Surfing around the reaches of cable TV the other night, we came across an airing of Atlas Shrugged. In the book/movie, Hank Rearden has developed a brand new light-weight high-performance alloy for railroads that threatens to revolutionize the industry. Called “Rearden Metal” (once his career-savvy Marketing guys get a hold of it), Hank is protective of the chemistry and properties of the metal - other than to assert its superiority in the manufacture of train rails.
The burgeoning US rail industry in the late 1800’s was facing Rearden-like conditions. Steel used in rail manufacture was of inconsistent quality – suppliers differed, manufacturing lots differed, and expectations between buyer and seller differed. A take-it-or-leave it attitude prevailed.
Enter Charles Dudley, the father of ASTM, now the American Society for Testing and Materials. Dudley engendered a collaborative process as a means to develop and adopt standards that were acceptable to both producers and users. What began with railroad steel has expanded through the efforts of ASTM, DIN, BSI, JSA, AFNOR and others to thousands of other materials used in countless applications.
ASTM standards describe the composition of alloys, minimum mechanical properties that the materials must exhibit when test bars are evaluated, and standards for how those tests are to be done. Customers know what to expect when designing components and suppliers know what properties must be achieved.