Research to Standards: Part 3: Bringing Standards to Life

Certification and training are crucial to ensuring the safe and effective use of products and the standards that test them.
Jack Maxwell

A new specification, test method, or other standard that supports an emerging
industry is, ultimately, just a document.

But that document can be brought to life through high-quality training and certification programs.

The Human Element: Training

Instead of just reading text, people increasingly expect to hear or see — either in person or through video — exactly what a standard means or does. Training is particularly helpful for those working in emerging technologies, which, by their nature, venture into relatively unknown technical topics.

For decades, organizations like ASTM International have coordinated in-person trainings. This is a valuable way for members and customers to learn first-hand about key specifications or test methods in industries such as energy, aviation, construction, and the environment. And, employers often demand this training when hiring and evaluating  job performance.

For example, lab technicians often need someone to show them how to handle samples, use equipment, or take measurements as described in a test method. Altogether, ASTM now offers about 50 live trainings each year.

Taped or livestreamed video is increasingly attractive as a lower-cost option for both trainers and trainees. And, overall, the demand for high-quality, accurate audiovisual training will only grow stronger as the ubiquity of video content moves from our personal lives (e.g., social media) into the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, tech-savvy emerging industries are quick to embrace online training tools that use video.

One of ASTM International’s recent successes in this regard was in additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing. Over three months, the organization offered webinars in 11 subject areas featuring top experts in the field.

The instructors — expert-members of the additive manufacturing technologies committee (F42) — covered principles of additive manufacturing, additive manufacturing processing with metals and polymers, and characterization and analysis of powder used in additive manufacturing.

Nearly 200 people tuned in. As a result, the training department plans to expand that area’s training portfolio.

What about when a standard gets updated, which happens often as new technologies mature and products evolve?

Tye Lawson-Beard, ASTM International’s manager of training and e-learning services, says, “The great thing about online training tools is that when one of our standards are revised, we get a ‘ping.’ Then, we start the process of making whatever updates are necessary to our corresponding training content.”

That training content now includes about 300 on-demand learning products, she says.

Moving Products Safely to Market: Certification

Beyond serving as the basis for training, market-relevant standards also serve as the foundation for certification programs that help bring new or enhanced products safely to market.

Personal protective equipment is a good example, because manufacturers are making constant upgrades and improvements to keep workers as safe as possible.

In the past, shipyard workers painted their hats with tar to try to protect their heads. Firefighters donned heavy wool uniforms. First responders wore uncomfortable — and permeable — rubber suits when cleaning chemical spills.

Today, hardhats are made of fiberglass or high-density plastic, first responders have clothing that is lighter and more protective, and hazmat suits are more resistant to tears and harmful substances.

ASTM International standards from the committee on personal protective clothing and equipment (F23) have kept pace with these changes, establishing performance requirements for each new generation of products. The group’s subcommittee on certification and PPE interoperability has been particularly active over the past decade. For example, last year, the group completed a useful, standard guide (F3050) to assessing the conformity of PPE to a variety of product standards.

As new products and new standards support innovation in this area, certification programs must evolve in tandem.

That’s no easy task. Brian Shiels, a senior development engineer at PBI Performance Products, says that over 20 ASTM International standards are referenced in a key document of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1994, Standard on Protective Ensembles for First Responders to Hazardous Materials Emergencies and CBRN Terrorism Incidents). “As PPE technology evolves, so must the technology used to test it,” says Shiels. “Any time new tests are developed, it’s critically important to standardize them such that any lab around the world can conduct the tests in a standard manner.”

The Safety Equipment Institute, an ASTM International affiliate, plays a crucial role in keeping certification programs current.

In the context of personal protective equipment, SEI president Pat Gleason says, “Manufacturers are continually driving innovation with new materials to better meet the needs of their customers. They must balance their requirements while maintaining required performance levels outlined in ASTM test methods. At the same time, ASTM technical committees must address ensemble design as a complete system, because protection is not dictated by a single component but rather by the protection afforded by the entire ensemble.”

She concludes, “And our job at SEI is to make sure that our certification programs — administered in partnership with independent, third-party testing labs — keep pace with all of that.”

In addition to keeping tabs on these updates in existing areas, SEI is also exploring wholly new areas that may need certification programs built from scratch.

Continuously Building Trust

Standards developed by stakeholders evolve with the technologies they support — from R&D, through technology transfer and commercialization, and on into an industry’s mature phase. ASTM International’s integrated services — training and certification — instill trust in the marketplace at every step.

“These training and certification programs help foster trust in both existing and emerging industries,” says Christine DeJong, ASTM International’s director of business development. “Both the people who test products and the products themselves must behave a certain way — the way the standards call them out to do.

“When these programs exist, we get real-life experience and feedback that keeps the standards up to date. This great cycle makes products safer and companies’ time invested in standards development worthwhile. This wheel continues to turn forward: innovating standards, innovating products, innovating the minds of workers, innovating industry.”

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