By David Apkarian, president, TransTech Systems Inc.
ASTM International (originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) was started in 1898 due to the poor quality of steel manufacturing for the railroads.
While progress was slow, suppliers and industry soon realized that standard material specifications were necessary in order to produce a longer lasting rail.
With this start other industries soon took note and in 1902 cement, nonferrous metals and alloys, paint and coatings were added. From there ASTM grew to what it is today.
ASTM encompasses approximately 12,000 standards ranging from crayons, cement, snow skiing, advanced ceramics, biotechnology, search and rescue, and terminology.
The growth of ASTM has been tremendous. It is truly arguable that ASTM has had the largest impact on our day to day quality of life and an impact on national, regional and international commerce.
Check the ASTM website - www.astm.org - for more infomation on its history.
What exactly is an ASTM standard?
We all use ASTM specifications or test methods in our daily lives, but few industry practitioners truly understand what they represent or how they come about.
Many in the asphalt industry think ASTM is an approval specification or an endorsement of a product, method or technology.
Just because a piece of equipment or a test method has an ASTM Standard does not indicate or imply approval by a committee or ASTM - it's not an endorsement. It's simply a consensus of procedure developed by a committee that is made up of manufactures, academia, practitioners and interested parties.
According to ASTM's own information, "ASTM does not certify products or grant a seal of approval. ASTM does not verify that products are tested according to a standard. Many manufacturers, however, choose to indicate that a product has been tested according to an ASTM standard by providing such information on product labels or packaging."
So what exactly is a standard?
"As used in ASTM, a standard is a document that has been developed and established within the consensus principles of the organization and which meets the requirements of ASTM procedures and regulations," says ASTM. "Full consensus standards are developed with the participation of all parties who have a stake in the standards' development and/or use."
Where do the standards come from? ?
Have you ever read an ASTM Standard and thought to yourself, how in the world did they ever come up with that? One must understand this is a volunteer organization, so the mix you may have on any one committee or task group may not be a true representative cross section of the industry.
Too often the committee rooms are made up of manufactures and academia, and this is one of the major issues we have in our area of ASTM, especially when new technology is presented. ASTM or the committees assigned to various technical aspects are not the traffic cop for our industry, that's industry's job.
Unfortunately the asphalt industry is very slow to adapt to new technology. This culture has been fostered for many years by government agencies, and some academics labeled as experts in our industry.
Unfortunately this risk adverse mentality then trickles down to the contractors, suppliers and professional service firms and supports an environment where innovation is stifled.
How can we improve the standards? ?
So how does this affect what we can do as an industry? If we stifle innovation and creativity, it does not encourage progressive technology to be born and applied in our industry. Basically we get the leftovers from more progressive industries and remain years behind the technology curve.
Private companies are rarely invited into the research circles, and will frequently be prevented from participating. When they do develop ground breaking technology, manufactures are put through such a gauntlet to prove it works that many simply move on to other industries or go out of business.