FAIRLAWN, Ohio—It usually doesn't take a company long to discover that a lot of effort is required to get people on the same page.
ASTM International's mission is to do just that, but for entire industries.
The group seeks to bring industry stakeholders together and provide the infrastructure to create standardizations. ASTM was founded in 1898 and Dan Smith, vice president of technical committee operations at the firm, said its first mission was to establish standard dimensions for railroad tracks so trains could travel from town to town.
Now the association consists of 148 different committees that cover 90-100 different industry groups. ASTM has 13,000 standards and about 30,000 members with 20,000 participating on various committees.
"This is what I believe makes ASTM great," said Smith, who outlined the association's mission for attendees of the 2019 International Latex Conference, held Aug. 6-7 in Fairlawn. "The staff completely stays out of the way of what we are going to standardize. There is nobody at ASTM who has any influence at all on what the committee is going to develop as a standard or what committee they might form to develop a standard."
ASTM takes a bottom-up approach when it comes to developing standards, and a recent example of this occurred in 2017. Smith said an individual from the National Research Council of Canada approached the association to start a cannabis committee.
According to Smith, the individual said that within a year cannabis would be legal throughout the country and the industry needed to adopt some standards to solve some key issues, saying at the time that there was no test for THC levels or packaging, and no standards for the ingredients included in edibles.
"All ASTM did was bring the people together," Smith said. "We did a lot of outreach, but once they were in the room we allowed them to develop their own structure of a committee. We allowed them to talk about what they wanted to standardize and today they have about 25 approved ASTM standards with another 20 to 30 that are in the works."
Openness also is a major focus for ASTM. Smith said the firm wants anyone who has an interest to be part of the ASTM process. One way it achieves this is through its membership fee. Since 1991, the fee has only increased by $15 (it's currently $75) and includes the guide to standards.
Smith said technology also has enabled ASTM to be more open to international stakeholders where travel might be a heavy burden. Those members can join in online. About 20 percent of ASTM's membership is international.
"That's all by design," he said. "We want as many people to come to the table because the more people at the table, the more people contributing, there will be a better technical quality and more credibility."
ASTM strives to achieve balance amongst stakeholders. To avoid having too many producers at the table, Smith said the association requires that 50 percent of the voting members can be from the producer classification. The rest has to be from users, general interest or other classifications.
There is also only one vote per organization. Smith said companies can have as many people from their firm participate in the process, but when it's time to vote, a small- or medium-sized enterprise has the same voice as a large company.
All members also can vote negative. If there is something in the ballot that an organization has a problem with, that organization can articulate it in its negative vote. Smith said all negative votes are sent to the subcommittee and committee, which must discuss the negative vote.
"At the end, they have to vote on it," Smith said. "They have to decide as a subcommittee and committee whether they agree or disagree with you. They may not agree with you, but your opinions will be considered and voted on or the standard will not go through. That's the most powerful thing about being a member."
As for the rubber industry, ASTM's committee D11 on rubber and rubber-like materials is the primary standards committee that impacts the industry. It was formed in 1912 and today consists of 365 members with 227 standards development and 12 drafts. The committee meets every June and December and is chaired by Tom Marsh of Corrie MacColl International.
It also is made up of 14 technical subcommittees that develop and manage industry standards, including D11.22 for natural rubber, D11.23 for synthetic rubbers and D11.40 for consumer rubber products.
One of ASTM's biggest challenges is making sure it doesn't overlap with other standards organizations like ISO. Smith says ASTM works with those other organizations as best it can to make sure they are not duplicating effort.
"For me the most frustrating thing is when there's an ASTM standard and an ISO standard and they're different requirements," Smith said. "Now you have to spend money to satisfy two tests, which is expensive. That's something we want to avoid and work very hard to try and avoid. It's not easy, it's a big challenge for us, and it's not just with ISO. There are more than 400 different standards organizations in the U.S."
Securing the future
Like most of the rubber industry, ASTM is doing what it can to ensure its committees have young leaders ready to take the mantle, which is the main reason it established its emerging professionals program.
Smith said the program identifies promising new members, who are selected by committee leaders to participate in an accelerated skill and process training consisting of negotiation, consensus building and problem solving. Each emerging leader is paired with a mentor, who accompanies them at meetings.
More than 100 participants have completed programs, Smith said half have assumed leadership roles.
"Once we get people to come to an ASTM meeting for a second time, we find that they're hooked," Smith said. "They want to come back and keep contributing. They really love the networking opportunity and the relationships that they build. If we can get them hooked on that second one, we've got them. But it's a challenge because the process is not that easy. The last thing we want is a new member to come in and feel lost."