Step by Step Developing ASTM Standard

Julie Rapoport

In July, ASTM American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) International published C1790-14, Standard Specification for Fly Ash Facing Brick, the culmination of a process that had been initiated more than four years earlier by CalStar Products. Getting there was not simple. The process is intentionally long and deliberate, but one that ultimately results in trust worthy, consensus-based standards that help ensure long-term performance of thousands of products we use every day. It is important to note that standards are not developed for a specific company’s products, but rather are able to cover all products produced from similar materials and production processes.

“Today, some 12,000 ASTM standards are used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, facilitate market access and trade, and build consumer confidence,” says ASTM. “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 test methods, specifications, guides and practices that support industries and governments worldwide.”

In the building industry, ASTM standards are a crucial tool for architects, engineers, specifiers, installers, project owners and other stakeholders, providing assurance that products meet established, consensus-based criteria for performance and quality.

Standard Development Hierarchy Individuals specifying fly ash brick that meets ASTM C1790-14 can feel confident that the standard was created following a consistent, transparent and consensus-based process.

That process starts with ASTM’s hierarchy of committees, subcommittees and task groups, discussed below. Standard C1790-14 falls under ASTM Committee C15, Manufactured Masonry Units.

• Full committee Committee C15 Manufactured Masonry Units is comprised of 300 members, 200 of whom are voting members. To ensure a balance of voices, the committee deliberately includes members across all industry roles, including producers (product and equipment manufacturers), testing labs, end users (architects, masons), academics and consultants. In order for the final standard to pass, it must receive zero negative votes from 200 voting committee members.

• Subcommittee Committee C15 is comprised of nearly a dozen subcommittees, which focus on specific topics or materials. For instance, there are subcommittees devoted to masonry terminology, assemblies, and laboratory accreditation (to name a few). Sub committee C15.03 covers concrete masonry units and related units. It is made up of 161 members, 112 of whom are voting members.

• Task group Task groups can be formed within subcommittees to investigate specific topics. Ultimately, some task groups develop new standards – a process that involves writing the standard drafts, determining product requirements for the standard, defining testing protocols, and addressing concerns from committee and subcommittee members.

The new ASTM standard for fly ash facing brick was developed by Task Group C15.03.11 (C15 = committee on manufactured masonry products, 03 = subcommittee on concrete masonry units and related units, 11 = task group on fly ash units).

Standard Development Process In general terms, here is how the multi-year development process works:

Step 1: Ensure there are no existing standards The group developing the standard must first prove that the product category is not already covered by an existing standard. For fly ash facing brick, no other standard existed at the time. Although there are ASTM standards for clay brick (ASTM C216 Standard Specification for Facing Brick (Solid Masonry Units Made from Clay or Shale), concrete brick (ASTM C1634 Standard Specification for Concrete Facing Brick and C55 Standard Specification for Concrete Building Brick), and calcium silicate brick (ASTM C73 Standard Specification for Calcium Silicate Brick (Sand-Lime Brick)), none of these standards covers fly ash brick. Clay brick standards require the use of clay or shale and a high heat treatment to produce a fired bond of constituent materials. Concrete brick require the use of portland cement. Calcium-silicate brick require the use of sand and lime. Fly ash facing brick do not use the materials as required in these other brick standards, nor do they use the heat treatment required of clay brick.

Step 2: Petition for Exploration The standard developer must petition the executive subcommittee (a subcommittee that guides the overall main committee) for permission to explore setting up a new standard. The developer meets with the executive subcommittee and must demonstrate that the standard they wish to create is valuable, worthwhile and, of course, not already covered by an existing standard.

Step 3: Form a task group The standard developer must recruit commit tee members to a task group, which is responsible for determining what goes into the draft of the standard. It is important to assemble a task group that represents a good cross-section of the committee. The task group should be inclusive from the start, not simply made up of members who are already in full agreement with the developer. Different opinions lead to creative tension and a more robust standard that has a greater likelihood of passing at the subcommittee and main committee levels. The task group for C1790-14 began with four members and eventually expanded to 12 to 15 regular contributors.

Step 4: Write standard The task group sets out to develop the standard, discussing what needs to be included. As the standard initiator, CalStar facilitated the conversation about what requirements should be included in the standard. The task group looked at standards for similar products used in the same sorts of installations (e.g., other brick types). In addition, the task group solicited industry and market feedback to ensure the standard included sufficient and relevant information. For example, while the standards for more traditional brick do not have explicit durability requirements, the task group proposed the inclusion of a freeze/ thaw requirement to indicate durability.

The proposed standard is then written and rewritten based on discussions of what should be included in the standard: testing requirements, performance and much more.

Step 5: Subcommittee voting Once the task group is satisfied with a draft of the standard, it is sent to the subcommittee for voting. In order to move forward, the standard cannot receive any negative votes, only affirmative or abstentions. Any negative votes must be addressed and resolved, either through discussion or changes to the proposed standard, before the standard can move on. It is not unusual for the process to require several rounds of subcommittee votes (which occur twice a year) before the standard is passed through the subcommittee.

Step 6: Committee voting Once passed through the subcommittee, the standard can be read by all members of the main committee and voted on by the 200 voting members of the full committee. Like the subcommittee, the main committee only votes twice a year. Like the subcommittee vote, the standard must not garner any negative votes in order to pass. Any negative votes must be addressed. This process leads to a robust and consensus-based standard. The feed back from both subcommittee and main committee voters serves to make the final standard better.

Because a single person can halt the progress of the standard, it is important to communicate openly and clearly, and to resolve any differences or concerns in a straight forward fashion. The process of pas sing the standard at the committee level also typically takes several (or many) main committee voting cycles. Once the standard achieves no negative votes from the 200-member committee, it can be published by ASTM.

Purposeful Process The multiple steps to writing and passing an ASTM standard can require a minimum of three to four years, but typically take up wards of five years or more. As such, it is a process that requires patience and commitment, as gaining agreement from 200 people is not an easy task.

The lengthy and potentially arduous process is intentional – it ensures each standard is thorough, scientifically-based and developed by true consensus. The process draws strength from the diversity of experience and opinions represented within the industry and the greater ASTM society. Getting 200 people to agree (or, at minimum, not disagree) ensures the standard has been thoroughly vetted and agreed upon by all parties, some of whom might not naturally align themselves with each other. The process requires transparency, diligence and meticulousness and leads to the credibility of the final standards. This is not the end of the process, as ASTM standards are reviewed periodically (at least every five years) to verify that the standard is still relevant.

For architects, specifiers, masons and other stakeholders, an ASTM standard provides external assurance of manufacturing quality, commitment and performance. This assurance is helpful for new product specification. More broadly, the creation and adoption of new building material technologies contribute to the overall advancement of the industry as a whole.

Julie Rapoport, PhD, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is VP of Engineering at CalStar Products. She received her PhD in civil engineering specializing in cementitious materials from Northwestern University. Rapoport is a licensed professional engineer in California and a LEED-Accredited Professional. She has investigated cementitious materials in both research and industry for more than a decade. Rapoport is the chair of ASTM task group C15.03.11 and an officer of ASTM C15. 877.700.9501

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