From the President:
May 2014

Bolstering Public Trust in Technology

Madiha El Mehelmy Kotb

Engineers use professional networks to stay informed and involved in responses to catastrophes and natural disasters, especially those affecting power generation, water management, mobility, and other vital technologies. Any event can impact an entire industry, changing public acceptance of those technologies as well as causing uncertain influences on how we build and rebuild for the future.

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey in the U.S. on attitudes about technology, anticipating potential developments in the next 50 years. The survey included advances in robotics, bioengineering, and futuristic possibilities such as space colonization. Almost 60 percent of the respondents were optimistic and willing to think that technology will help make a better world for everyone to live in. Sure, most people like the idea of flying cars. People like improvements to health, too. But they don’t really want to have a robot provide nursing care. Most are also inclined to let others take the first step in trying out new technology. A fair number of respondents — the other 40 percent — had concerns, and that’s a hefty number.

One hundred years ago, I’m sure the risks seemed just as daunting when faced with boiler explosions. Boiler technology was then at the cutting edge and pressure levels were rising. As early as 1862, a New York Times article documents the call to enforce “scientific inspections” and stricter laws, in response to the “unusual number of these disasters.” It called for official experiments to address the misstatements and limited public comprehension on boiler construction.

The development, adoption and enforcement of the Boiler Code in the early 20th century put an end to public outcries caused by devastating boiler explosions. Some were quite spectacular and tragic, yet we saw progress. The drop-off in explosions following widespread adoption of the Boiler Code coincided with even further advances in pressure vessel technology. In addition to ensuring the safety of people and property, finding consensus in 1914 through standards also encouraged free trade in the States and Canada. It did this by providing a common mark, which enabled broad-based commerce — pressure vessels built to a common set of technical requirements.

History also shows us that ASME followed industry trends into the global market. As U.S. companies and their supply chains globalized in the 1950s and 1960s, so did standards. Today, ASME has become more proactive in nature, to expand its relevance and assess opportunities. ASME has greater interaction with government agencies and greater cooperation among standards developers. Better means of communication, both within the standards setting body, and externally, help ASME address engineering challenges. New and updated standards are an important outgrowth of global interaction, to ensure greater inter-operability of systems and components.

And today, ASME standards are indeed global. The World Trade Organization has criteria for what constitutes an international standard, and ASME standards comply with these criteria. ASME has expanded training and certification programs based on technical standards, to ensure a competent and vibrant engineering workforce. A growing percentage of committee volunteers reside outside the United States. ASME’s outreach efforts ensure a robust understanding of the importance of standards to innovation, trade and commerce, and the quality of life as a whole.

ASME has more than 500 standards under continuous review. And our growth continues. ASME has certified more than 7,000 organizations in 75 nations. ASME is recognized and accepted in more than 100 countries, translation efforts continue, references appear in ISO standards and significant national regulations, and international working groups are now a part of the committee structure. ASME has more than 5,000 volunteer experts from more than 50 countries. Those volunteers work on 700 boards, committees, and supporting subgroups — each making a fundamental contribution to public safety. 

Many parameters define what drives standards development: the economy, employment, land use, and changing public values, among them. We know, however, that feeling safe is vital to living a successful and healthy life. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Boiler Code, we share its story especially with those who are part of this common history, such as the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, early corporate adopters, and other standards development bodies. It’s a grand opportunity to appreciate how standards provide a universal language through openness, transparency, consensus building, and due process — as essential then as they are today.

Risks and uncertainties associated with new technology are managed by the application of standards based on sound engineering. Engineers and inspectors fulfilled the promise so well for this code that it is still the best, most recognized ASME standard for public safety today. The Boiler Code stands as a testament to the engineer’s role in ensuring a safety culture and providing the public with the sense of trust in technology that we as engineers need and deserve.

Happy 100th anniversary, ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code!

Madiha El Mehelmy Kotb
ASME President