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Business

Setting the Standard

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) ensures every product across Germany remains consistent, be it in size, weight, capacity, etc. This week, the DIN honors those who strive for nationwide cohesion.

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Are all those pencils standard size?

Ever wondered why the bus seat you sit on each morning feels exactly the same as the one you occupy every day on your way home? Or have you ever taken the time to wonder why the matches with which you light your cigarettes never flare up and burn your eyebrows off?

If the answer is no, then you are not alone. Not many people think about how high their bus seat is off the ground or how much weight it can hold before it buckles into a mess of steel and plastic. Even fewer will sit and ponder the pyrotechnic qualities of the humble match. Luckily, for the sake of our safety and comfort, there are some people who do.

Sizing things up

This week the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) – the German Institute for Standardization – honors those who have pushed the envelope in standardization.

The DIN Prize for “Benefits of Standardization” is awarded annually to the person or persons responsible for the best example of the practical value of standardization. The winner this year, Dresden consulting firm Jänchen & Partner walked away with a standard-sized check for €15,000.

Their contribution to standardization was the introduction of a set of internationally recognized guidelines for building restraint systems for children's car seats. By establishing the standards, the firm helped reduce the number of manufacturing flaws from 80 percent down to just 4 percent. That's a life-saving improvement.

Bundeskanzler Schröder und der chinesische Premier Zhu Rongji im Transrapid

Standard seating puts everyone on the same level.

Such a prize, however, is scant reward considering the impact, however subconsciously, standardization has on our lives. Without the people at DIN, Germans would be in a real mess. There would be potentially embarrassing accidents on all public transport services, with people expecting seats of a certain height. Offices would grind to a halt as random sizes of paper would render printers and faxes unusable and redundant.

Keeping Germany ticking

But the DIN do so much more than just make sure every sheet of A4 adheres to the German standard. From the smallest screw to the largest turbine, the DIN makes sure that German industry keeps working and that, if anything breaks down, the replacement part will be the exact size and shape as the non-working component. In a way, the work of the DIN keeps Germany ticking.

The organization itself started its life in 1917 and has been recognized by the German government as the national standards body since 1975, representing German interests at international and European level. The institute says that DIN Standards “promote quality assurance, safety, and environmental protection” as well as improving communication between industry, technology, science, government and the public domain.

Consultations define standards

Turbinenmontage bei Airbus

Standards keep planes in the air.

To make sure that products and processes remain standardized, the DIN works with representatives from all areas of business and government who have an interest in standardization. These include consultations with officials from the manufacturing sector, consumer organizations, commerce, the trades, service industries, science, technical inspectorates and those in politics. Together, they work with the DIN to discuss and define their specific standardization requirements and to record the results as German Standards.

The main activity of DIN is the development of technical rules which can be followed by companies and organizations all over Germany with the objective being the creation of standards that benefit the economy and society as a whole. Such is the effect of standardization that the DIN has a significant influence on economic performance at both company and national level. A research project completed in 2000 confirmed the annual benefit to the German economy as being 1 percent of Germany’s gross national product, or approximately €13 billion ($15 billion).

Public gets a say

The institute employs some 26,000 external experts who work on creating standards for products in the role of voluntary delegates in more than 4,000 industry committees. Once these experts have a set of draft specifications for a product, the findings are released to the public and any comments are considered before the final publication of the standard. Published standards are reviewed for continuing relevance every five years at the least.

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