Every manufactured object we encounter in our daily lives is the physical manifestation of a step-by-step process that stretches from mines, mills, and refineries to local store shelves and online catalogs. This series of transactions and processes — which can be as simple, or as complicated, as the object itself — is known as the supply chain.
Defined as the network of entities that are linked in serving the same end user, the supply chain includes raw material suppliers, manufacturers who convert these inputs into products, warehouses and distribution centers, and retailers who sell the products.
Every link in the supply chain represents both opportunity and peril. The opportunity? To build a profitable business as the provider of a raw material or manufactured component that contributes to the success of your customer’s end product. The peril? Being identified as the “weakest link,” the source of a material or part that fails to meet required specifications – and losing your position in the customer’s supply chain as a result.
But how do supply chain participants assess the quality of the materials they receive from their vendors as well as the performance of their own products? The answer, across many industries, is through the use of ASTM standards. In the words of Shane Collins, director of additive manufacturing programs at CalRAM, “ASTM standards are used to communicate exactly what requirements our company expects the supply chain to fulfill.”
CalRAM, located in Camarillo, California, is a leader in the burgeoning field of additive manufacturing. Also referred to as 3D printing, AM is a computerized process that builds three-dimensional objects by adding successive layers of material, one atop another, as directed by a CAD file that contains necessary design parameters such as thickness, shape, and contours.
According to Shane Collins, “CalRAM maintains a robust supply chain to support our 3D printing of metal parts, primarily for the aerospace and defense industries.” Incoming “feedstock” powder is sourced from several suppliers, many located in Canada and Germany (more on that later).
CalRAM’s supply chain must meet demanding requirements for safety-critical applications. These requirements are codified in a plethora of ASTM standards that “flow down” to vendors via purchase orders, including standard test methods for sieve analysis (B214), volumetric flow rate (B855), and particle size distribution (B822) of metal powders.
As both a CalRAM executive and chairman of ASTM Subcommittee F42.05 on Materials and Processes (part of the committee on additive manufacturing), Collins is very involved in the standards development process. For example, he created the work item that ultimately became a key specification for AM using powder bed fusion technology (F2924). “The aerospace and defense industry have strict requirements for standards to enable precise communication between the supplier and purchaser,” Collins says. “F2924 paved the way for what is now titanium flight hardware for space craft that is revolutionizing satellite construction.”
Subcommittee F42.05 also works with experts from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to ensure that AM industry standards are widely accepted — a key consideration for a firm like CalRAM, whose supply chain extends around the world.
Taco van der Maten of Netherlands-based PANalytical offers a unique perspective on the relationship between ASTM standards and supply chain management.
The company’s sophisticated equipment uses advanced technologies to analyze the chemical, structural, and physical properties of a wide range of products and materials. These X-ray diffractometers, XRF spectrometers and other instruments are used by PANalytical customers to determine whether their products meet ASTM standards, ensuring compliance with customer supply chain requirements.
“In many industries, X-rays play a vital role in product testing and quality control,” says van der Maten, a vice chairman of ASTM’s board and chairman of ASTM’s committee on declarable substances in materials (F40).
At the same time, hundreds of items in PANalytical’s own supply chain — from simple bolts and screws to high tech materials used to build X-ray equipment — have themselves been tested for compliance with key ASTM standards by the company’s vendors, often using PANalytical instruments.
In his role as marketing segment manager, van der Maten sees firsthand how customers use PANalytical’s instruments to ensure that whatever they’re evaluating – whether an input to their supply chain or their own finished products — meets accepted standards. And whether it’s fuel that has been tested for sulfur content (D2622), chemical analysis of cement (C114), or identification and quantification of hazardous substances like lead and cadmium in polymers and plastics (F2617), these standards are developed through the work of Committee F40 and numerous other committees and subcommittees.
Take lead, for example. “You have to go upstream in your supply chain to make sure lead isn’t there to begin with,” notes van der Maten. “Standards build trust by providing an industry-accepted method of verifying that a hazardous material like lead is not present, and that each element of the supply chain complies with stringent standards regarding lead content. The fact that several ASTM standards and guides are process-based, in addition to product-based, enhances their universality and adds an extra layer of credibility.”
The supply chain for a particular product includes more than just the various materials and components that go into manufacturing it. The packaging that protects it on its way to the end-user is also crucial.
As vice president of operations with TEN-E Packaging Services of Newport, Minnesota, Larry Anderson is acutely aware of the importance of sturdy containers. After all, TEN-E was the first company designated to test and certify packaging for dangerous goods regulation by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“As a testing laboratory, we evaluate our customers’ package designs and certify them to make sure they get from point A to point B in an acceptable fashion,” Anderson says. “In our business, there aren’t many things we do that aren’t referencing some ASTM procedure.”
The standard practice for performance testing of shipping containers (D4169), is a good example. According to Anderson, “TEN-E uses this standard to run a simulation test in the lab. Our customers know that if their packaging is subjected to, and passes, D4169, it should be capable of surviving the normal supply chain environment.”
Anderson is also chairman of the committee on packaging (D10), and over the years he has witnessed international collaboration on packaging standards. “ASTM standards are very closely aligned with quite a number of ISO individual tests – for example, those that look at drop (D5276), vibration (D4728), and compression (D4577),” says Anderson. “Our involvement with ASTM allows us to influence standards to make sure there’s common ground, establishes a level playing field with our competition, and ensures consistency in the way we work with our own customers.”
ASTM standards impact supply chain management from multiple directions. Most obvious, perhaps, is the fact that standards developed within ASTM have established test methods and specification requirements that are integral to the functioning of businesses as diverse as additive manufacturing and packaging design.
Less obvious, perhaps, but equally important is the forum ASTM provides for volunteers like Shane Collins, Taco van der Maten, and Larry Anderson, who work with their respective industry stakeholders and ASTM staff to ensure that as many viewpoints as possible are represented in the finished standards. Mark Clark, technical compliance manager with Hexion — a global leader in thermoset resins with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio — puts it this way: “The neutral ASTM space at the core of the standards development process facilitates dialogue between suppliers, customers, researchers, and regulators.” That collaboration results in standards used by stakeholders on all sides of and all along the supply chain.
Jack Maxwell is a freelance writer based in Westmont, New Jersey.