ASME jettisons plumbing to focus on newer technologies
In January, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers announced it would no longer be sponsoring the ASME A112 standards on plumbing fixtures. It was explained ASME is moving in a different direction to serve its membership and plumbing apparently does not fit into that picture.
In November 2016, ASME President Keith Roe announced the organization would take a new strategic approach and focus on five technologies. Those technologies were identified as: manufacturing, clean energy, bioengineering, pressure technology and robotics. Notice that plumbing does not fall within any of those areas. Plumbing is old technology and ASME clearly wants to concentrate on new technology.
Not surprisingly, ASME is holding on to pressure technology, namely boilers and pressure vessels. While this is a very old technology, boilers and pressure vessels is the area of engineering ASME is most widely recognized for. They also are a moneymaker.
Out with the old
The ASME A112 standards are considered the mainstay of plumbing-fixture standards. The A112 standards regulated everything from water closets, showers, faucets, roof drains and grease interceptors to air gaps. The model plumbing codes — IAPMO Uniform Plumbing Code, ICC International Plumbing Code and PHCC-NA National Standard Plumbing Code — all reference the A112 standards.
Throughout the last 20 years, many of the A112 standards have been harmonized with the Canadian Standards Association to form North American standards. This action was prompted, in part, by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The harmonization efforts allow a single standard to regulate that particular group of plumbing fixtures for use in North America.
To some, the announcement by ASME was a shock; to others, there was a feeling of it was about time. ASME formed the original A112 Committee in July 1955. The purpose of the committee was to develop consensus standards to regulate plumbing fixtures.
Prior to the A112 standards, plumbing fixtures were somewhat regulated by federal commercial standards. However, the federal standards were never mandated and many had recommended requirements.
When the federal government decided to discontinue the commercial standards on plumbing fixtures, also known as the federal standards, it forwarded them to ASME to be used as the basis of the A112 standards. Some of the requirements currently in specific A112 standards are held-over requirements from the 1940s federal standards.
Not on the same page
ASME indicated it contacted a number of plumbing standards organizations to see if any of them would be interested in taking over control of the A112 standards. They identified IAPMO, ICC, CSA and ASSE. Not included on the list of organizations was ASPE. When ASME began A112, ASPE did not exist. Plumbing engineering was considered a subset of mechanical engineering.
ASPE launched in 1964. Part of the reason given by ASPE’s founding fathers for starting the organization was because no current engineering group addressed the needs of the engineers designing plumbing systems, including ASME. Even today, many plumbing engineers maintain membership in both ASPE and ASME.
What wasn’t public knowledge is ASPE approached ASME more than 10 years ago about the possibility of taking over the A112 standards. Since the standards regulate plumbing fixtures and ASPE started a standards program, it was assumed to be a natural fit. However, even within the ASPE ranks, there was concern about regulating plumbing products. Eventually, ASME said thanks, but no thanks. ASPE went on to the further clarify its consensus standards were design standards, not product standards.
ASME stated, after reviewing the responses from the various standards organizations, it had decided to transfer the standards to ICC and CSA. Of course, CSA already cosponsors the joint harmonized ASME standards. So many questions were raised regarding the future of standards, specifically the numbering and harmonizing.
Representatives of both ICC and CSA were present to answer the questions regarding the assumption of the standards. Apparently, contractual arrangements have been nearly completed between ASME, ICC and CSA. Both ICC and CSA indicated there would be a gradual conversion of the standard designation from ASME A112 to CSA/ICC A112. For the joint harmonized standards, the numbering eventually will become CSA/ICC A112/B45 or CSA/ICC A112/B125. Perhaps the dual numbering will disappear for the joint harmonized standards. It would certainly help the industry since there is a long string of letters and numbers listed for the current joint harmonized standards.
Patience was requested during the transition. The numbering change will progress and harmonization between U.S. and Canadian standards will continue. ICC also announced it has adopted the procedures of ASME for the A112 standards, allowing for the continuation of the standard development process while ICC evaluates the entire program.
ICC representatives stated they will proceed in the best interest of the group’s membership. The standards will continue to be ANSI standards requiring compliance with ANSI consensus procedures.
Behind the scenes, there were a number of whispers as to why IAPMO was not chosen as it currently publishes many plumbing standards. IAPMO also has a number of joint harmonized standards with CSA.
While ICC publishes ANSI consensus standards, most notably the ICC A117.1 standard on accessible buildings, it is rather weak in the area of plumbing standards. There are only a few ICC consensus standards that border on the fringes of plumbing.
The main question is ICC up to the task? Everyone hearing the announcement already knew CSA is well-entrenched in plumbing-standard development. ICC does not have the same history.
ICC staff said it will gear up for overseeing the A112 standards. Fortunately for ICC, it has Misty Guard as vice president of plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas programs. If anyone is up to the task of managing the ICC operation of the A112 standards, it is Guard. She previously served as a voting member on the ASME A112 Committee. ICC also has always had a voting member representative on the A112 Committee.
It should be an interesting few years as we transition from ASME to CSA/ICC A112 plumbing standards. Engineers will have to stay current with the changes that are forthcoming to the renumbering, plus specifications will have to be changed to reflect the most current standard numbers for regulating plumbing fixtures.