Manufacturers Must Rethink Standards Strategies

Four standards experts discussed the current situation facing global manufacturers and the benefits of the unified standards vision at the 2007 Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair.

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Globalization and the concurrent rise in government interest in the regulation of manufacturing have led Rockwell Automation and other global companies to champion the idea of a single, consistent set of applicable standards and regulations which will support global reuse and interoperability.

“One standard, one test, accepted everywhere” is the mantra of this vision and the message of the “Perspective on Standards” panel discussion today at the Manufacturing Perspectives media event leading into the 2007 Automation Fair.

In a panel discussion Tuesday morning opened by Rockwell Automation’s CTO, Sujeet Chand, four standards experts discussed the current situation facing global manufacturers and the benefits of the unified standards vision. Panel members Joe Bhatia, president of the American National Standards Institute, Frank Kitzantides, vice president of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Keith Williams, president and CEO of Underwriters Laboratories, and James Lovegrove, managing director, American Electronics Association (AeA) Europe, shared their perspectives on the challenges facing companies as they try to work with competitors and government bodies to develop standards that will benefit all constituencies.

"CEOs have two choices: position your organization to take a seat at the table and be part of the standards-setting process or let your competitors dictate the way you will be doing business." ANSI's Joe Bhatia urged manufacturing executives to take an active role in standards development.
Bhatia outlined the challenge bluntly. “CEOs have two choices: position your organization to take a seat at the table and be part of the standards-setting process or let your competitors dictate the way you will be doing business,” he said, adding: “Market leaders and standards leaders are often one and the same.”

Kitzantides cited a student project for MBA candidates at Northwestern’s Kellogg Management School wherein the students had to develop and manufacture an electrical product for the Latin American market. The lesson from the project was that standards drove market access and the manufacturing process and they affected every aspect of the business operation.

But in spite of this profound influence, Lovegrove said, “A surprisingly low amount of resources are being channeled toward ensuring sufficient compliance head count, software systems and active standards participation.”

Lovegrove also pointed to the results of neglecting standards development. “If companies continue to rely on other companies to do the heavy lifting, then a worrying imbalance in terms of the constituencies of these standards bodies or policy hearings will take place.”

He added that this imbalance can be seen in the situation developing in Europe, where government regulation often moves ahead of standardization, often creating confusion in the marketplace. He cited the example of RoHS, which was enacted by the EU and left to the 27 members to implement each in its own way, but without a stated scope or benchmark standards to follow.

He sees this trend being exacerbated by an increase in government and non-government organization involvement coupled with the growing absence of industry experts to present/explain the technology in question. “Regulation and related standards are increasingly compromising global companies’ ability to design, build and sell anywhere. This isn’t all bad to the extent that genuine health, environmental or safety concerns are addressed, but the regrettable reality is that all too often, these concerns are addressed in a way that creates significant and sometimes unnecessary burdens on global companies,” he said.

UL’s Williams added, “Voluntary, market-driven standards supported by appropriate governmental compliance requirements have proven to be the best servants of public interest.” 

All four panelists agreed that the journey to “One Standard, One Test, Accepted Everywhere” would be a long one. “Standards in the world are harmonizing, but it will take time to get everybody to buy in,” says Williams. “You’ll still have national standards organizations. There will always need to be some national differences that have to be taken into account.”

In the end, the panel concluded, good standards are good business. “The business case for One Standard, One Test is simple economic efficiency,” said IEC’s Kitzantides.

A few good, flexible standards that are enforced by global certification organizations with competence in testing and follow-up surveillance will support innovation and global business, agreed the panel members. However, as Williams warned, “It will require a cohesive industry effort to achieve this goal.”

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