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October 2013 | See all articles in this issue

Who writes product standards & why?

How do you make an association and the industry it represents stronger? By addressing the fairness & integrity factors underscored by consensus standards.

ANSI & ASTM are just two of the critical acronyms that regularly appear in the marketplace, lending a level of credence to many products as well as an air of mystery to the uninitiated. What do they mean and why are they important?

As the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.

ANSI oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector: from acoustical devices to construction equipment, from dairy and livestock production to energy distribution, and many more. ANSI is also actively engaged in accrediting programs that assess conformance to standards – including globally-recognized cross-sector programs such as the ISO 9000 (quality) and ISO 14000 (environmental) management systems.

ANSI does not write standards. It sets the rules for how a standard becomes an American National Standard. Being an ANS assures a certain amount of fairness and consensus building went into writing the standard. Most construction codes, federal and state regulations that rely on private standards require that the standard was developed by a "consensus" process. So, standards with an ANS designation have a privileged position within the various regulatory structures.

ASTM International (until 2001 known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), however, is a standards developer. It has a committee structure to accommodate the writing of standards for many industries. Today, 14,000 ASTM standards are used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, facilitate market access and trade, and build consumer confidence. When an industry supports product standards, it’s supporting a requisite level of product performance that is often – though not always – related to product safety and reliability. It also allows that certain product elements, plumbing parts for example, will be manufactured to meet specific requirements for installation. A prime example is that fence products are designed to meet specific standards regarding wind load.

ASTM’s leadership in international standards development is driven by the contributions of its members: more than 30,000 of the world’s top technical experts and business professionals representing 150 countries. Working in an open and transparent process and using ASTM’s advanced electronic infrastructure, ASTM members deliver the test methods, specifications, guides, and practices that support industries and governments worldwide.

Don’t under estimate the role standards play.

Association Leaders talked to two fence industry leaders well-acquainted with the role of standards development for their industry. Bill Ullrich is principal at Link Consulting LLC and a Certified Fence Professional (CFP). He describes his role as “a 35 year plus volunteer member of the Fence Committee F14 as well as a member of Homeland Security Committees E54 and F12. I currently am the Subcommittee Chair of F14.50 Security Fencing within F14. I work with other members in a Task Group or Subcommittee developing material specifications as well as standard applications and guides for fencing and fencing applications.” Ullrich explained that standards provide the engineer, specifier, manufacturer, and owner specific requirements to ensure safety, structural integrity, and performance of a product or project. One simple example he offered: ASTM defines the mesh size and diamond count of chain link fabric so that each manufacturer produces the chain link mesh so that all mesh from any manufacturer weaves together. Prior to ASTM standards each manufacturer had different internal standards so one could not weave one manufacturer’s fabric into another’s.

Paul Bulten, Ameristar Fence Products, has been a member of Committee F14 (Fence) since 1985; prior to that, he served several years on Committee E7 (Nondestructive Testing). Currently, he is Subcommittee Chair of F14.35 on Architectural Metal Fence Systems as well as being a member of Committee E54 (Homeland Security Applications) and Committee F12 (Security Systems and Equipment). Bulten also participates in several Task Groups and Collaboration Areas (online work groups) dedicated to completion of specific Work Items established to develop new standards or to improve and update existing standards.

According to Bulten, “The impact of ASTM standardization activity on fair, healthy and profitable competition in our industry (fence and gate products) does not get the recognition and respect that it deserves. Without it, inferior products can be marketed as ‘equivalent’ offerings to those produced by credible manufacturers that choose to meet or exceed safety requirements, ensure structural integrity, and guarantee reliability of performance. With everyone being compelled to meet at least the same set of minimum requirements, competing manufacturers are all able to not only survive, but flourish. Consumers also benefit from the resulting quality and reliability of the products they purchase.”

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