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Serving the Standards Community - NIST Technology Services

January/February 2008

Serving the Standards Community

NIST Technology Services


After voluntary consensus standards are approved and published, many of them go on to have wide influence around the world. NIST Technology Services, led by Belinda L. Collins, Ph.D., is responsible for programs that help users everywhere make the most of the standards that fuel
international commerce.

Standards are a bridge… Between research and product delivery… Between technology and the technical, economic and social needs of users.

Mary Saunders, chief of the Technology Services’ Standards Services Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, described standards in this way during a recent workshop on U.S. practices in standards and conformity assessment for international officials. The NIST division provides assistance about that bridge – standards – to individuals and industry.

“We’re all about helping the government operate more efficiently and effectively where standards and conformity are concerned,” says Saunders. “NIST administers the standards-related programs that provide solutions to regulatory and industry need and increase trade opportunities.”

NCSCI: Standards Information at the Ready

The National Center for Standards and Certification Information, a major program operated by NIST Technology Services, responds to callers from around the world who have questions connected with standards. NCSCI combines extensive resources and the expertise of four staffers who together have more than a century of experience with standards and who respond to requests for information arriving through e-mail, phone calls, letters and – by appointment – visitors. To answer questions, NCSCI taps into extensive electronic databases of millions of industry, national, regional and international standards; U.S. military specifications and U.S. Federal procurement standards; the U.S. Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations; and a related reference collection.

NCSCI staff members, who have participated in U.S. Department of Commerce training for domestic and international trade officials as well as sessions sponsored by the Trade Policy Staff Committee, have recently supplied customers with details about existing design and manufacturing specifications for tank trucks, advice about Mexican regulations for foods and additives, and information related to starting an infant bedding business, to name just a few.

Ana Girdner, an information systems auditor for ExxonMobil, is one professional who has been in contact with NCSCI to keep up to date about standards she could consider for her internal audit program. “Information technology, as you know, is a challenging area to audit due to constantly changing technologies and the emergence of so many different standards. NIST is a source for standards currently being applied in industry,” says Girdner. She added that the information NCSCI offers is a tremendous help.

The NCSCI staff also often directs people to ASTM International standards and ASTM staff (see sidebar).

To contact NCSCI, e-mail NCSCI; call 301/975-4040 or write the National Center for Standards and Certification Information, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, MS-2160, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-2160.

WTO Inquiry Point and Notify U.S.

Through two specialized NCSCI services, the World Trade Organization Inquiry Point and Notify U.S., companies, agencies and individuals can learn about proposed technical regulations that may significantly affect trade. NCSCI receives one-page notifications from WTO member countries – in English – about proposed product regulations and the final date for comments on proposed rules as required by the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

U.S. citizens and U.S.-based firms can keep up to date on drafts or changes to regulations in the U.S. and other countries that could affect businesses and trade by subscribing to an e-mail service called Notify U.S., which also guides comment preparation and submission. In addition, the e-mails include links to the Notify U.S. database, where subscribers can find additional information and download or order the complete texts of rules, which are obtained by NCSCI specifically to make them available to those who need them.

As the U.S. WTO Inquiry Point, NCSCI gathers information about proposed conformity assessment systems from nations around the world, as well as what standards or technical regulations that exported and imported products must meet. In addition, the center tracks regulatory contact information for both the U.S. and other countries. “The information exchange that NCSCI facilitates makes it easier for U.S. exporters and businesses to identify foreign regulations and standards that may impact their products and services and, conversely, for our trading partners to identify relevant U.S. regulations,” says Saunders.

For more information about registering for the Notify U.S. service, and to learn more about NCSCI’s role as the U.S. inquiry point under the WTO TBT agreement, click here.

Standard Reference Materials

In addition to providing information about standards, NIST laboratories produce Standard Reference Materials – actual materials that meet specific certification criteria – that are sold for calibration, method validation and other comparison purposes.

The SRM spectrum covers engineering and environmental materials, physical properties and industrial hygiene, to name a few categories, of items used to verify measurement accuracy or for instrument calibrations. Currently, the SRM catalog includes more than 1,250 SRMs produced by NIST laboratories, with 20 to 30 new additions each year.

NIST began to issue these standard samples soon after the agency’s creation in 1901 and in 1965 began to use the current name. Over the years, since issuing SRM 1, Argillaceous Limestone, NIST has developed more than 4,900 SRMs that have been updated, replaced or discontinued as needed by those who rely on them.

Manufacturers, scientific and technical groups, colleges and universities, and government agencies that order SRMs receive a certificate of analysis that provides details about the material as well as its uses. In addition, when applicable, SRMs include a Materials Safety Data Sheet. NIST also publishes articles and practice guides that describe the development, analysis and use of SRMs.

In the February 2006 issue of SN, Chief of Technology Services’ Measurement Services Division Robert L. Watters, Jr., and Business Specialist Nancy Parrish wrote, “NIST Standard Reference Materials have long played a central role in industry and commerce, and more recently in areas such as criminal justice, public safety and homeland security. NIST has earned this role by consistently matching design, development and production to customer needs, incorporating innovation, ensuring quality and providing outstanding follow-up support.”

For SRM program questions or to order NIST SRMs, call 301/975-2200; write NIST Measurement Services Division, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 2300, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-2300; click here to e-mail; or order online.

Standards in Trade

In an initiative designed to present and explain the U.S. standardization system to global trade partners, NIST began sponsoring Standards in Trade workshops in 1995 in partnership with U.S. private sector institutions. The workshops, which come under the Technology Services umbrella, provide up-to-date information to key private and public standards officials from other countries on U.S. practices in standards and conformity assessment. Each program runs for one week and includes briefings, panel discussions and related site visits.

From the programs, which include information from several organizations, attendees learn more about U.S. technology and practices in metrology, standardization and conformity assessment; the roles of the U.S. government and the private sector in developing and implementing standards; and how to develop relationships to strengthen technical ties and enhance trade.

The 2007 schedule included programs on oil and gas for South America, intelligent transportation systems for Chinese officials and the harmonization of Asia-Pacific test procedures for electronics and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

ASTM International has participated regularly in the workshops since their beginning and has presented information on such topics as roadway infrastructure and safety, gas and oil sectors, building codes and standards, and fire research. “The workshops are a great example of a public-private partnership,” says Teresa Cendrowska, ASTM vice president of global cooperation. “The programs show the range of NIST’s services to those involved.”

According to Cendrowska, a Standards in Trade workshop on cement and concrete for Latin America, held at an ASTM Committee Week, initiated an interchange that most recently has led to the establishment of online centers in seven Latin American countries. ASTM International, in cooperation with concrete trade associations in those countries, is making ASTM standards more available at the centers through free view-only access, discounted pricing and the ability to demonstrate standards and publication products at various trade shows, exhibits and meetings. Research reports and ASTM Digital Library content will also be available. Another favorable result, Cendrowska noted, is increased awareness of and interest in being involved in ASTM activities.

For more information about the SIT workshops, e-mail Ellen Emard; call 301/975-4038; or write the NIST Global Standards and Information Group, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 2100, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-2100.

Weights and Measures: Weighing in on Measurable Work

When people buy gas and groceries or firms buy and sell commodities or products, weighing and measuring devices are used to conduct those transactions. A familiar example is that of gasoline sold in the marketplace. State and local weights and measures regulators must look at the type of blend, how it is labeled and how it is sold so purchasers can make price and quantity comparisons, and possibly temperature compensation requirements, in addition to making sure the device (gas pump) is operating accurately and correctly. The work that the NIST Weights and Measures Division performs plays a critical role in such situations.

“Weights and measures are important in commerce because they touch everyone’s lives on a daily basis, whether buying gas or groceries or other commodities,” says Carol Hockert, chief, NIST Weights and Measures Division. “Our role is to promote uniformity across the country in the 50 states and more than 500 weights and measures regulatory programs. Uniform standards help to ensure accurate measurements, enhance consumer protection and promote economic growth and trade.”

According to the division’s Web site, weights and measures, one of the longest-running NIST programs, promote uniformity in U.S. weights and measures laws, regulations and standards. To help accomplish this mission, the National Conference on Weights and Measures was established in 1905 as a professional organization of state and local weights and measures officials as well as business, industry, consumer and federal agency representatives. Hockert adds that the Weights and Measures Division works with the NCWM to harmonize U.S. and international standards so that commodities can move with the fewest barriers to trade in a competitive marketplace.

Recent division efforts include meetings with organizations to discuss standards for the next generation of nuclear power, working on devices to measure fat in an animal carcass, and facilitating the recently organized U.S. National Work Group on Commercial Hydrogen Measurement Standards, which is preparing for the anticipated need for device, fuel quality and other legal metrology standards related to hydrogen when used to refuel vehicles and in other applications. For the latter, the work group is currently revising a draft hydrogen gas meters code, as it plans to consider standards development in three areas: dispensing equipment or systems, method of sale requirements and fuel quality standards.

The division also conducts regional and on-site laboratory metrology training, runs training programs in testing and inspection of devices and packaged commodities, publishes model regulations for states to adopt as law and provides training on the proper application of these standards.

For questions about the weights and measures program, e-mail the Weights and Measures Division; call 301/975-4004; or write to Weights and Measures Division, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Mailstop 2600, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-2600.

ICSP: A Group for Policy

The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 and U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities, direct the U.S. government to participate in the development of and to use voluntary consensus standards. Policy related to that standards work is coordinated by NIST Technology Services, working through the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy, which fosters government participation in domestic and international standards and in conformity assessment activities. In addition, ICSP advises the Secretary of Commerce and government agencies about standards policy.

The committee includes representatives from diverse U.S. cabinet departments such as the Departments of Commerce, Defense and Transportation and such agencies as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Postal Service.
“Members have shared information on both the practical and policy implications of the law and have worked closely with OMB to ensure full understanding of the resources that agencies bring to bear in carrying out the direction of the law and Circular A-119,” wrote Saunders, ICSP chair, in the ANSI Reporter on the 10th anniversary of the NTTAA.

The committee, which meets at least three times a year, prepares annual reports detailing participation in voluntary consensus standards activities and the use of such standards by the U.S. government. According to that report, for fiscal year 2006, 591 standards were adopted by federal agencies, about 9 percent of the estimated total of voluntary consensus standards in use by the U.S. federal government. In addition, for the same year, agencies reported participation in 413 private sector standards bodies.

Recent examples of such efforts include CPSC involvement in the revision to the ASTM International standard on baby walkers to address falls down stairs and the U.S. Coast Guard’s adoption of more than 450 standards related to improving maritime safety and marine environmental protection.

A Final Word

The NIST mission is “To promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.”

The Technology Services work is a critical part of that mission. “Technology Services delivers measurement, standards and technology solutions on behalf of NIST,” says Collins.

“Technology Services helps NIST maintain a cross-cutting view of government needs in the standards-setting spectrum, while working closely with the private sector,” adds Saunders. “We facilitate communications on both sides – in government and in the private sector. We’re really the only agency that looks across all areas in this way.”