ASTM International (ASTM), previously known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit international organization that develops and publishes technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. The organization's headquarters is in the small town of West Conshohocken nearby to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.
ASTM's origin predates that of other standards organizations such as the British Standards Institution (BSI), Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) and the Japanese Standards Association (JSA) but differs from them in that they are national bodies whereas that role in the United States is currently taken by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The ASTM also predates the International Organization for Standards (ISO).
ASTM has a dominant role among standards developers in the United States, and claims to be the world's largest developer of standards. ASTM has over 33,000 members (representing over 135 countries), more than 140 technical committees where thousands of the members develop and maintain the organization's standards on a volunteer basis and 75 nations have adopted ASTM standards.
ASTM publishes the Annual Book of ASTM Standards each year. As of 2008, that publication has 81 volumes and a total of just over 11,900 standards.
A group of scientists and engineers, led by Charles Benjamin Dudley, formed the American section of the International Association for Testing Materials (IATM) in 1898 to address the frequent breakage of the rails (in railroad tracks) that plagued the fast-growing railroad industry. The group subsequently developed a standard for the chemical composition and physical properties of the steel used to fabricate rails. Then, at their fifth annual meeting in 1902, they split off from the IATM and formed the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM).
In the early 1920s, ASTM’s activities were focused on the steel, railroad, and cement industries, and most of its members were based in the Northeastern part of the United States. In the next four decades, ASTM evolved into a truly national organization whose more than 100 technical committees contributed to the rising new industries such as highway transportation, petrochemicals, electronics, and aerospace technology, to name only a few. ASTM’s development from the 1920s to the 1960s helped facilitate the nation’s economic growth.
In 1961, sixty years after the American Section of the IATM had turned itself into the American Society for Testing Materials, the organization renamed itself once again and became the American Society for Testing and Materials. The name change emphasized that ASTM was devoted to the development of standard material specifications as well as standard test methods. Fortunately, the new name did not require a new acronym, enabling the use its established and widely-recognized ASTM logo.
The ASTM of the 1970's was involved with financial consolidation and reconfiguration of the organization’s mission and identity. It assessed revenue streams and concluded that ASTM needed a new membership structure and better marketing strategies for its income-generating products, especially their Annual Book of ASTM Standards. Most administrative functions were to be performed by the staff, enabling the volunteer committee members to concentrate on technical standards work. These and other measures initiated ASTM’s transformation from a traditional engineers’ society into a non-profit organization dedicated to modern business principles, including efficiency, responsiveness to changing market conditions, and financial viability.
Economic globalization compelled ASTM and its international counterparts to cooperate across national boundaries. The end of American industrial supremacy and the rise of a multipolar world economy turned international standards development into a two-way street as American standards users paid more attention to the specific needs of emerging markets. ASTM facilitated this trend by continuing to encourage international participation in technical committee work, and by establishing an overseas office in London. It also forged close ties with major foreign standards organizations such as Germany’s DIN, France’s AFNOR, Britain's BSI and Japan's JSA.
In 1995, ASTM moved into their new headquarters in West Conshohocken. Then, in 2001, ASTM changed its name to ASTM International to reflect the global participation in ASTM and the worldwide use of its standards.
Description and definition of ASTM standards
The ASTM defines a standard as being a document that has been developed and established within the principles and approval requirements of the ASTM's procedures and regulations. All of the standards generally fall into one of these six categories:
- Test method: A definitive laboratory or other procedure that produces a test result. Examples of test methods include, but are not limited to: identification, measurement, and evaluation of one or more qualities, characteristics, or properties. A test method also includes a statement regarding the precision and bias of the test method.
- Specification: An explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system, or service. Examples of specifications include, but are not limited to, requirements for: physical, mechanical, or chemical properties, and safety, quality, or performance criteria. A specification also identifies the test methods for determining whether each of the requirements is satisfied.
- Guide: A compendium of information or series of options that does not recommend a specific course of action. A guide increases the awareness of information and approaches in a given subject area.
- Practice: A definitive set of instructions for performing one or more specific operations that does not produce a test result. Examples of practices include, but are not limited to: application, assessment, cleaning, collection, decontamination, inspection, installation, preparation, sampling, screening, and training.
- Classification: A systematic arrangement or division of materials, products, systems, or services into groups based on similar characteristics such as origin, composition, properties, or use.
- Terminology: A document comprising definitions of terms, explanations of symbols, abbreviations, or acronyms.
The Annual Book of ASTM Standards covers 15 sections of interest plus a master index:
Membership in the organization is open to anyone with an interest in its activities. Standards are developed within committees, and new committees are formed as needed. Membership in most committees is voluntary and initiated by the member's own request, not by appointment nor by invitation. Members are classified as users, producers, consumers, and general interest. The latter includes academics and consultants. Users include members from industries, who may also be producers (in the context of other technical committees) as well as consumers. In order to meet the requirements of antitrust laws, producers must constitute less than 50% of every committee or subcommittee, and votes are limited to one per producer company. Because of these restrictions, there can be a substantial waiting-list of producers seeking memberships on the more popular committees. Members can, however, participate in committees without having a formal vote and their input will be fully considered.
A broad range of federal agencies of the United States government participate in the technical committees and government participants serve on the ASTM's board of directors.
As noted earlier above, in 2008, there were over 33,000 members from over 135 countries and there were 140 technical committees.
- The ASTM originated in 1898 as the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials (IATM). BSI originated in 1901, DIN in 1917 and AFNOR in 1926. The international ISO originated in 1947.
- 2008 ASTM Annual Report
- ASTM Blue Book: Form and Style for ASTM Standards, 2009
- Open membership in ASTM
- Government Interface & Corporate Outreach by Anthony Quinn, ASTM Director of Public Policy