overlap, as when a group chooses to adopt a standard developed unilaterally by one of its members or when a government agency adopts a private standard by reference in a regulation or law. Mechanisms for U.S. and international standards development are considered in detail in Chapter 2.

This report is concerned primarily with formal standards. Formal standards impinge on our activities every day, with or without our conscious awareness. A ubiquitous element of American life, the automobile, offers many examples. We choose the grade of gasoline we put in our cars according to a formal standard for octane ratings. We use motor oil classified as SAE 10W-30, 10W-40, etc., against standards written by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a professional society that develops many standards for the automotive industry.2 If we perform our own car repairs, we consult a manual of standards for parts and assembly published by the manufacturer.

Safety and environmental standards play a major part in our use of automobiles. We are protected by safety features that meet standards mandated by government or adopted voluntarily by automakers. In many states, cars must be tested and certified as meeting emission standards designed to protect air quality. To obtain a driver's license, we must pass a test that measures our skills and knowledge against formal standards, and when we drive, we obey standard traffic signals and laws.

These examples illustrate the influences of standards on the use of a product by its ultimate user, the consumer. The average car owner, however, may never think about an additional set of relevant standards—those that the automaker uses in designing and building the car. These standards play a role from the very beginning of the production cycle. Electronic data interchange standards enable teams of engineers to share designs on their computer workstations. Computer-controlled machine tools follow standard, coded instructions in cutting and welding sheets of metal—metal that meets material specifications for strength, rigidity, and other characteristics. The tools are calibrated to units of length, mass, pressure, and other quantities against references maintained by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (before 1987, the National Bureau of Standards) in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

In order to win the car manufacturer's business, suppliers of materials, parts, and services must meet performance specifications set by the manufacturer. The manufacturer also applies performance criteria to internal operations, as part of a continuous process of managing and improving the quality of his or her own products. Use of formal standards describing quality management systems, such as the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 9000 international standards series or the Department of Commerce's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria, is increasing rapidly in this country, with consequences that are considered in this report.3

These examples demonstrate clearly that standards take many forms and serve many purposes. This report focuses primarily on formal standards for products and processes in manufacturing industries. This focus is determined by



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement