Q&A with D. Thomas Marsh
What’s on your mind as the year begins?
I’m humbled and excited to serve in this position. My opportunity to serve comes from the hard work, support, and mentoring of several fellow members as well as the entire ASTM International staff.
There are a few things that will set early 2017 apart from a typical year.
First, we will celebrate Jim Thomas’s fantastic career as president as he begins his well-deserved retirement at the end of January. Being a beneficiary of Jim’s leadership and vision for many years, I owe a great deal of thanks to him. I wish Jim and his wife Barbara the very best in every way.
Secondly, we have the pleasure of welcoming Kathie Morgan as she begins her tenure as president. As a long-time member, I’ve seen firsthand Kathie’s influence, effort, and drive as membership has risen and expanded well beyond the borders of the United States.
Having spent even more time with Kathie as a member of the board, what is so striking is her passionate dedication to members and staff. Equally impressive is the fact that she is attuned to global needs and concerns and how each of these affects the organization as a whole. She is energetic, member-focused, and fiercely committed to the SDO industry. It will be a challenge for me personally, and likely the board, to keep pace with her.
Why does Centrotrade engage in standards development? How does it use ASTM International standards?
Standards development is part and parcel to our core business — producing, processing, and supplying vital raw materials: natural rubber and natural latex. More than 40,000 consumer goods and products are manufactured with these essential materials. Like ASTM, Centrotrade is doing its part in “helping our world
Standards are important to both sides of our business. On the production side, they help us monitor and maintain the quality and consistency of the materials we supply. On the consumer side, having a thorough understanding of intermediate and finished goods requirements allows us to provide needed before- and after-sale technical support.
At ASTM, industry and product needs are discussed by stakeholders who then develop standards that are scientifically based, consistently applied, routinely reviewed, and collectively maintained. By engaging in this voluntary consensus process, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with customers. This demonstrates our commitment to the industry and to understanding the demands of their ever-changing marketplace.
Centrotrade is part of Halcyon Agri Corp., which has branches in Europe and Asia. Can you talk about your role in providing technical, regulatory, and standards organization coordination in those regions?
One of my jobs is to provide a technical and regulatory link between the raw material that we supply and our customers’ end products. I spent the early part of my career in manufacturing, with companies that did everything from raw material testing to compounding to production and sale of the goods. The last 20 years of my career has been dedicated to the supply side, so having that dual background allows me to work within and across our diverse customer base.
A growing number of our customers have facilities in multiple regions like the ones you mentioned — Asia, Europe, the Americas, and so on. These customers face increased competition, the need to innovate, and more recently, the need to engage in additive or smart manufacturing practices.
Standards level the playing field by providing consistent measures of uniformity, conformity, regulation, and certification. So, as a member of Halcyon Agri’s Industrial Distribution and Latex Group, Centrotrade in general — and me in particular — needs to stay current with any number of standards, specifications, and regulatory initiatives because of their influence in the global supply chain.
What role do standards play in supply chain management?
Standards play a vital and ever-increasing role in complete supply chain management. The decades-old commodity mindset focused on compartmentalization — raw material, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and so on. Today, our idea of the supply chain doesn’t fit these neat little compartments. Today’s value chain represents a continuous process that encompasses sustainability, renewable resources, risk management, conflict minerals identification, asset management, waste disposal, and so on.
In the sector I’m involved in, on the material side, ASTM has its metals committees and the rubber and carbon black committees. Their standards cover a raw material’s performance characteristics, its form, and its strength requirements.
That dovetails into the next part of the process, which is the intermediates or finished goods. And here, ASTM committees — like those on adhesives, 3D imaging systems, and medical devices — cover the actual saleable good and help manufacturers gain market access.
Next comes packaging materials. ASTM committees on packaging provide guidance on their performance properties. For warehousing and storage, the ASTM committee on asset management has developed standard practices and guides that essentially provide a Warehousing 101 course on the management of a warehouse.
Issues of sustainability crop up across all links in the supply chain. ASTM’s committee on sustainability helps manufacturers and other organizations consider the social, environmental, and economic impact of what they do, as do the standards of our committee on environmental risk assessment.
Finally, the supply chain doesn’t exist without the people who work in it, and one of ASTM’s most recent additions to its technical committees is the human resources group.
Last but certainly not least, products moving through the supply chain often require some form of certification. ASTM’s certification services, which we recently consolidated in our subsidiary, the Safety Equipment Institute, provide that service for a growing portfolio of products.
On that note, what are the advantages to ASTM International in having a footprint in certification?
Entering the certification space at first proved elusive to ASTM due to our arrival into an already crowded arena. But the addition of SEI firmly establishes ASTM’s presence in this sector. Pat Gleason [SEI’s president and ASTM’s vice president of certification] and her team are well-established and recognized subject matter experts within the rapidly expanding safety equipment sector. With ASTM providing support for sales, business development, marketing, and communications, the SEI team can focus more intently on their customers, partners, and providers.
The fact that SEI’s mission and brand recognition philosophies are aligned with ASTM’s is a benefit to stakeholders across the board. Our certification services can be extended into construction, environmental assessment, metals, consumer products, transportation — the list goes on and on.
How can ASTM International better meet the needs of multinational companies in terms of fostering market access, innovation, technology transfer, and the like?
ASTM’s engagement with national standards bodies through its MOU program and global satellite offices helps ASTM be a better global partner to multinationals. ASTM’s globally recognized leadership allows companies like mine to focus on our own products, processes, and bottom lines.
ASTM’s accessibility to small and medium enterprises helps multinationals quite a bit. There are more and more SMEs operating in the global supply chain, and ASTM’s structure and process gives them a voice in international standards development. The participation of SMEs provides multinationals like Centrotrade with vital feedback as standards are created because SMEs often have much more intimate contact with their customer base. Knowing your customer — and your customer’s customer — improves the standards development process.
ASTM can better address the needs of multinationals by continuing to look toward burgeoning sectors where we can collaborate on a global scale. For example, the relationship-building ASTM engaged in with the European aviation industry has added a great deal of expertise and credibility to the standards of our aviation-related committees. When ASTM reaches out — globally — in that way, asking, “how can we work together?” — that makes the multinationals’ jobs much easier when they are working across those same lines.
This year ASTM International is launching a new journal on Smart and Sustainable Manufacturing Systems, and a couple of years ago we established a Smart Manufacturing Advisory Committee. What do you think ASTM can contribute to emerging areas like this?
Quite a bit. Large and small companies are challenged to make better products faster, more cheaply, using innovative processes. With a suite of standards across the complete supply chain — raw material to consumer goods and services — advanced manufacturing processes are aided by information platforms like ASTM’s Compass.
Less time and less effort spent on in-house standards development equals lower cost. Due to cross-sectional expertise found in ASTM’s technical committees, businesses can focus more of their efforts on innovation, sustainability, reduced waste, eliminating duplication, and improving quality and process control. In turn, products are more reliable, more uniform, and held to the same performance metric.
The commercialization of smart manufacturing processes will be driven in part by public-private partnerships — the marriage of government regulation with market-driven technology. And ASTM can help coordinate that through its Smart Manufacturing Advisory Committee.
Our academic outreach team is starting to engage more emerging professionals in the standardization process. How did you learn about standardization as a young professional?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this effort. I started on the manufacturing and technical side, so my introduction to standards was immediate and hands on, literally. Working for manufacturers that controlled their processes from raw material to packaged, saleable goods, I used the full range of ASTM standards. So, when I switched to the supply side, there was no question I needed to be involved in developing those same documents.
I know that the decision to send new people to a standards development meeting is not always an easy one for companies. Time constraints, budget concerns, and leaner staffing all play a role in their planning. Supporting emerging professionals starts with a dedicated section on professional development at the ASTM website. It highlights how to find and be a mentor as well as leadership opportunities – among other things.
But we must do more. That’s why I’m thrilled to see a more formal program where emerging professionals are sponsored to attend committee week, and they get linked up with an established standards professional who can show them the ropes.
A few years ago, I participated in a panel discussion on this very topic. At the end of that session, I likened ASTM participation to an executive MBA, and a very inexpensive one at that. For the cost of a plane ticket twice a year, you learn consensus-building techniques, hands-on communication and leadership experience, organizational skills, and more. You get the opportunity to work with people who are the best and the brightest of your field.
How can ASTM International’s emphasis on integrating products and services benefit its customers?
Companies like Centrotrade that are subsidiaries of large multinational organizations face many challenges on a daily basis due to time-zone differences, language issues, the continuity and consistency of testing services, and so on. Essentially, your staff needs to be able to see across international lines.
Compass serves as a one-stop shop to meet our specific needs. It gives us easy online access from any location to standards, translations of standards, videos, and third-party content. I always encourage people to tour the website to understand just how comprehensive this platform is. Compass saves time and considerable effort, especially for companies that cast a wide net. It gives you the ability to custom-craft the tools you want the people in your company to be able to use across international lines.
I should also mention the International Laboratory Directory because manufacturers, suppliers, and even committee working groups often struggle to locate just the right lab in the right location. The directory solves this problem. For those in need, it is an invaluable tool.
Overall, ASTM is providing its members and customers not just with the standards themselves, but with the right way to apply the standards through training, proficiency testing, Compass, certification, and much more. That integration is crucial.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
There are two areas that I’m especially looking forward to working with: smart and sustainable manufacturing systems and emerging professionals.
Smart manufacturing is relatively new as manufacturing systems go, but ASTM is way ahead of the pack in terms of encouraging not only standards development, but cross-disciplinary dialogues. I’m looking forward to getting more involved in this role.
The other initiative is our outreach to students and young professionals. That’s very important and it was something I benefited from. The mentoring I have received, from committee leaders when I first joined ASTM, all the way up to the board chairmen who have preceded me — I couldn’t take on this position without all of it.