Focusing on Outcome

Performance-based standards give product developers freedom to innovate.
Cicely Enright

“Everyone goes up the mountain a different way, but they share the goal of the same summit,” says Dale F. Bohn, product quality manager for Flint Hills Resources LP and ASTM International’s chairman of the board for 2018.

When that approach is applied to standards, he says, “The value of standards in setting a level playing field is that it allows the free market to achieve optimum productivity and efficiency.“

Performance-based standards smooth the road from concept to completion. That’s true for both materials and processes covered in ASTM International standards.


On the materials front, consider concrete.

Air, water, cement, and aggregates make up this universally used building material. In fact, billions of tons are produced and used each year for foundations, floors, buildings, roads, and more.

ASTM International’s committee on concrete and concrete aggregates (C09) has long produced standards used to specify and test the material. Over the years, the committee has developed more than 180 standards, which include a number of performance-based standards.

A performance-oriented specification for returned fresh concrete (C1798/C1798M) treats the material as a potential ingredient for a new batch. Here, the concrete components can vary as long as the mix meets specification requirements. The standard also supports more sustainable construction practice.

Another C09 standard, the key specification (C94/C94M) for ready-mixed concrete, covers freshly mixed material delivered to a job site before hardening. C94 provides options for the concrete proportions to achieve a specified performance. One of the options gives the concrete producer control in selecting materials and proportions to meet the purchaser’s compressive strength requirements.

“The performance specification allows the concrete producer to use their expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurial abilities to achieve that performance using their materials and proportions of choice,” says Steven E. Parker, sales and marketing manager for CHRYSO Inc., and a long-time C09 member. He adds that the performance focus allows the producer to potentially gain “a competitive edge in terms of meeting the performance requirements at the lower cost.”

Consumer Products

Makers of consumer products also use performance-based standards.

When the goal is people’s safety, and the product is helmets, the committee on sports equipment, playing surfaces, and facilities (F08) stands ready to consider any technology that may reduce the risk of head injury.

“Innovation should not be stifled,” says Thom Parks, senior director of corporate affairs at Vista Outdoor. Parks adds that performance-based standards guide repeatable, reliable product testing and may evolve as more is learned about product use and how injuries occur.

Parks points to F08’s standard, F1952, for helmets used by downhill mountain bike racers. “Helmets that comply with this standard have a recognized position in the marketplace, and media articles about this type of helmet often note the standard as indicative of a sound design,” Parks says.

What a performance-based standard means can vary from one industry to another.

For ski bindings — part of the ski/boot/binding system — the goal is to have the system function in a consistent manner. That’s according to Robert Burr, risk manager for ski bindings retailer Marker Dalbello Völkl USA. Burr adds that toe cups and ski boot soles, for example, must be shaped so that ski boots function properly within the system. The material the boots are made of cannot be too soft either, Burr says, or the boots will not do their part in the system.

Some ASTM standards help manufacturers by providing procedures for selecting release torque values for adjusting already mounted ski bindings (F939).

And while F939 has helped decrease skiing-related injuries, as have other standards from the committee on snow and water sports (F27), “We cannot control the skier and what the skier does,” Burr says. Standards help, and he adds that there’s a pretty good track record when everyone along the chain complies with the standards.

Performance requirements can be the main driver of some consumer product standards, but others specify safety goals in different ways.

Standards for children’s products fall into the latter category. Some things simply pose a hazard, such as drop sides in cribs. Because the committee could not identify a performance test for drop sides, the members agreed to ban them in products meeting the specification for full-size baby cribs (F1169).

Catherine “Kitty” PIlarz, vice president of product safety and regulatory compliance at Fisher-Price and a former ASTM board chair, points out that you can’t always know what a child can or will do, especially the most aggressive and agile. “We would need to hire that child,” Pilarz says.

So the juvenile products subcommittees of the committee on consumer products (F15) address incident data. F15’s standards address issues and avoid impacting design as much as possible: “A standard should not inhibit designers in being creative,” Pilarz adds.

The F15 approach results, for example, in temperature and current-limiting requirements for lithium-ion batteries, banning heavy metals, and addressing other hazards in children’s toys but not otherwise preventing new toy development. The specification for toy safety (F963) includes additional requirements to help prevent potential injuries from choking, sharp edges, toxins, pinching, and more.

Metals Testing

The buying and selling of materials such as metals involves testing along the way, perhaps at every point. And when metal or material samples are analyzed to decide whether the goods meet the claimed quality, ASTM International standard techniques can be used to look at the sample’s elemental makeup.

The committee on analytical chemistry for metals, ores, and related materials (E01) develops such standards, and recently has taken a performance-based approach. Several of its test methods now lean less on prescriptive steps and more on the quality of the test result achieved by the laboratories running the test.

“It’s hard to write a method that is one size fits all for today’s analytical equipment,” says Patrick M. Cole, quality process manager, chemistry, for ATI Specialty Materials and immediate past chairman of E01.

The committee has applied the performance-based approach to plasma atomic emission and mass spectrometry standards. In these cases, labs prepare their own operating instructions, specify calibration solution composition, and define measuring conditions. The test method suggests critical parameters to assist the lab in setting up the equipment and defines performance criteria that the laboratory-applied method must meet. Typically the performance assessment includes a comparison of laboratory-generated data to the information provided in the precision and bias section of the standard. Examples of these standards include the test method for analysis of titanium and titanium alloys by direct current plasma and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (E2371) and the test method for analysis of nickel alloys by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (E2594).

One key aspect of the committee’s performance-based test methods is a dependence on the guide for validating analytical methods (E2857). Laboratories applying performance-based test methods are encouraged to use the protocols defined in E2857 to further validate the test method as applied in their laboratory.

Other standards from Committee E01 take a performance-based approach with different techniques for aluminum and its alloys and nickel alloys. “These are standards that get the job done without being so prescriptive,” says Cole. 

Petroleum Products and Performance

New components. New designs. New processes.

Standards that permit, and even encourage innovation, are embraced by ASTM International committees, including the committee on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants (D02). 

Long-time ASTM member Andy Pickard, Ph.D., P.Chem., a consultant based in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada, currently serves as chair of the subcommittee on liquefied petroleum gas (D02.H0), part
of Committee D02. Pickard says that performance-based standards define “the requirements that a product (of any sort) has to meet while leaving producers the freedom to develop new processes that can be cheaper, more sustainable, or more environmentally friendly.” He adds, “Performance-based product specifications encourage innovation.”

For the petroleum committee, performance based also means not restricting trade. The specification for 100 research octane number test fuel for automotive spark-ignition engines (D8076), for example, calls for a minimum research octane number of 100 — an indicator of how the fuel behaves in a running engine — without saying what chemicals must be used to make the fuel.

The same holds true in D02 specifications for aviation turbine fuels (D1655), diesel fuel oils (D975), and biodiesel fuel blendstock for middle distillate fuels (D6751). Most requirements define limits that the final product has to meet, not how the product will be made.

For D02, test methods can also be performance based. The test method for distillation of petroleum products and liquid fuels at atmospheric pressure (D86), for example, provides information about the properties and behavior of the fuel. The standard is written so that manual equipment or a range of automated equipment may be used. Pickard points out that “by contrast there are a number of test methods for determining cloud point — each method is written for a specific approach.”

As with the equipment and vehicles using the fuels, and the standards used by industry, it’s all about performance.

Industry Sectors: 
Consumer Products
Metals & Materials