Industry Standards

This week will go down as an important milestone. On Tuesday, January 13 in West Conshohocken (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, a group of more than 70 individuals from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and South Africa approved the formation of an official ASTM Committee to create industry standards around additive manufacturing technologies. The need for standards has been argued for at least a decade. Finally, it is happening, and in a spirit of cooperation and sense of urgency. I could tell that people at the meeting were passionate and felt strongly about the need. Why else would have some of them flown 15 hours to attend the 1.5-day meeting?

If manufacturing applications have any chance of widespread acceptance at major corporations, standards and guidelines must be developed and adopted that will help ensure quality, consistency, and repeatability. Today, each organization must deal with these issues on their own as they attempt to force fit a wide range of prototyping machines and materials into manufacturing environments. Some have experienced degrees of success; most others haven’t tried.

ASTM International was established in 1898 and is responsible for 12,000 standards by technical experts in 115 countries. Through a process of consensus, standards are drafted and then voted on by the members of ASTM. Anyone from anywhere can join and participate. I was fascinated by the simplicity and effectiveness of the process. But then, it has been tested and fine-tuned for 110 years, so it should be good.

Those present at the meeting formed five subcommittees, each of which concentrate on terminology, testing, processes, materials, and design (including file formats). Creating standard methods of testing and comparing additive systems and materials is arguably the most important activity of this effort. Soon, users of these systems will have standards that guide them through a process that has been, at best, haphazard in the past, and certainly not universally accepted. The average length of time to produce an ASTM standard is about 11 months.

The results of the meeting will be published over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read the documents that led to this week’s meeting at wohlersassociates/astm.html.

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