The Standards Effect on an Engineering, Architecture, Forensics Consulting Practice
Robert J. Kudder

Raths, Raths & Johnson Inc. is a 35-person consulting practice specializing in forensics, evaluations, repairs, and testing in the structural, architectural, and building science arenas.

With a national client base and a reputation for problem solving, RRJ competes with much larger firms and “punches beyond its weight class” in addressing building material and performance problems.

Part of what makes this possible is our recognition of the benefits and advantages offered by ASTM — the growth and development possible through participation in the ASTM process; the collegial sharing of experience and insights through committee work, symposia, and publications; and lasting friendships among peers manifested by committee week dinners together.

Two RRJ senior staff members, Kurt Hoigard and myself, are fellows of ASTM while one-quarter of the staff are members. RRJ staff has chaired task groups, chaired or co-chaired symposia, published technical papers, and served as publication peer reviewers. All of the STPs, from the long history of symposia directly related to our practice, occupy a place of prominence in the RRJ library.

ASTM is part of the DNA of RRJ.

A Body of Knowledge without Comparison

The requirements in an ASTM specification are objective and quantitative. An enormous amount of information is embodied in these specifications, including test procedures, apparatus, instrumentation, measurement methods, performance parameters, specimen selection, data analysis, reporting protocols, etc.

Using ASTM specification numbers and titles in proposals, contracts, investigation plans, project specifications, reports, and testimony make it clear exactly what activity is intended and how it will be undertaken. In a forensic context, which often involves a dispute of some kind, understanding compliance with specifications makes it possible to interpret the information produced with little or no ambiguity. If necessary, it is also possible to replicate the procedures and reproduce the resulting data.

Compliance with ASTM standards also makes it practical to compare data from various sources and, under some circumstances, to pool data from various sources. The objective and quantitative aspects of ASTM standards are perhaps the best-known documents produced by ASTM, and they are certainly essential to the construction industry and many others, however, they are not the only documents available.

The requirements of ASTM guides (which contain information and options but do not recommend a specific course of action) and practices (which provide a set of instructions to perform a specific operation but not a test result) are more subjective and qualitative. A series of decisions may be required of the user in the application of these standards.

An enormous amount of experience, insight, knowledge, and hard-learned lessons are embodied in ASTM’s standards. The information they contain is usually current, addresses issues in a practical way applicable in many different situations, and is not usually available in any other medium.

Typically, no textbooks cover comparable information. There may be informational documents provided by industry groups, but they may be material or subsystem-specific and may not consider all relevant options.

Imagine having a group of experts with specialized knowledge gathered together in one place and willing to assist you in achieving an objective, sharing combined years of experience, warning about traps and pitfalls, offering tips and tricks, suggesting best practices, and offering meaningful options. Imagine meeting with someone who can truthfully say, “Been there, done that,” who is willing to steer the process in the best possible direction. That is exactly what ASTM’s guides and practices do for us, and RRJ takes maximum advantage of them.

In addition, these documents provide a measure of accountability. There are circumstances in which the precise prescription of activities in a specification is not useful and may not be possible. Decisions and choices may be necessary in reaching conclusions. It may be necessary to formulate a finding based on qualitative rather than quantitative information. Under these circumstances, the validity of a finding cannot be based on strict compliance with a prescriptive specification. Validity of a finding can be based on a cognitive process judged to be reasonable and thorough. ASTM’s guides and practices provide help in judging what is reasonable and thorough. Without some document establishing accountability, a clash of opinions, some substantiated and some not, is likely.

To realize the maximum benefit from guides and practices, participating in the process of their creation is helpful. That is why we chair and participate in so many task groups. Interacting with peers to hammer out the best expression of the knowledge we wish to share, while at the same time absorbing the knowledge offered by others, is a gift for anyone willing to accept it. There are times when the ASTM consensus process seems unnecessarily cumbersome and counterproductive, when opposing opinions are difficult to appreciate, when movement seems to be backwards rather than forwards, and when delays in issuing a document are annoying. Everyone who participates in ASTM has probably experienced these frustrations.

In RRJ’s experience and without question, the benefits of participation outweigh any frustrations many times over. Participation in ASTM helps our staff think more clearly, write more concisely, formulate persuasive arguments both affirmative and negative, anticipate countering points of view and, most importantly, listen to other knowledgeable people about what they are thinking and doing. Where else can you reap all of these benefits and then have a nice dinner with a great bunch of friends?

Robert J. Kudder, Ph.D., S.E., FASTM, is a licensed structural engineer and principal at Raths, Raths and Johnson, with over 40 years of experience in structural forensics and building enclosure performance. He is a member of the ASTM committee on building performance (E06) and is a fellow of ASTM.

Company Snapshot

Raths, Raths & Johnson, Inc.
Willowbrook and Chicago, Illinois
National engineering, architecture, and forensics consulting firm specializing in the investigation, design, repair, and testing for building structures, enclosures, and materials 
Annual revenue: $6.7 million
Market area: Global
ASTM members: 25% of RRJ professional staff
ASTM technical committees with Raths, Raths & Johnson, Inc. representatives: dimension stone (C18), roofing (D08), wood (D07), building performance (E06)

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