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Standards, Codes, & Specifications

What is a standard?

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

"A standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose." - ISO

Types of standards:

  • Category, type, dimension, structure, equipment, quality, grade, component, performance, durability, or safety 
  • Methods of manufacturing, methods of designing, methods of drawing, methods of using, or methods of operation of safety condition of production
  • Methods of testing, analyzing, appraising, verifying, or measuring 
  • Terms, abbreviations, symbols, marks, preferred numbers, or units 
  • Design, methods of execution, or safety conditions

What are some points to remember when using standards? 

  • Some standards are government-mandated, and others are voluntary.  There may be various penalties associated with not adhering to the standard. 
  • Standards are updated frequently to keep pace with changing technology -- check to see if the standard you are using is the latest version. 
  • Older, superceded versions of standards may be useful in many cases, such as legal disputes concerning the performance of a product that was manufactured when the older standard was in force.  

Identifying Standards:

  • Standards typically have a title and a report number associated with the organization that produced the standard.  Also, expect to see a revision year --- sometimes written out in full and sometimes shortened, as with using "18" for "2018."  Examples include:
    • ASTM F1511-18 - Standard Specification for Mechanical Seals for Shipboard Pump Applications
    • IEEE 1708-2014 - Wearable Cuffless Blood Pressure Measuring Devices


Standards are created by a wide variety of organizations.  The most common are:

  • Professional societies, such as the IEEE 
  • Industrial or manufacturing associations, such as the American Wire Rope Manufacturers 
  • Governmental agencies or bodies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense
  • Companies, such as General Motors [Company standards are often proprietary and therefore are available only to approved subcontractors.]  
  • International bodies, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
    • The ISO is a non-governmental organization that both creates and approves international standards.  ISO deals with all subject areas except electrical and electrotechnical matters; these are handled by the International Electrotechnical Association (IEC).

Many countries also have national standardization organizations.  Country standards are in the language of the country.  English translations are not typically available.

Specifications are concise statements of requirements for materials, products or services that are to be purchased by an industry or government agency.  Specifications are limited to a specific project or government agency. Standards are specifications that are recognized as the most practical and appropriate current solution, that is agreed upon by a recognized authority, for a recurring problem.

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