than SC3.

It was agreed that, as an approach to the establishment of international standards, for the time being, efforts will be undertaken to construct the following three types of ISO standards, which are specifically identified in the new “TC17 Business Plan” that was compiled in 2000:

• Pattern A [Identical Type]: The provisions of the various national standards are unified and incorporated into the ISO standards.
• Pattern B [Cohabitation Type]
• Pattern C [Common Denominator Type]: Provisions common to the various national standards are extracted and a set of ISO standards comprised of those provisions will be established.

It was assumed that member countries will make an effort to bring their national standards into compatibility with the ISO standards.

Completely Matching Type

To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be emphasized that the cohabitation type of standard is not intended as a simple listing of the various provisions. The most desirable ISO standards are obviously the perfectly matching type. Standards developed within TC17 are intended to be this type to the maximum possible extent. Following is a case in point where standards-making is progressing in an effort to achieve the perfect matching type.

The Japan Iron and Steel Federation also serves as secretariat in the ISO/TC17/SC1 (Methods of Determination of Chemical Composition) committee, and as such, it is undertaking the development of ISO standards covering methods for the analysis of steel. Compared with the steel standards discussed above, standards covering analytical methods operate in an entirely different standardization environment.

A new method of analysis is subject to international experiments, and it is compiled according to the results of the experiments. Specifically, standard samples are sent to analytical laboratories that are located in the member countries, where analyses are performed. In a given project, a dozen analytical laboratories normally participate. The results are compiled, statistically processed, and reported to the committee. Based on discussions conducted at the committee, a review and examination of draft standards begins.

This process involves purely technical considerations, and as such, it is immune to vagaries of market conditions or design standards. Consequently, there are few differences between the ISO standards and the national standards in the area of analysis. In fact, we have simply added ISO standards to the JIS standards without modification. Similarly, many of the ISO standards developed by TC17/ SC1 have apparently been incorporated into the EN standards without modification.

The Japan Iron and Steel Federation also sits as secretariat on the ISO/TC67/SC5 committee (Materials, Equipment, and Offshore Structures for Petroleum and Natural Gas Industries/Casing, Tubing, and Drill Pipes). A standard of worldwide renown, American Petroleum Institute (API) 5CT, has existed in this field for years. TC67/SC5 has operated in complete coordination with API and conducted the development of unified ISO-API standards. The effort was completed in October 2001, and the results were published as ISO 11960. Simultaneously, an identical body of standards was published by API as API Spec 5CT, 7th Edition. This marked the birth of completely matching standards between ISO and API.


By viewing standards as a catalyst that brings the market conditions in the various countries into coalescence and helps to expand international trade, we have worked with colleagues from the various countries through the ISO. The road to the establishment of a new set of international standards is long, and better approaches may still emerge in the future. We would like to continue to study the issues in an open-minded posture.

As a final note, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues from the European countries, America, Canada, and China, who have devoted a great deal of their time to the discussion of issues and provided valuable advice.

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Satoji Maehara is the general manager of Standardization Center of JISF (The Japan Iron and Steel Federation). He is in charge of standardization in steel sector in both domestic and international arenas and chairs the ISO/TC102 on iron ores and direct reduced iron.