Research to Standards: Part 2: The Roadmap to Success

To clear the path to innovation, it’s crucial to analyze the standards landscape.
Jack Maxwell

From the printed road atlas to GPS navigation, everyone understands that clearly presented geographical information helps you get from Point A to Point B.

In standards development, roadmapping can take on a new dimension and sense of urgency. It is a crucial element of any effort to create new standards, especially for emerging technologies. The benefits of early attention to this task are manifold.

For example, a comprehensive roadmap helps secure buy-in and alignment among experts, other stakeholders, and the appropriate standards development organizations. A roadmap also helps identify pre-existing standards that might be adaptable to new products and systems. And a roadmap can uncover major gaps that require the creation of new standards.

Essentially, both the process of creating a roadmap as well as the roadmap itself help clear the straightest, smoothest, fastest path from research to market.

Mind the Gaps

Several ASTM International committees are either in the process of creating roadmaps or have recently completed them. The committee on unmanned aircraft systems (F38) — also known as drones — is a good example of a group of experts who are roadmapping.

“The committee uses a systematic process to identify and prioritize gaps involving UAS consensus standards,” says Ajay Sehgal, chief engineer at the KBRwyle Aerospace Group and the committee’s vice chair.

A representative from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on the committee, Art Hinaman, notes, “The roadmap is a tool where standards development efforts can be prioritized and appropriate standards development organizations can be aligned. This ensures that the right standard is being developed by the right SDO at the right time, with a minimum duplication of effort, enabling faster integration and more coordination.”

Hinaman, manager of the FAA’s UAS Technical Support Branch, cites a number of standards under development that were influenced by the roadmapping effort. For example, roadmapping led experts to create more standards focused on “detect-and-avoid” collision-avoidance technology.

It also led them to establish standardized requirements for parachutes for small unmanned aircraft systems. Regarding the latter, “Even though the roadmap is not complete, participation in the process gave an early indication that these requirements already existed, and influenced timing and workload adjustments,” Hinaman says. Parachute recovery system manufacturers have participated in the development of the standard, and through their participation have been able to ensure their systems meet or exceed the testing requirements before their products make it to the marketplace. This provides a good illustration of the way early engagement by industry stakeholders can shorten the research-to-market timeline.

The drafting of a new specification for sUAS parachutes also reflects the importance of heeding what Ajay Sehgal calls “demand signals,” which are signs that buyers in the market are seeking a certain kind of product. Demand signals help standards developers focus their efforts on areas most crucial to a new technology’s acceptance in the marketplace. “The industry — the OEM [original equipment manufacturer], the user, the operator, etc. — provides a vision of potential applications of a specific product and/or technology while the regulatory authority provides a framework for ensuring safe and orderly incorporation of the new product or technology into the current system, such as use of UAS in the [U.S.] national airspace,” says Sehgal.

The early engagement of industry stakeholders in the roadmapping process ensures that these demand signals will be incorporated into the overall standards landscape. This helps ASTM International technical committees define priorities for standardization.

In the case of small unmanned aircraft, this market demand led the F38 committee to focus on addressing the limits on small (less than 25 kg, or 55 pounds) drone operations due to the U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations directive (FAA Part 107).

Specifically, members of F38 saw the need to create standards for package delivery. So, Sehgal says, they updated the committee’s roadmap and reprioritized efforts to initiate a new standard addressing this specific use-case scenario. A small working group — including Google and Amazon — formed, and its efforts have generated an initial draft that will be balloted later this year.

Relevant Existing Standards

Identifying gaps where there simply aren’t any relevant standards is one key benefit of roadmapping. Another benefit is uncovering existing standards that could be applied in a new way to a new technology or industry.

Additive manufacturing has been around for many years but is still in the relatively early stages of industrial commercialization. The computerized process helps designers and engineers produce three-dimensional objects by depositing successive, thin layers of material — usually some form of metal alloy or polymer — atop one another, as directed by a file that dictates thickness, shape, contours, and other properties.

Due to hard work in recent years, alloy specifications now make up a significant portion of the standards portfolio of ASTM International’s additive manufacturing technologies committee (F42). But to reach this point, committee members first had to evaluate the huge number of existing alloy specifications that were developed with more traditional processes, such as casting and subtractive manufacturing.

Were those existing standards transferable to this new approach to 3D printing?  If so, how? And to what extent?

For example, titanium hip implants can be made by taking a solid block of metal and removing pieces of the metal to create a desired shape. Could a specification for an approach that involves subtractive manufacturing also apply to making the same implant with additive manufacturing?

On realizing that the additive manufacturing technologies can affect the chemical makeup of some alloys, the committee determined, in this case, that brand-new specifications would be needed instead of simply repurposing old ones.

Conversely, the UAS committee has found much potential for repurposing existing standards.

Examining the landscape of existing aviation standards led to the realization that “There’s quite a bit of overlap between the manned and the unmanned world, and we have ASTM aviation committees working together to leverage each other’s work,” says Philip Kenul, senior vice president of aviation and operations at TriVector Services Inc., and chairman of F38.

As a result, the UAS committee is drawing on expertise in committees such as aircraft systems (F39), light sport aircraft (F37), and general aviation aircraft (F44).

A Flexible and Responsive Document

Roadmapping is a crucial step in ensuring the parallel growth of standardization and innovation. Once initiated, though, it never stops.

Technical committees must constantly adjust and realign priorities in their roadmapping processes as a result of changing demand signals from industry and other external factors. This highlights a key factor in the value of any standards roadmap: flexibility.

ASTM International staff members are quick to remind members that roadmaps should always be in flux. New advances in technology, new stakeholders joining committees, new standards unveiled in the global standards community — all of these developments generate new scenarios that will impact the standards landscape. Committees must think strategically and build mechanisms that allow for change and innovation to achieve the best outcomes.

Kenul summarizes: “As far as standards gaps go, they are going to appear continuously. We can put a roadmap together, but it has to be a living document because those gaps are going to change as the market, the technology, and the regulatory needs change.”


Jack Maxwell is a freelance writer based in Westmont, New Jersey.