Flexible Thinking: Standards—An Industrial-strength Glue


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Standards are frequently viewed as cumbersome nuisances and impediments to progress by those pressing for rapid change. The process of writing, getting approval, and promulgating standards can be arduous and frustrating. It has a lot of similarities to the creation and passage of laws in various government bodies in that there are many opinions and interested parties who engage in the process to make sure that it results in a product that does not damage or favor one solution or party over another.

People involved in the generation and passage of legislation have equated it to sausage making. As you can imagine, it’s not a very pretty process; however, when done right, can result in a palatable product that presumably can be enjoyed by the greatest number of consumers. You would think that at some point, there would be enough laws. Yet with the changing dynamics of society, there is a near-constant flow of new laws to address our changing needs, and that is no less true for standards for our industry as technology evolves and changes.

And just as there are many government bodies around the globe, there are hundreds of standards bodies around the world with sometimes conflicting missions in terms of the generation and guidance in the enforcement of industrial standards. In this regard, just as laws help to hold societies together, standards serve the vital purpose of holding industries together. They are an industrial-strength glue (if you can tolerate a little tongue-in-cheek metaphor) in that they hold the industry together.

Four Types of Standards

In the world of electronics manufacturing, there is a myriad of standards, covering virtually every aspect of the ubiquitous products our industry makes. These standards cover everything from raw materials to production processes and the inspection and test of the numerous discrete and individual products that make up the final product acquired by the consumer or user. Standards come in a number of forms, and here are the four main types.

1. De Jure Standards

You are probably the most familiar with de jure standards, which are standards according to an agreed-upon process. This is often by a committee that is endorsed by a formal standards organization, such as IPC, IEEE, IEC, JEDEC, UL, or JEITA. Each organization ratifies its standards through its own official procedures and gives the standard its stamp of approval.

2. De Facto Standards

De facto standards have come to exist based on commonly accepted practices and have been adopted widely by an industry and its customers much like common law. De facto standards are created when a critical mass likes them well enough to collectively use them. They are often codified and turned into de jure standards by standards bodies when the value is seen or finally recognized (something arguably still in the works for concepts like the Occam process and SAFE technology. Emerging markets often evolve using de facto standards in the early stages because normal standards organizations are wedded to incumbent markets and technologies and typically focus only on the here and now.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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