John K. Mahaney, Jr., Ph.D.
University of Akron
College of Business Administration
"Exposing engineering students to the development and formation of standards greatly increases the speed with which they can adapt to workplace demands."
At what university and in what department do you teach?
I have been teaching as an adjunct instructor at the University of Akron in the College of Business Administration, Department of Management. I have also taught on the same basis at Kent State University in the College of Business, Department of Management and Information Systems.
What is the nature of the courses you teach?
I generally teach courses in quantitative business analysis (statistics for the business majors) and principles of operations management (survey course on business operations for business majors). I have also taught Quality Management.
There are places in the Principles of Operations Management program for comments on standards but the quality management course was where I saw the opportunity to expose the students to standardization. This is a senior level course and is generally much smaller in size than the other courses so more discussion is possible. I think standardization is a quality tool that should be recognized as such along with control charts and the current six-sigma concepts.
What year did you join ASTM International? In which committees are you active? Are you a committee officer?
According to the records, I joined ASTM International in 1987. I am active in Committees A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Materials, A05 on Metallic-Coated Iron and Steel Products, and the Committee on Technical Committee Operations. I also participate in Committees E28 on Mechanical Testing and E11 on Quality and Statistics.
I am currently chairman of Committee A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys. Prior to that, I was chairman of Subcommittee A01.19 on Steel Sheet and Strip.
What are some advantages of your participation in standards development?
The main advantage is keeping aware of technical changes in the industry covered by the committees to which I belong. We always discuss the addition of new materials and processes, or improvements to existing ones, which result in the need to revise existing standards. The discussions of the technical reasons for changes are very worthwhile in keeping technically current. A second advantage, personally, is the ability to be sure that all groups, producers, users, and general interest members, fully understand and endorse the changes.
Do you incorporate standards, ASTM or otherwise, into your curriculum? If so, what types? How are they implemented (case studies, research, other)? What is the value of doing so?
I attempted to include a module on standards and standardization in the Quality Management Course where I presented some history of standards and the different types of standards and standards groups, ASTM, ISO, SAE, ASME, etc., and had the students do some research and write a paper on the subject. At that point in time, I used steel standards and the sample standards posted on the student membership section of the ASTM website.
In my experience, teachers are always looking for something different to present to their classes. It must be something that the instructor can understand and adapt to his/her situation. Further, there has to be sufficient backup information and support to allow the instructor to use the topic without a lot of research if it is outside the instructor's normal area of interest.
Additionally, success breeds success. If I had a good presentation and had success presenting the information, showing another instructor this presentation and describing the success of it would probably interest the other instructor.
Have you worked in industry, either past or currently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this experience?
I worked for major steel producing organizations for almost 40 years and am currently a consultant in the steel area for customers. I managed quality control functions in the mills and at the corporate office level. In those roles, I was responsible for understanding standards from various organizations and planning and controlling production of material to meet those standards at the mill level. At the corporate level, I was responsible for supervising distribution and implementation of standards into the selling and technical service areas.
As a consultant, the most frequent question I get asked is what ASTM standard applies and what does this section of a standard mean. I consult ASTM standards almost every day in order to respond to a question from a client.
Have you been involved in research, either past or presently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this research?
All the research I did was on production material. However, much of that research was devoted to being sure that the material met the standards to which it would be ordered. Standards provided a benchmark against which to measure the results of material and processing trials and the properties of the materials so produced.
What advantages do you see for students to have an understanding of standards and their development?
If you consider two types of students - technical/engineering and business/management - they use standards in different ways.
Technical/engineering students will be dealing with standards from the very beginning of their careers in the "real world." They will either be producing material to meet such standards or purchasing and using material based on those standards. These individuals will quickly have to gain the ability to understand and use standards of various types, products and testing methods, for example, in order to perform their assigned tasks adequately. Exposing such students to the development and formation of standards greatly increases the speed with which they can adapt to workplace demands.
In terms of business students, purchasing departments use standards to procure the appropriate materials and services for their firms. Operations managers have to control the process to produce materials to meet customer orders, which are in terms of ASTM specifications, for example. In the service industry, ASTM standards can be used to show how well a job has been done or what needs to be done to complete a task adequately. This sort of student needs to be able to read and understand specifications in order to perform better in a job.
One point I have made in the past is that business students do not understand engineering standards. I recently was shown a standard for Irish coffee, which is published by the agency that produces Irish standards. The topic of this standard is something students would understand and such standards could well serve as an introduction to standardization for all students, especially non-technical students. I have suggested that the standard on bike helmets would also be an area where students have some experience and thus a good starting point for discussion of standards.
In your view, should a familiarity with standards be required for graduate-level education, particularly in engineering, law and business disciplines? Would this assist in gaining professional success?
A background in standards should aid in gaining professional success. In many areas, one will be forced to master specifications at some point in a career and having that knowledge at the start will make the task easier.
I think that there is such a wide range of disciplines that use standards that it would be difficult to say what would be sufficient training or level of familiarity. I am not convinced that a course entirely on standards would be appropriate because of the broad sources of standards available. It seems to me that a module introducing standardization as part of another course is a better choice. Once some background is developed, it would be appropriate to expand the knowledge of the individual student through a research project and report or writing a paper on this issue. This would allow the student and instructor to address the matter in a way best suited for the individual student and the interests of that student, especially at the graduate level.