World Standards Week takes place the week of October 20, and it presents an opportunity to reflect on how standards are used in engineering and impact almost every facet of modern life.

For example, standards make it possible for the Internet to exist and for Engineering360 to be shared seamlessly worldwide. Likewise, banking institutions function on a set of standard protocols that enable global trade to take place.

Standard is Data Format for the Interchange of Fingerprint, Facial & Other Biometric Information, referenced as ANSI/NIST-ITL 1-2011, NIST Special Publication 500-290.Standard is Data Format for the Interchange of Fingerprint, Facial & Other Biometric Information, referenced as ANSI/NIST-ITL 1-2011, NIST Special Publication 500-290.
As this article’s main photo suggests, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2011 published a revised biometric standard that vastly expands the type and amount of information that forensic scientists can share across international networks to identify victims or solve crimes.

But even something as simple as a screw has thousands of standards associated with it. These ensure that the manufactured product is usable everywhere, says Robert Russotti, senior director for online marketing at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Standards cover testing, performance, quality and procedures, Russotti says. They help a specifying engineer determine, for example, how many times a door hinge will open and close before it’s likely to fail, or if a particular metal is suitable for grinding.

A more ( shall we say) standard definition from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IECA) defines a standard as a document, established by consensus that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results.

ISO says that it does not decide when to develop a new standard. Instead, ISO responds to a request from industry or other stakeholders. Typically, an industry sector or group communicates the need for a standard to its national member (such as ANSI in the U.S.) who then contacts ISO.
ISO standards are developed by groups of experts from all over the world, that are part of larger groups called technical committees. These experts negotiate all aspects of the standard, including its scope, key definitions and content.

Developing ISO standards is a consensus-based approach and comments from stakeholders are taken into account. So-called Draft International Standards are circulated among ISO members who have three months to comment and vote on the draft. ANSI coordinates the U.S. voluntary consensus standards system. In that role it provides a neutral forum for the development of policies on standards issues and serves as a watchdog for standards development and conformity assessment programs and processes.

ANSI also accredits qualified organizations, whose standards development process meets all of ANSI’s requirements, to develop American National Standards. However, ANSI itself does not develop standards. In addition, ANSI represents U.S. interests in regional and international standardization activities while overseeing conformity assessment activities that promote the global acceptance of U.S. products, services, systems and personnel.

In the U.S., standards are voluntary and consensus based, which means that product designers and manufacturers can decide whether or not to follow them. The marketplace helps decide whether or not a non-standard product achieves success. In other countries, standards carry the force of law. Standards also may be used as a defense in a legal challenge. A product that fails may be defensible if it can be proved that it conformed to specific standards, Russotti says.

American National Standards (ANSs) are essential tools used in every industry. Today, there are some 9,500 ANSs that have been developed and approved in accordance with ANSI essential requirements. American National Standards are voluntary and serve U.S. interests well because all materially affected stakeholders have the opportunity to work together to create them. ANSI-approved standards only become mandatory when, and if, they are adopted or referenced by the government or when market forces make them imperative.

ANSI says that globally relevant standards make it easier for many companies to get their products certified and on the shelves in countries around the world, allowing them to take part in global value chains, benefit from technology transfer and compete on a more equal footing. Similarly, nations that incorporate international standards into their policies and regulations can allow their citizens access to a wider selection of high-quality goods, while also providing protection against dangerous or faulty products and services.

Additional Resources:

IHS Standards Library