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Putting ISO Standards into a real-world context

While ISO standards play an important and omnipresent role in design, at the same time, they are not the be-all and end-all. Engineers should be prepared to occasionally look beyond the standards in their quest for the best and most useful industrial solutions.

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Standardization (ISO), an independent non-government organisation which counts 163 national bodies as members, publishes standards covering almost every industry.

The scope of its interest is therefore mind-bogglingly large. To date, the organisation has published more than 21,000 standards and related documents relating to everything from the phones we use to what we have for breakfast, to the cars we drive.

And it does a good job. ISO standards help ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of industry and the products we use. They help make the world a better place.

But are standards the end of the story? Should designers and engineers always conform to standards or are there cases where, by not following published standards, there is a possibility that they can actually manufacture better, more efficient or even safer products?

According to Sydney-based SMC Pneumatics, the answer to this last question is yes. While standards are valuable and worthwhile, they don’t always deliver the best product solution.

Depending on what they are making, manufacturers and designers who sometimes think outside the box can deliver products that are superior to the products of those who don’t.

Put simply, standards can be left behind in cases where they don’t adequately address the requirements of the application in question; cases where the standard fails to include important criteria that need to be included in the new design.

As SMC sees it, in such cases, trying to conform to the standard can compromise the design or process requirements and fail to deliver the best solution.

Because of the sheer scope of what they are expected to cover ISO standards sometimes fall short. For SMC, it comes down to first fully understanding the application being considered and then designing the product.

For example, within the food and beverage sector, hygiene is of paramount importance. With the health of consumers in mind, manufacturers rightly place this at the top of their priority lists.

However, ISO standards relating to pneumatic valve
and cylinder design do not specify ‘hygienic design’.

So manufacturers who slavishly follow the standard are not able to access some of the important hygienic considerations available to fully satisfy industry requirements.

More broadly, across most industries, cost of ownership, energy efficiency, safety, functionality and economy are key concerns.

The use of technology improvements and innovative features can be the difference between an industry-leading product and an also-ran.

Innovation happens quickly. It is unreasonable to believe ISO, with its large scope of concerns could keep up with today’s pace of change.

There is still a belief that products that meet standards are safe, readily available, cost competitive, and can be interchanged with other brands.

Many within industry feel that by sticking to the standard, they will not end up with ‘orphaned’ components which are difficult to replace or use with other components.

The belief is that, in the long run. the product that meets the standard will be the safest option. According to SMC, this is not the most effective approach. Businesses with this perception are asking themselves the wrong questions.

They should be asking themselves what tasks they need
the product to perform and what features it should have. When they do this, businesses often find that the product that meets the standard is not always the most appropriate selection.

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