Sometimes, to better understand the scope and value of the kind of fuel testing necessary for best practice fuel management, it helps to understand groups like the ASTM. In other words, to understand the value and advantage of ASTM testing, the best place to start out at is talking about the ASTM organization itself.
In a nutshell, ASTM’s purpose is to create standards for many of the things we use in everyday life and in business.
ASTM of course is an acronym that stands for American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials. It was originally started in 1898 by a group of scientists and engineers who were working in the railroad industry (Pennsylvania Railroad). There were tremendous problems with rail breaks, so their first job was to develop a standard for the steel used to fabricate the rails.
Now, you would think that having industry standard would be good for business, but it’s interesting to look back and see that, at first, industry was very resistant to the idea of defining standards for things like that. They were afraid that doing this would just cause mass business anarchy - everyone would just default on contracts. But business and industry came around in a big way as they began to see the value in doing this kind of thing. And so here we are today.
Today, ASTM has over 30,000 members from more than 140 countries, and there are more than 140 technical committees. These committees span across all kinds of industries and areas. These committees (i.e. Committee B01 Electric Conductors Committee and the D10 Packaging Committee) are the ones that decide what the standards should be. They’re typically composed of people who have some kind of interest in whatever thing it is they are looking at. This means they can be users of products, producers of products, general consumers, or just people who are interested in the particular thing. But this also means they’re not “interested parties”, it means they’re more likely to be the experts in the specific area – the kind of people you want deciding what tests and standards should look like for a subject.
ASTM’s job, its mission, is to formulate standards for many of the things that we use in life. We said that there were more than 140 technical committees, but there are more than 12,000 ASTM standards that have been created and are adhered to by some significant party.
Why are there so many standards? Think all the things we use and think of the assumptions that you have when you use them. You proceed under the assumption that they are what we think they are, in terms of their properties. You might buy a cardboard box, and you assume that the walls are going to be a certain thickness and it’s going to have given abilities that will reasonably help you do what you want it to do (ship or store something securely). Those properties all have the be defined, or else anyone can just pick whatever they want it to mean.
There are ASTM standards that define and cover most of the things we come across in our business and personal lives:
• A492 – the standard specification for stainless steel rope wire
• E112 – the test methods for determining average grain size (in farming)
• C91 – cement and concrete standards
For almost anything you can think of, there’s at least one ASTM standard that played a key role in ensuring that it was what you thought it was.
One big reason why ASTM tests are the gold standard is the process they use for coming up with a given standard? Without going too much into the weeds on this, the basic process would look something like this:
• Once someone decides on the topic that needs to have a standard developed, they form a Task Group that does leg work and research that forms the basis of a draft standard.
• They submit their findings for review and voting, where it is reviewed, discussed and voted on by a series of subcommittees and then the Main Committee.
• If it passes muster with all of those, it’s put up for vote by the entire Society, which has to approve it before it can become an official ASTM International Standard.
As you may be able to tell, this process ensures that only fully vetted and agreed-upon standards actually become written into “law”, so to speak. It means the ASTM tests and standard have the full intellectual and practical weight of the people who know the most about the particular area.
One other thing to remember is that, although we’re discussing testing here, ASTM itself doesn’t do any actual testing. They determine what group of tests should define a given standard, and what kind of tests results should be the standard for whatever they’re talking about. Then it’s up to testing labs to execute those tests.
The ASTM organization is referenced so much, in so many place, you might think it pretty much rules the roost. But with respect to its influence, you have to understand that the ASTM itself has no clout or role in forcing anyone to adhere to whatever standards it comes up with. That clout actually comes when someone else, like the United States government, decides that an ASTM standard for….whatever…..should be the standard or the definition adopted for a given thing.
When the Federal Government does this, it actually comes from the 1995 National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act that requires the federal government to use privately developed consensus standards whenever possible. So, an example of the United States government giving ASTM some clout is the rule that that all toys sold in the US have to meet safety requirements of ASTM F963. ASTM can’t force toy makers to make safe toys; they just define what safe toys look like. But the government is the one that tells people they have to pay attention to what the ASTM says in that regard.
And that’s the kind of situation we have with a similar requirement for ASTM D975 – the diesel fuel standard. The federal government decided that the D975 set of rules were what best defined the thing called diesel fuel. If you want to legally call something Diesel Fuel, it has to meet the definitions listed in D975. It has to meet all of the particular stipulations contained therein (while also implying that if it’s not contained in D975, it doesn’t have to be so in order to still legally be Diesel Fuel). This last point is also necessary to consider. Let’s say someone wanted to add blue dye to diesel fuel. D975 doesn’t say anything specifically about color defining diesel fuel. It just says fuel has to be “clear and bright and free of visible particulate contamination”. So someone can add blue dye and still legally call it diesel fuel. Of course, that’s a separate issue from whether it’s actually a good idea to do something like that, and there may be other rules that prohibit them from doing that. But those are separate from the ASTM’s specification-based definition of diesel fuel.