Is there a standard for that?

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Tire testing, Bureau of Standards. The Library of Congress.

What’s new?

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a paper comparing the ability of five photon detectors to produce a measurable outcome when hit by a photon, that is, a quantum of light.  

Minnesota recently became the first state to adopt IEEE 1547-2018, a standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that describes criteria for the interconnection of electrical power systems and distributed energy resources.

Harold O’Connor, a goldsmith from Salida, Colorado, is the author of The Jeweler’s Bench Reference.

What does it mean?

Improved photon detection is important in the development of lower dose imaging of human tissues and in quantum cryptography to improve the security of data networks. The ability to accurately count photons may eventually form the basis for a new standard for measuring optical power.

The future of the electrical grid will involve energy generation and storage in many locations and from many sources, including renewable energy such as wind and solar; the safe, reliable, and efficient management of such a grid requires standards for the electrical interconnection of these many sources.

O’Connor’s book is a standard reference for jewelers because it includes clear descriptions of jewelry methods.

What does it mean for you?

Whatever technology your organization relies on, someone has already developed or is developing standards. You don’t have to go it alone; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; some very smart people have thought through how to apply the technology and often that information is freely available. With any new technology, you should ask this important question: is there a standard for this technology?  

For example, a manufacturer of helmets for skiing or snowboarding may want its products to meet the ASTM F2040 standard, which includes requirements for strength and stability. The standard also refers to other ASTM standards that specify testing methods. ASTM, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, publishes voluntary standards, and has a range of membership options with the highest level allowing participation in technical committees. New standards are being developed by ASTM for gym equipment, mechanically stabilized earth walls, and racket sport eye protectors.

Standards exist for many technologies, but also for any situation where people agree on a procedure or where people want to use a procedure developed by experts. For example, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) were developed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which “is recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission as the designated accounting standard setter for public companies.”  Those concerned with financial accounting can participate in the actions of the FASB by seeking appointing to various committees. The FASB activities are overseen by a seven-member Board which seeks to foster independence and the public interest.

As shown by this example, standards are usually set by an industry supported organization, in which members of that industry can participate. That organization may be recognized by governments as the appropriate entity to set those standards. That same organization or other organizations may audit and certify adherence to the standards. Clients or customers may want the products or services they buy to adhere to those standards.

In your particular business, professional magazines and organizations should keep you informed about relevant standards, but for a function that is not central to your business you may not be aware of the existence of relevant standards. For example, the ISSA (originally the International Sanitary Supply Association, now the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association) is a source for cleaning standards, audits, and corrective actions. Does your janitorial service adhere to such an industry standard?

Many standards are voluntary while others are prescribed by governments, as with Minnesota’s adoption of the IEEE standards, which I cited at the beginning of this article. Even voluntary standards may be effectively required for being involved with commerce in certain industries. ISO 9001 certification (the certification for an organization’s quality system) is widely perceived as required for international trade. Mead Metals states that obtaining ISO certification in 1998 “was a key factor in expanding the company’s national and international customer base.” Even if not an official standard set by any organization, your technology may have widely accepted standards, such as O’Connor’s book on jewelers’ techniques.

Some standards are not freely available. The IEEE standards must be purchased, as must standards from ISO, the International Organisation for Standardization, which works with 164 international member organizations and has created and published 22,919 international standards, on topics from assistive products to zinc alloys. ANSI, the American National Standards Institutes, is the US member organization. For some standard setting organizations, selling copies of the standards is an important source of revenue to support the work of setting standards.

The dark side of standards is the saying: “Standards are great; everyone has one,” as illustrated in this XCSD cartoon.  While standard setting bodies want to portray the process as benefiting the public good, standards can create winners and losers, and thus are often the result of power politics. Standard setting for the Internet has been a contentious process and the development of standards for the new  cannabis industry is still at the beginning stages. My father (a systems engineer at Bell Labs) told me stories about his endeavors at CCITT (the international standard setting body for telephony), including the determination of the international standard for the shape of the hash tag or octothorpe symbol on the telephone keypad.  

Where can you learn more?

The NIST article on photon detectors is “Calibration of free-space and fiber-coupled single-photon detectors,” by Thomas Gerrits, Alan Migdall, Joshua C Bienfang, John Lehman, Sae Woo Nam, Jolene Splett, Igor Vayshenker, and Jack Wang.

IEEE standards are available here, ASTM standards here, and the ISSA Clean Standard here.  Harold O’Connor’s book The Jeweler’s Bench Reference is available here. The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) has technical committees in many areas.  Also see their list of other bodies developing standards or guides.

In exploring for this column, I discovered two books I now have on my reading list:

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