SMEs and Standards
Forget the advantages conventionally associated with large corporate size - say, deep pockets and influential contacts.
At ASTM International, where more than half of the experts participating in standards development are from small- to medium-sized companies, size simply doesn't matter. ASTM's committee structure ensures that all stakeholders have an equal voice and vote. Plus, fees are kept affordable and Web-based resources are made available to facilitate participation by smaller firms.
And that's crucial since small companies still provide the majority of private sector jobs, drive innovation, and claim at least 50 percent or more of the gross domestic product of the United States and Europe.1 Consequently, these firms have an essential role to play in creating the technical documents that ensure product quality, safety and interoperability; expedite trade; and underpin international legislation and regulation.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership encourages small and mid-sized manufacturers to view standards in a "competitive or growth context," says Alex Folk, director of program development. "Standards can be a barrier to entry for some businesses and a market differentiator for others," creating new opportunities. Still, notes Bruce Lundegren, assistant chief counsel for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, which represents the views of small businesses before federal agencies and Congress, "it can be very valuable but costly and time-consuming to be engaged in the standards development process."
For the small- to mid-sized businesses that belong to ASTM, the benefits they derive from membership and their rationale for engaging in standards development are as varied as the industries they represent. Here are the stories of five such companies.
"We have a slogan associated with our national lottery here in the U.K.," says John Fletcher, chairman of ASTM Committee D01 on Paint and Related Coatings, Materials and Applications, and technical support manager at Elcometer Ltd. "You have to be in it to win it!'" He says that's the rationale for his company's 30-plus years of ASTM membership.
Elcometer Ltd. currently employs some 170 people at its Manchester, England, headquarters and another 60 throughout the world. The company produces ultrasonic thickness gauges and flaw detectors, concrete inspection equipment and coating inspection equipment for measuring properties required for the formulation and post-application inspection of coatings such as paint.
"Many of our products are used to perform tests defined by ASTM standard test methods, so it's important that we keep up to date with testing methods as they get revised," explains Fletcher. In the United States and internationally, paint or coating test equipment that doesn't comply with ASTM test methods won't be purchased, unless there's a country-specific standard. According to Fletcher, two standards – ASTM D4787, Practice for Continuity Verification of Liquid or Sheet Lining Applied to Concrete Substrates, and D5162, Practice for Discontinuity (Holiday) Testing of Nonconductive Protective Coating on Metallic Substrates – have been especially important for marketing equipment that tests high-voltage porosity in paint.
Elcometer's involvement in standards work, says Fletcher, "helps us maintain our technical presence in most geographic markets and makes it possible to sell our products around the world and contribute to international trade." Additionally, standards have encouraged the development of new equipment. "Standards don't constrain innovation, as techniques for making tests simpler to operate, more repeatable and quicker are always of interest," he says. Recent innovations have included the development of digital electronic gauges and data management software to support products and test methods.
Electronic balloting and virtual meetings have enhanced the effectiveness of Elcometer's participation in ASTM International. Whereas Fletcher used to deal with paper balloting, he finds the electronic process much easier and quicker to maintain. And though he still supports face-to-face meetings, he has been increasingly involved in virtual meetings, making the time he can allocate to ASTM more productive.
Until 2002, general aviation aircraft in the United States were highly regulated and required certification, while non-regulated ultralight aircraft were (and still are) subject to stringent operating limitations. Consequently, there was no market in the United States for low-weight general aviation aircraft without operational limitations. That changed when Committee F37 on Light Sport Aircraft organized and began to publish standards that were accepted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for aircraft weighing less than 1,320 pounds (600 kg), which allowed a process of manufacturer self-declaration, rather than the usual FAA verification of compliance with regulations. A new category of safe and affordable aircraft, that could be properly financed and insured, began to win consumer confidence.
"The standards immediately opened great market opportunities at significantly reduced certification cost and very soon got international attention and participation," says Oliver Reinhardt, F37 chairman and technical director at Flight Design GmbH, based in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany.
Small companies make up 95 percent of the LSA industry. Flight Design employs 400 people. Its involvement in ASTM has become a "very good door opener," according to Reinhardt, allowing FD to demonstrate and extend ASTM LSA standards to other countries and ultimately open even more markets to the company's products. ASTM standards have also had a positive impact on innovation, creating a fast track for developing standards for nascent technologies such as electric propulsion. And, he says, "Participation in standards development supports continued knowledge exchange between different companies that is beneficial to all involved."
Standards that promote cost-effective decisions for designing and managing construction projects are key to Muthiah Kasi's and Anthony Huxley's businesses. Kasi is chairman of Alfred Benesch and Co., a Chicago, Ill.-based civil engineering firm with 420 employees in 17 locations. Huxley is a cost consultant in Kemptville, Ontario, Canada. Both men are fervent believers in cost data presentation and analysis, value analysis, risk management and economic evaluation embodied in the 26 standards developed by Subcommittee E06.81 on Building Economics.
Huxley, whose career has included government and private industry positions, became involved with ASTM in the early 1990s when he was asked to participate in the development of ASTM E1557, Classification for Building Elements and Related Sitework – UNIFORMAT II. That standard classifies elements common to buildings and links activities and participants throughout the life of a building project, from planning to disposal. Subsequent standards have addressed bridges, roads, tunnels and other construction projects.
Kasi, who is now E06.81 chairman, has tirelessly promoted the virtues of building economics standards though articles, a soon-to-be-completed book and engineering conferences, including one scheduled for later this year in India.
"Having extensive knowledge of ASTM economic standards and using them differentiates us from our competitors," says Kasi. "It's a very good marketing tool." It has also earned positive results for his clients and business. Just one example - cited in an article written for ASTM Standardization News in 20072 and another co-authored with Robert Chapman, chief of the Applied Economic Office, Engineering Office, NIST3 - was the design and construction of the Gateway Arch Bridge in Taylor, Mich. The bridge, which was part of an Interstate 94 reconstruction for Super Bowl XV in 2006, featured technical and financial challenges and accompanying concerns for state and federal government officials. By using ASTM standards to organize the cost of each element in constructing the bridge, guide the development of costs, itemize any changes from planning through construction documents and justify additional funds to cover skyrocketing steel prices, costs were better managed. The bridge design subsequently won six awards, including two from the National Structural Engineers Association and the National Steel Bridge Alliance, largely due to its cost-effectiveness.
Despite proven advantages, says Huxley, "There isn't a tradition of including cost consultants in project teams in the U.S., even though in the rest of the world, they're part of the professional team and have been for some 100 years and more." Kasi adds that while state transportation departments in the United States recognize the need for economic standards, ASTM still needs to promote such standards to government agencies.
Currently, eight members of Kasi's company are ASTM members. He anticipates increasing his company's membership and enhancing his employees' role in creating standards and benefits for his own company.
Safety is paramount for a small company that designs and manufactures innovative amusement rides and attractions. So, when Premier Rides was founded in the mid 1990s in Baltimore, Md., its staff became involved in ASTM Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices to underscore the importance of safety to its operation and success.
"ASTM allows us to compete on a fair level and also gives us a great road map to ensure that a safe product is developed and delivered to the client," says James Seay, president and owner of Premier Rides and F24 chairman.
Although Premier Rides employs a small 25-member technical and marketing team and contracts fabrication to some 200 craftsmen, it competes in a global market, with developing countries offering the greatest growth potential to the industry. Participation in ASTM and knowledge of ASTM standards often opens the door to the bidding process, resulting in new clients. For example, based on its reputation for using safety standards, Premier recently won the bid for designing, fabricating and installing the largest roller coaster in Indonesia and gained a new client, Trans Studio, a major media company. "As a result," says Seay, "over a million pounds of steel built by highly skilled U.S. craftsmen was exported to Indonesia."
While consensus standards work to prohibit low quality and suspect suppliers from entering the market, ASTM's structure helps to ensure that contributions to standards development from all companies, regardless of size, are given equal weight, notes Seay. For instance, a signature committee standard, ASTM F2291, Practice for Design of Amusement Rides and Devices, benefited from contributions by Disney and Universal, as well as companies like Eli Bridge, a ride manufacturer that built the first Ferris wheels. "That balance resulted in an end product that is useful globally, as opposed to just select players," says Seay.
A continuing challenge for the industry is to ensure that clients, as well as the countries they operate in, mandate the use of safety standards. In the meantime, technology, including electronic balloting and virtual meetings, is not only helping Seay's staff to participate in ASTM, but to become "ASTM ambassadors and bring many companies from all over the world into the process." Seay says, "When new clients, who are passionate about our industry, find that they can participate regardless of where they're located and that their input will be both appreciated and taken seriously, that is very powerful."
1. "Small and Medium Companies Make Significant Contributions to ASTM International Standards," May 21, 2012, www.astmnewsroom.org.
2. Kasi, Muthiah, "Managing Transportation Projects with ASTM International Standards," ASTM Standardization News, November 2007.
3. Chapman, R.E. and Kasi, M., "Benefits of Using ASTM Building Economics Standards for the Design, Construction, and Operation of Constructed Facilities."Adele Bassett is a freelance writer who has covered everything from youth gangs in Colorado to earthquakes in Connecticut while working for a variety of corporations and publications. She holds a B.A. in English, an M.S. in journalism and an M.B.A.