A Commitment to Standards
An Interview with Philip Piqueira, Global Standards Leader for GE’s Industrial Solutions Business
General Electric participates in standards development through its work on numerous committees and organizations. Philip Piqueira discusses why this business strategy and its continuance is crucial for GE.
From your perspective as the global standards leader for General Electric’s Industrial Solutions business, would you discuss the reasons that GE is at the standards development table?
GE’s philosophy is to foster an environment in which engineers can design, innovate and requisition product while inherently complying with internal and external requirements and standards. In conjunction with that philosophy, GE businesses and associates participate in a large number of domestic standards organizations and trade associations across businesses such as appliances, energy, healthcare and lighting (see sidebar for more about GE and ASTM International). In addition, more than 80 GE associates participate on 30 technical advisory groups in the U.S. National Committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission.
GE is at the standards development table primarily to influence decision making at the international, regional, national, state and local levels to create positive change in policy, regulations and standards that impact our products and services.
Once they have been developed and are utilized, how do standards benefit GE?
A few years ago, GE’s Industrial Solutions business developed a device called an arc fault circuit interrupter, which was designed to prevent fires in residences by sensing low voltage arcs that could not be detected by traditional thermal magnetic circuit breakers. Unfortunately, there was a strong likelihood that these devices would not be used by homebuilders because they were more costly, as a result of the electronics, than more common overcurrent protective devices. However, GE and other AFCI manufacturers were successful in having the installation code mandate their use. These devices have proven to be so effective in reducing low voltage arcing fires that their application, as mandated by the installation code, has increased dramatically. Consequently, GE’s participation in the development of the AFCI standard and in the installation code has improved both our market access and consumer safety.
An additional example of regulatory compliance comes from GE’s wind business. In 2002, the state-owned power transmission operator in Ireland identified the need to develop more stringent connection requirements for wind farms and invited GE Wind, as an experienced and credible technology provider, to contribute to the grid code development. As a result of GE’s leadership in the development of these requirements, GE’s products continue to comply with the standards and there has been no disruption to our product lines. Thus far, approximately 160 GE wind turbine generators have been installed in Ireland.
I would also be remiss in not saying that there have been a number of examples that illustrate the cost of not proactively participating in standards development.
At a time when return on investment is determined in monthly instead of yearly timeframes, how does your department/division make the case to executives for long-term commitment to standards development? What recommendations would you make for raising senior executives’ awareness of the value of standards development and standards?
The traditional methods of cost/benefit analysis, such as return on investment, are extremely difficult to apply to standards participation because the value associated with this work can often be intangible and the time frame may be lengthy. However, we recognize that the best way to overcome the value perception, or the lack of value perception, is to publicize the successes. When a company’s views are successfully promulgated, then the standards professionals within that company need to make sure that their success is communicated. Similarly, when a company takes a hit because it was not at the table to push the issue, then those same standards professionals also need to communicate the failures. Sometimes, the failures are more valuable than the successes in making a point. Some best in class organizations are best in class because of their failures. The importance of publicizing the successes of standards participation is critical not just at the executive level but also for mid-level managers to continue to support this work.
How do you educate younger employees, or even university students, about standards participation and make it attractive to them as a career path? How does standards development work benefit GE staffers?
The process of educating both university students and younger employees with respect to the personal benefits of standards participation, including its attractiveness as a career path, has certainly been challenging. Typically, engineering programs do not cover standards as an element of their curricula; consequently, the first exposure that most university students have to standards development is when they enter the workplace. When I entered the workplace years ago, I had no idea how the standards, a significant aspect of my product designs, came to be. And I certainly didn’t recognize, at that stage of my career, that my career path was going to take me through standards.
Consequently, one of the most important areas to focus on in order to highlight the importance of standards development as a career path is to enhance the linkage between standardization and academia. Organizations like IEEE, NIST, NEMA1 and ASTM International have initiated standardization projects with academia because they believe that these linkages will form an effective pipeline for future standards development. It is further recognized that establishing relationships between academia and standards communities will foster additional standards engagement between university students and standards development organizations and that this engagement will hold the key to opening new markets, reducing costs, increasing efficiency and strengthening competiveness.
As part of these initiatives, it is critical for industry to recognize and publicize the benefits they receive from standards development work. Industry needs to recognize employees for their contributions on standards committees, give them the time to do that work and reward them appropriately.
What challenges do you face in your work to unify and integrate GE Industrial Solutions standards activities on a global basis? How does this work mesh with GE’s overall involvement in standards development?
The greatest challenge that I face integrating GE Industrial Solutions global standards activities deals with ensuring that appropriate GE associates are assigned to all of the relevant standards committees that impact our business on a global basis. The skill set required to perform standards work is unique in that associates assigned to standards committees require a combination of technical strength and strong interpersonal skills. Further, in standards work, committee experience is a significant asset, which is somewhat at odds with our GE culture, in which product assignments tend to be short-term. Consequently, there is a constant tension between our staffing needs and our standards objectives.
What are your greatest challenges in the global standards development arena and what trends do you see for SDOs and standards development participation for the future?
There are a number of challenges that exist in the global standards development arena, but I believe that the most important challenge is that the value of standards participation continues to be difficult to quantify. Industry applies resources to initiatives based upon cost/benefit ratios, but the characteristics of standards work — primarily achieving consensus and transparency — usually do not lend themselves to this kind of analysis. Recognizing that industry often operates on timetables where the ROI of new product launches are measured in timespans of one year or less, it easy to see why industry struggles with understanding the value of standards development.
With that being said, I believe that standards professionals and standards organizations will continue to launch educational initiatives, through university outreach programs and virtual workshop programs, that will educate industry, from top executives all the way down through the organization, with respect to the benefits of standards participation. As part of these initiatives, business case studies will continue to be developed that illustrate the benefits of standards engagement.
Hopefully, programs like these will continue to gain traction to attract capable and talented individuals who will become the future leaders of the global standards community.
GE and ASTM International
General Electric, an American multinational conglomerate familiarly known as GE, offers diverse products and services in several industries. The corporation, headquartered in Fairfield, Conn., operates several segments:
- Power and water
- Oil and Gas
- Energy Management
- Home and business solutions
These segments include staff members who work on ASTM International technical committees.
GE Global Research, the center for technology development for all GE businesses, participates on such ASTM International committees as E04 on Metallography, F42 on Declarable Substances in Materials and G01 on Corrosion of Metals. ASTM International’s aviation committees, including F44 on General Aviation Aircraft, have representatives from GE’s aviation businesses. GE’s inspection technologies business is represented on E07 on Nondestructive Testing. And GE Healthcare, which provides services in medical imaging, diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, and disease research and drug discovery, has staff who are members of Committee E55 on Manufacture of Pharmaceutical Products.
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