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About Technical Standards

What are technical standards?

A formal standard is a document giving requirements about a technical system. It establishes uniform engineering criteria, measurements, methods, processes or practices.


A de facto standard can be a company’s product or just a custom observed and regarded as good practice–but not written down–in an industry (i.e. the QWERTY keyboard layout).


Formal technical standards can be developed by a company, trade association or professional society (i.e. ANSI, NFPA, SAE). Often they are developed jointly by several organizations that work in one field.


Standards can be voluntary or mandatory. Mandatory standards may be part of a building code, business contract, law or government regulation (i.e. EPA emissions standards).*

*Wikipedia. (Nov. 20, 2012). Technical Standards. Retrieved from

Finding & using standards

CUL has access to many standards. Some notable online sources:
  • ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)
  • IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)
  • ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and AirConditioning Engineers) Standards
These and other sources can be found at: We can often quickly order and download individual standards if we don’t already have access to them.

Standards all around you

ASTM D4263 – Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards: Mandatory standard for children’s art supplies (i.e. crayons) labeled as ‘non-toxic’.


ISO 9000 & ISO 9001 – Quality Management Systems: A group of standards regarding benchmarks in customer service and quality control. The original version was based on military specifications.


SAE 10W-40 – Synthetic Motor Oil: A standard of viscosity for motor oil for automobiles. Developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).


USB 2.0 – Universal Serial Bus: Initially developed by a group of 7 companies for easier interconnection of computer peripherals.

Have a question about standards?

Talk to the Engineering librarians: 

Or see us in person: 103E and 103F in Carpenter Hall

by Jeremy Cusker, Engineering & Earth Sciences Outreach Librarian, Engineering Library, fall 2012