Standards, more or less

Do automation, controls, and instrumentation standards serve people or do people serve the standards? A standard is an officially sanctioned way of designing products or processes. A de facto standard is one that so many people use that it is, more or less, a standard without a standards body. Of course, single-company ownership of a de facto standard can boost the bottom line.


ONLINE extra

-How are standards working, or not working, for you and your organization? Please comment using the tools at the bottom of the page.

- Read more about some of the standards mentioned with links at the bottom of the page.

Do standards serve people or do people serve the standards? A standard is an officially sanctioned way of designing products or processes. A de facto standard is one that so many people use that it is, more or less, a standard without a standards body. Of course, single-company ownership of a de facto standard can boost the bottom line.

Some standards begin in committee, go to a group or organization, then move through a standards body. Others start in a company and are donated, for the greater good, to a governing organization, and progress from there.

Strong feelings accompany standards since they impact ease of use and profits. Local or regional standards can encourage or discourage business. A company choosing not to follow a standard can lose marketshare. Conversely, some vendors have chosen not to adopt perfectly logical standards, ignoring customer pleas.

Should the market decide? Many manufacturers explain they’re meeting varied marketplace needs, and the market should decide what is used.

Make more standards? Perhaps there’s room for some higher level of pragmatic standardization, so more resources can make manufacturing more efficient, rather than spend quite as much effort making quite so many flavors now available.

Not so standard Ethernet? Should not-so-standard Ethernet be more standard? The physical layer of industrial Ethernet can have rugged connectors; designs vary by manufacturer and may not interoperate. Many Ethernet protocols serve the industrial space (see ONLINE extra) and can operate over the same physical layer, but need translation to communicate. Power over Ethernet has several options.

Guideline or interoperability? I’ve watched a lot of hardworking people in the ISA88 Part 5 committee spend a lot of time trying to figure out:

  • If the standard is going to be a general framework or guideline for how software is assembled, or

  • If the standard will be specific enough to allow interoperability among compliant products, creating even higher levels of efficiency and profitability.

It seems to me interoperability could bring wider benefits to more applications more quickly than a general framework.


Editor’s note : We didn’t get this page out the door without lively discussion. A point I didn’t spell out in print was that standards also can stagnate innovation when they are not modified with technology advances and marketplace needs. Please post a comment with the "Talkback" function below.


Here are links to some of the standards discussions mentioned above:


ISA88 Part 5 Make2Pack


Product Research: Ethernet protocols, May 2008


More interoperability, less effort

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