Wednesday, April 12, 2017 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste
In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":
As technical workers in numerous versions of the construction industry, Welders are very much influenced by codes and standards. Company standards, industry standards, national standards, international codes and standards, you name it, we are regulated by it.
Do we really need all this? Are codes and standards worth the trouble? How will codes and standards change in the future? We explore these topics in today's The WelderDestiny Compass.
If you would like to add your ideas to this week’s discussion, then please send me an e-mail with your ideas, (Send your e-mails to: firstname.lastname@example.org) or complete the comment form on the page below.
Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...
When studying my materials engineering degree, I was not greatly exposed to codes or standards. I kind of knew that there were such things, but we were more concerned with the basics of why materials behaved the way they do.
As a young engineer, my hubris was rudely interrupted when the use of, and the compliance with, codes and standards were mandatory. Suddenly my world was restricted and regulated. It was also guided so that the risk associated with my mistakes would be limited.
One of my early mentors, an experienced welding engineer, explained the role of standards to me in the following light: Codes and standards are the pinnacle of engineering, because within them they have distilled all the experience, knowledge and insights gained by generations of engineers.
Being a bit of an anti-authoritarian type, this did not sit well with me. Over time I have however come to accept that codes and standards play a very important role in setting engineering standards, and communicating important design assumptions and information down to the shop floor.
Without relevant standards, the lines of communication, and the fundamental design assumptions would have to be re-established for every project. This would significantly increase the risks associated with building and operating hazardous equipment and installations such as we find in the oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, building construction and a host of other industries.
Clearly, there is a role for codes and standards in the welding industry.
After gaining some experience, I ended up being nominated to serve on a few standards committees (or were they working groups – I forget) of the South African Bureau of Standards. (SABS) The company I was working for at the time asked that I get involved.
As part of my "induction" to becoming a member on a standards committee, I attended some introductory presentations. Obviously, the systems and structure of the standards body was explained, but the question was also posed to all those present: What is your central role on the standards committee?
There were rather noble answers such as contributing technical knowledge, providing knowledge leadership, personal growth and numerous other answers that were equally noble. We were told that those were the wrong answers. We are there to represent the interests of the companies and organisations that sent us there!
In short, standards are just as much about looking after your own interests and protecting your own turf as it is about the health and safety of society! The suppliers are there to try and give their particular technology an edge over those of competitors. The end users are there to try and put such great restrictions in place that it serves as a barrier to entry for competitors.
As a general rule, the "little guy" and the "small business" is not represented.
If we keep in mind that many of the codes and standards associated with the welding industry end up being referenced as part of legal regulations, then it becomes clear that the codes and standards are used as a mechanism by bigger organisations (and organisation bodies) to gain an edge on their competitors and to introduce barriers to entry for small businesses that could capture market share from the entrenched operators.
For standards that are used across international boundaries, the stakes are even higher. By placing well targeted requirements in the codes and standards, one country can effectively advantage their own national industries above those of other countries.
Another problem that has started to rear its head is that the review process for these standards are so time consuming and cumbersome, that they tend to lag the latest technological innovations being introduced. This problem is going to get much worse in the coming decades.
Given that welding codes and standards are indeed needed, but that there are moral, structural and schedule problems with the current way of doing things, we seem to have a catch 22 situation. How could we possibly solve this problem?
Taking a stab at how this could potentially unfold is a bit of a risk, as there are so many different interests and players with great political power, that it really is unpredictable. We can however think of a potential framework.
Many organisations within the software industry have decided to move to an "open source" model for developing their platforms. I believe that a future where information and knowledge is freely available, the open source model for developing codes and standards holds much promise.
The downside of open source is that the product is essentially free, so it is not possible to make money selling the final product. The code or standard in this case. The upside of the open source model is that there are a lot of people that provide their time for free to help develop the product, so it does not cost the standards organisation much to develop. This would not be much different than the current situation I may add!
There are a number of models for making money from operating open source development environments. In our case, we could visualise a standards organisation that operates an open source standards development process in conjunction with a professional "social media" / "marketing" platform.
Imagine if LinkedIn developed a standards development arm through which their members could participate in standards development in a "real-time" environment where all the other member could also see what is going on and comment.
The standard would be an ongoing work in progress, changing incrementally on a daily basis. For contractual purposes, a specific date can be selected for the revision to use on a specific project.
I am sure that such a system would have its problems, but I think that it would probably solve more problems than it introduces.
At any rate, those with the power currently to "tilt the playing field" in their favour will not want to jeopardise their power. Any change will be hard fought, and the politicians will be heavily involved, as their own power structure is eroded.
Yours in welding
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