What Is ASTM and Exactly What Does It Do?

If you work with plastics, adhesives, or metal, or you work in nearly any technical industry, chances are, you’ve come across the ASTM name. You’ve probably seen it on material data sheets and you may have even been informed that a contract requires ASTM compliance. The question is, who is ASTM and exactly what does it do?

The American Society for Testing and Materials

astmASTM was originally known as the American Society of the International Association for Testing and Materials when it was created in 1898 by Pennsylvania Railroad engineers and scientists. Its purpose was to address and prevent the frequent rail breaks that were plaguing the industry by developing standards that would ensure higher quality rail products.

Today, the American Society for Testing and Materials is known as ASTM International. It consists of over 30,000 members that include product users, producers, consumers, academics, and consultants. ASTM is still headquartered in Pennsylvania, but it also has offices throughout the world that are located in Belgium, Canada, China, and Mexico, as well as one other domestic office in Washington DC.

What exactly does ASTM do?

ASTM has come a long way from creating standards for steel in the railroad industry. Today, ASTM develops and publishes technical standards for many different industries with the goal of enhancing performance and safety over a wide range of products, materials, systems, and services. Thousands of ASTM standards are upheld all over the world, each with their own unique number. Each standard falls into a variety of categories which include:

  • Standard Specification
  • Standard Test Method
  • Standard Practice Guide
  • Standard Classification
  • Terminology Standard

Not only does ASTM create dependable standards, the society also offers technical training programs, proficiency testing, and inter-laboratory crosscheck programs.

Continuing education and online training programs are available for industries and government employees. Courses can include plastics, coal, statistics, glass, and more. Self-guided training courses are available for QA/QC technicians who work with cement, concrete strength training, and who conduct aggregate testing. On-site training is also available, as are certification programs that cover a wide variety of products, materials, systems, and services in keeping with third party compliance standards.

Laboratories can assess their performance with proficiency testing. These ASTM tests are ideal for aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum products, engine coolant, textile testing, and more.

The Annual Book of ASTM Standards

Each year, the ASTM publishes the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. The book addresses many different products, services, and industries that include:

  • Plastics
  • Adhesives
  • Rubber
  • Iron and steel
  • Nonferrous metal
  • Metal test methods and analytical procedures
  • Construction
  • Textiles
  • Electrical insulation and electronics
  • Water and environmental technology
  • Nuclear
  • Solar and geothermal energy
  • Medical devices and services
  • And many more

Because the ASTM covers so many industries, it is divided into multiple volumes. A total of 143 technical writing committees work on the standards inside the book each year, developing those standards in accordance with the guidelines of the World Trade Organization.


ASTM does not enforce the standards it sets forth. The standards are merely to be adopted by the various industries that the manual covers. However, it isn’t uncommon for a particular industry to require ASTM compliance as part of the contract.

In some cases, ASTM compliance is the law. All toys sold in the United States must meet the specifications of ASTM F-963, thanks to the U.S. Government Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act of 2008.

The next time ASTM comes up, you’ll be able to explain exactly what it is and what it means for your next project before you get started.