Reading time ( words)
Some people will say, "Standards are so boring!" To that, I might respond, "Well, that's kind of the point." When you're in production manufacturing, a "boring" day (i.e., everything works smoothly with no disruptions, and everybody shares clear expectations) can be a welcome relief from your usual. But what should we do with all of these standards anyway?
Standards bring everybody to the same understanding without having to re-negotiate everything with each new transaction. One book excerpt  states, “By using mutually accepted preexisting standards, two parties to a contract need not recreate every technical definition or requirement for every transaction, greatly facilitating commerce.” You can think of international consensus standards as the industrial equivalent of the “Babel Fish.”
Historically, standards came about to facilitate and enhance commerce. “I will buy 50 feet of your 0.5-inch rope if it holds up 200 pounds” is pretty meaningless if there’s no agreed measure of “foot,” “inch,” or “pound.” The earliest standards were based on what leaders set (i.e., the size of the king’s foot or the width of his thumb), but these only worked within that kingdom while that king lived. Once you left that kingdom, most trading time was spent establishing “goodness” and “worth” (i.e., bartering).
It doesn’t matter what the industry is; quick, efficient repetitive trade across distances mostly depends on voluntary, consensus-based standards that describe the trade goods. Standards must:
• Define the goods sufficiently so that buyers can have faith it will serve the purpose
• Be voluntarily accepted as binding by both parties (e.g., the term “voluntary” being included in contract language)
• Describe what to measure, how to measure, and (generally) what measure is acceptable to both parties
• Be useful and achievable, or they won’t be used
Today, consensus-based standards are ensured by rigidly enforced and internationally audited procedures so that input from all possible sides of a deal—as well as inputs from “knowledgeable neutrals”—are fairly represented. Though the participants in a standards group are typically chosen, standards development organizations (SDOs) generally strive for balanced committees. Users, sellers, technologists, and academia professionals all are invited to participate, and all inputs must be debated, considered, and answered (even if they end up formally rejected by vote).
The standards created should reflect the wishes of the people who show up to work on the process, so companies (or country representatives for some organizations) often participate to ensure their interests are represented. Human beings and businesses being what they are, not everyone who shows up to help create or update a standard has “the fair and equitable treatment of all parties” as their primary motivation. Sometimes, we have to do the standards over until we get it right.
You’d think that, for something destined to ease communication and understanding, what comes out of the process wouldn’t look as much like Sanskrit to most of the world. But precision and clarity do not always apply to the language of the definition. An example of the obtuse (to outsiders) language is “embedded component printed board (ECPB).” From IPC-7092, this is, “The general term for a completely processed printed circuit and printed wiring configuration, which contains an internal base-core that includes embedded formed or placed components (this includes an embedded component base-core, or sequentially laminated HDI configurations using embedded component base cores with additional layers).” I had a hand in this one, so I’m just as guilty as anybody else. Geeks in any field have their own language.
To read the full article, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.