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Standards and Codes

Introduction to standards and codes commonly used by professional engineers in their design and development projects.

What are Standards?

Standards are published documents used to delineate the technical specifications, rules, guidelines, procedures, and characteristics considered as the minimally acceptable benchmarks for materials, products, methods, systems, and/or services used by people every day. By adhering to standards organizations ensure that their products and services are functional and reliable, are compatible and interoperable with associated products and services, are effective and fit for their designed purposes and uses, and support the safety and health of users.

Standards - Who Creates Them

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

  • Professional societies, such as the IEEE and SAE
  • Industrial or manufacturing associations, such as ASTM International 
  • Governmental agencies or bodies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA
  • Companies, typically 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.

Why are Standards Important?

Standards are the foundation upon which the product development process relies. Not only do they establish consistent protocols that can be universally understood and adopted but also reflect the shared values, aspirations, and responsibilities we as a society project upon each other and the world. Proper application of standards not only fuels compatibility and interoperability, which streamlines and speeds up the lab-to-market development but also makes it easier to understand and compare competing products. International standards also promote international trade by ensuring that products fit performance and design expectations globally.

Understanding what standards represent and how to apply them correctly are critical skills for professional engineers and product developers. Those who continuously hone these skills and keep informed about the most current standards in their areas of expertise not only are well-positioned to drive innovation in their organizations but also enhance their market value as professional engineers.

- Adapted from IEEE

Standards - Important Notes

  • 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, so finding the most recent version is critical to new design projects. 
  • Older, superseded versions of standards still may be useful, such as assessing legal disputes concerning the performance of a product that was manufactured when the older standard was in force.  

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