Planning for Urban Research and Development,” has pointed out that “a rewarding field in which to seek cost reduction lies in the identification and reduction of constraints imposed by tradition and present practice.”

A detailed analysis of such problems by the Building Research Advisory Board identified the availability of materials as one of the constraints needing attention. While, the present study has reached a different conclusion regarding availability per se, it is clear that major constraints do exist due to high materials cost, performance limitations, and the ways in which materials are processed into construction products, components, subsystems and total systems. A key factor affecting materials in this respect is the currently limited viewpoint and policies of building-product manufacturers, particularly those with already established commitments to specific materials. Likewise constraining is the time required to develop an innovation to practice—on the order of five years. Hence, the cyclical character of the building industry and its sensitivity to many external influences tends to retard the exploitation of innovations. In another area, the movement toward doing more assembly work in the factory rather than onsite has introduced new factors, namely those associated with fixed costs of manufacturing. Consequently, increased automation and factory fabrication seem to have been occurring only in cases of intensive repetitive building where there is confidence in a continuing market large enough to permit amortizing the plant investment involved. It is clear that the fragmented character of the building industry is a severe obstacle in the extent to which major advances from materials performance and processing efficiency can be expected to be utilized.

Materials and Standards

Before a new material can be efficiently used in manufacturing and commerce, the properties and performance of the material must be described and specified. Both the functional value and the characteristics must be standardized if the new material is to be obtained competitively, and priced appropriately. The description of the desired characteristics of the material takes the form of a “standard specification,” which expresses the material characteristics in terms of quality, uniformity, and performance, in order to measure its ability to fulfill specific application requirements. For example, when a ton of structural steel is purchased for a specific price, the latter is related directly to a particular specification which stipulates the chemical composition (allowable limits on the amount of carbon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, silicon, and copper), the minimum allowable strength and ductility, etc. Thus, this standard specification defines the quality and therefore the value of the steel. In turn, to measure whether the steel meets these stipulations requires standard methods of test.

Standards defined in this way are useful in every step of the manufacturing cycle—design, materials, processes, and product. Accordingly:

  • Standards define the performance properties required by the user.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement