By David Paulson

How does an emerging industry segment define itself? How does an industry whose products and services affect public health gain the credibility needed with its customer base and regulators?

One of the major ways this has been achieved in other industries is through a system of technical standards. The food, pharmaceutical and residential water treatment industries have all used standards to direct and spur growth.

Evolution of an idea
With this in mind, the Water Quality Association Board of Directors decided such a move would benefit growth of the new Commercial/Industrial (C&I) Section. The section was created with the merging of the Industrial Water Conditioning Institute into WQA in 1997 (see “Viewpoint: Presenting a Unified Front Best for Effective Lobbying,” April 1997, pg. 248). A key idea behind having a Standards Program was to serve and enhance opportunities among these members, initially to assure good design practices were promoted uniformly throughout the industry. Since then, progress defining how this program will work and what it will cover has been made. This March, a report along with a general plan for moving forward were presented at the WQA Annual Convention in Long Beach.

C&I companies now have an opportunity to participate in this emerging program for within their WQA section, a group which is still defining itself. Helping to build this new program—and creating the actual standards within it—will provide opportunities for C&I companies to help further their own businesses.

In the list of benefits to C&I members (see Figure 1), two stand out: The enhanced credibility the industry gains in the eyes of its existing and developing customers provides major benefits for expanded business opportunities. Perhaps even more important is that proactive creation of standards will influence regulators and obtain their support and recommendations for accepting C&I equipment and services in the marketplace.

Additional benefits resulting from standards programs in other industries include: common specifications for customers to compare and select product offerings, reduced operating problems and liability for suppliers and improved technical understanding from participating in creating and using standards. These benefits are especially important for technology that has become accepted as valid in some markets, but is just emerging in another. Many customers about to purchase technology or an alternate product for the first time want assurance there’s a credible authority backing up their choices. This is a key benefit for the C&I industry now.

Scope and direction
When the concept of a C&I Standards Program was introduced to members at the Mid-Year Leadership Conference in Point Clear, Ala., there were questions and concerns expressed by some company representatives. Many of these addressed the intended “scope” of the standards. This is a natural reaction since some can perceive standards as being restrictive and possibly as creating competitive business.

This scope was more defined at the annual convention, and includes the entire product range of components, devices and systems. Standards may cover areas of design, operating characteristics, test methods, materials of construction, etc. Even standards for service of these products could be created.

While this scope is a broad, it was pointed out that—in a volunteer standards program—the main factor that determines what standards are generated comes from what the members see as “real needs.” In other words, the program scope will be broad enough to allow those standards that industry members think are needed; but only those addressing a real need will be created.

The types of standards created can also be quite broad—including practices, guidelines, specifications, test methods and terminology.

A charter proposal
A trial charter statement was presented to get feedback for a draft charter to submit for approval by the WQA Board at this year’s Mid-Year Leadership meeting to be held in Breckinridge, Colo., in September. The suggested wording is: “To develop, publish, maintain and promote credible standards which help members provide products and services of a consistent and defined quality to our customers.” Further, the program will: “…evaluate the impact of these standards, and act to improve the C&I Section’s position in the marketplace.”

For the purpose of refining this proposed charter, as well as to begin creating bylaws for the standards program, an ad hoc “Genesis Committee” was proposed. Volunteers from nine different companies signed up (see Figure 2). The committee has its work cut out for it, but is expected to make good progress by the September meeting. Formation of a permanent steering committee also was proposed. Since this committee would likely include the chairs of specific focus subcommittees or task groups, which have yet to be defined, the steering committee may not be fully established until after the Mid-Year meeting.

Other concerns of C&I members were raised and discussed in March. Most are addressed by a major part of the new program proposal, namely ANSI certification. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a long-established, highly respected regulatory group that certifies important U.S. public sector standards groups. The WQA already has the authority within ANSI to create standards for C&I products. The WQA staff has been instrumental in maintaining the association’s position with ANSI.

The requirements of an ANSI standards group include the following:

  • Participation must be open to all stakeholders,
  • Canvas procedure reflects wide input into the standards,
  • Review and comment on drafts by any interested stakeholders is possible,
  • Consideration is given properly to all negative comments and votes,
  • Consensus is necessary to pass the standards,
  • A 5-year cycle for review and revision of existing standards must be established, and
  • ANSI oversight to insure these rules are followed.

Other ANSI-certified standards groups include Underwriters Laboratories (UL), American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), NSF International (NSF) and the point-of-use/point-of-entry industry’s WQA Gold Seal Program standards for consumer products. With these ground rules required by ANSI, as well as the active participation of C&I members with a real stake in this program, the proven benefits of standards will be able to be fully realized.

Conclusion
Any C&I members or other interested parties who would like more information can ask for a copy of the C&I Standards Program outline presented at the WQA Annual Convention, through the WQA or by contacting the author directly. An even better way to learn more and influence the outcomes is by participating in the process. Consider your own industrial experience and how it can contribute to creating this new program and help to focus its committees. And then, the standards soon to be generated will have more value to the industry, your company and you.

About the author
David J. Paulson is director of Corporate Technical Services at Osmonics Inc., of Minnetonka, Minn. He is in charge the product performance labs, agency compliance and regulatory affairs oversight, intellectual property management, and liaison with universities, trade and professional organizations. He has 27 years experience in the water treatment industry, with a focus on product design and industrial applications. Paulson can be reached at, (612) 988-6113 (fax) or email: dpaulson@osmonics.com

Your Two Cents Worth
Those people interested in joining the C&I Standards Program ad hoc or steering committees, or as an interim step want to get on a mailing list and considered for future membership, are encouraged to contact David Paulson at Osmonics (see “About the author”) or Joe Harrison, the WQA technical director, at (630) 505-0160.

Figure 1. Benefits to members
The following is a list of advantages offered by developing commercial/industrial water treatment standards:

  • Marketplace credibility
  • Known specifications for customers to use to order
  • Improved technical understanding (facilitates training and growth)
  • Adaptation of standards for codes
  • Reduced liability
  • Control of standards and regulations for our industry

Figure 2. C&I Genesis Committee
Representatives of the following companies have volunteered to participate in formation of the C&I Standards Program:

  • Alamo Water Refiners Inc., San Antonio, TX
  • Environmental Products, Venice, FL
  • Mar Cor Services, Harleysville, PA
  • NSF International, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Osmonics Inc., Minnetonka, MN
  • RainSoft/Div. of Aquion Partners, Elk Grove, IL
  • Robert B. Hill Co., St. Louis Park, MN
  • Ken Schmidt Consulting, Chicago, IL
  • WaterSolve International, Denver, CO
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