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7 Things You Need to Know About ASTM Specs

Did you know that ASTM International standards touch nearly every industry across the world, not just manufacturing? In fact, the organization, which was started over 100 years ago, now dictates over 12,000 ASTM standards globally.

From ski bindings and training programs to children’s toys, and yes, to steel, ASTM provides a set of standards that dictate requirements for how products and services must perform.

And while ASTM doesn’t enforce compliance with their standards, other organizations, such as the US government, have adopted these practices and mandates, dedicating resources to ensure they’re followed in order for businesses to run most effectively.

In short, these standards are in place to keep people safe, and help the world work better. But what does that mean for the steel industry?

Why are these standards important, and what do you need to know about them to keep your business in the clear?

Who develops ASTM standards?

According to the ASTM website, over 30,000 members from more than 140 countries around the world help to develop these standards across 130+ technical committees. They come from all backgrounds – from producers and government reps to consumers and users. These days, the ASTM sees more and more consumers getting hands-on in the process.

How’d ASTM get started?

Coincidentally, ASTM first sharpened its teeth on steel. In 1898, a group of scientists and engineers met to address breaks in the railway tracks. Based on their meeting, a set of standards was developed for the steel used to build the rails. The rest, as they say, is history.

How many steels are classified by ASTM?

More than 80,000 steels, including more than 15,000 coated steels can be searched in the “Passport to Steel” online database. This robust engine enables users to search for current data on steel, including everything from chemical compositions and mechanical properties to comparisons with other steel standards organizations around the globe.

Why are these standards important for steel?

Essentially, these standards are in place to make sure the steel you’re buying performs how it says it will. For example, a committee formed in 1905 is dedicated to producing standards that help protect steel products against corrosion.

The same committee also released a set of standards in 2008 that address the galvanizing process. The standards benefit OEMs, among others, to ensure that baseline standards for zinc-coated products by hot-dip process are in place.

Without these standards, steel producers could produce products that varied widely in quality, and buyers would have no way to hold them accountable to their word.

How are these standards tied into ISO?

ASTM and ISO didn’t always operate as closely as they do now. In September 2011, however, a cooperation agreement was signed by the ASTM President and the ISO Secretary-General to begin combining their expertise, as related to the manufacturing sector.

This partnership opened the door for the agencies to better work together in an effort to avoid duplicating efforts, while increasing the market relevance of both sets of standards.

Still, some differences remain, which is why ASTM standards are widely accepted, but companies need to go through the process of ISO certification.

They include:

1. Preparation

2. Documentation

3. Implementation

4. Internal Audits

5. Certification

How does this affect you?

The short answer is: it really depends what you do.

The longer answer is that if you’re a company that produces any type of steel, your product must meet or exceed the specs set out by the ASTM’s standards. Because ASTM steel standards are so clearly articulated and outlined, it’s easy to find the appropriate specs and tests to see how your steel (or simply your end product) stacks up. What’s not so easy is performing the sometimes costly and technical testing procedures.

If you find that what you’re producing doesn’t comply with the ASTM standard, we’re sorry to say that you’re out of luck. Because standards are in place to keep people safe, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act says you need to comply with these standards to enter the market. Failure to adhere to the standards can land you in some serious hot water, both legally and financially.

What about international competitors?

To get the answer here, we spoke with Gary Dallin over at GalvInfo. Gary mentioned that for one, ASTM is a worldwide standards organization, hence their name – ASTM International.

Secondly, while there is no mandate that an ASTM spec must be used to make, sell or purchase a product unless it’s put into legislation, Gary says that compliance with ASTM standards often carry almost as much weight as a legal statue in court proceedings.

He also notes that while countries do have their own standards organization, many in the steel industry produce and buy to ASTM, whether they have their own similar standards or not.

Still not sure if you’re safe? Keep this in mind: you get what you ask for, and most offshore suppliers will produce to ASTM Standards when requested by the purchasing agent.

For that reason, it’s important that the buyer specify the requirements needed. And in most cases, the foreign entity will ask for a modification to the ASTM Standards if they think their product may not meet some of the requirements.

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