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New materials: what kind of standards are needed to support innovation?

News International-French

21 Feb 2011

AFNOR, the central standardisation body in France, surveys requirements, draws up standardisation strategies, coordinates and directs the activity of the standardisation offices, validates draft standards and approves the final French standards. As a member of both the European (CEN) and international (ISO) standardisation bodies, AFNOR plays an influential role on each, in particular as the secretariat for the technical committees (TC).



Having observed the dynamism of the composites sector, the "Industrial engineering, capital goods and materials" strategic committee launched a think-tank in 2009 on the standardisation needs for composite materials.


This is a very mixed market, with a high diversity of composites in terms of types of matrix and of fibres, manufacturing technologies and applications. Technologically and economically driven by the aerospace sector, it is characterised by a wealth of R&D projects, such as those carried out, for example, in competitive clusters such as EMC2 or Aerospace Valley.


Standards to meet technical and regulatory industrial needs

Standardisation for composites proves to be just as mixed and varied. Approximately 250 standards and reference systems have been identified for composite materials. These are reference documents approved by recognised standardisation institutes such as AFNOR in France, CEN in Europe and ISO internationally. They define voluntary characteristics and rules and result from the consensus reached between all stakeholders within a market or a sector of activity. For composites, these documents may be found across a wide variety of major standardisation programmes ranging from industrial engineering and materials through transport, energy and construction to consumer goods. They are distributed among the standardisation committees of 11 standardisation offices, the main ones being the BNPP (Bureau de Normalisation des Plastiques et de la Plasturgie - Plastics and Plastics Processing Standardisation Office), the BNAE (Bureau de Normalisation de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace - Aerospace Standardisation Office), the UTE (Union Technique de l’Electricité - Electrotechnical Union) and AFNOR.


This standardisation may appear to be piecemeal, but it does meet perfectly identified requirements, for example:


  • introducing on the European market new equipment in compliance with European directives on transportable pressure vessels and RID/ADR regulations for gas cylinders made of composite materials
  • the needs of aerospace and nuclear equipment manufacturers for technical ceramics. Around 40 test method standards for characterising materials and analysing their behaviour have been drafted in Europe under CEN/TC 184 SC1 (AFNOR secretariat) for mechanical and thermal properties and for fibre/matrix interfaces.


This standard corpus currently being promoted internationally is due to be supplemented with new aerospace certification standards (lifespan, impact resistance, etc.).

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AFNOR is an international services delivery network that revolves around 4 core competency areas: standardization, certification, industry press, and training.


The AFNOR has the unique stance of carrying out its standardization mission as a public-benefit organization while conducting some of its business in the competitive arena.


The AFNOR's core strengths — know-how and expertise — forge a skillset exploited by over 75,000 customers in 90 countries worldwide.



Towards a European standard for the declaration of composite material properties?

Standards define a common language for all economic stakeholders (producers, users and consumers), for clarifying and harmonising practices and defining the levels of quality, safety, compatibility, and minimal environmental impact of products, services and practices. They facilitate commercial exchange, both nationally and internationally, and help improve the structures of the economy. There is no generic terminological standard for composite materials.


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Key figures

  • Turnover: M€ 120 (at 31/12/08)
  • Workforce: 1,168 including 254 registered abroad
  • 14 regional delegations
  • 28 agencies worldwide
  • Business ties with 90 countries
  • 20,000 people enrolled in standards-setting
  • 1,500 auditors and educators


However, the standard NF EN ISO 472 "Plastics - Vocabulary" presents the terminology relating to "Composites and reinforcement fibres" as developed internationally under the subcommittee ISO/TC 61 SC 13. There are few product specification standards when compared to the wide variety of composites. Internationally, work on composites is carried out under ISO/TC 61 "Plastics", SC13 "Composite materials" and SC4 "Fire behaviour". In Europe, the "composites" subcommittee within the CEN/TC 249 technical committee resumed its activity two years ago on the initiative of the Norwegians, specifically on how to declare the properties of composite materials. When faced with these existing structures and standards, the current challenge is to streamline the manufacturing of composite parts and make it more reliable. The latest technological trends point towards the development of multifunctional structures with new properties obtained by means of nanofillers or active materials using biotechnologies. It is hoped that process-related innovations will bring down the energy cost of manufacturing and improve recyclability. Standardisation as an economic intelligence tool may be leveraged at every stage of innovation in order to capitalise on know-how, promote this know-how throughout Europe and the world, identify market needs and encourage the emergence of new ideas, reduce technological risk and protect innovation as a complement to the patents process. So, the BNPP created two new standardisation committees in 2009 for flax fibres and composite railway sleepers.


A vast field of standardisation on the horizon ... Who will take the initiative?

The first analyses of the "Industrial engineering, capital good and materials" strategic committee also took in:


  • general test methods including nondestructive tests and inspections with a view to defining how to adapt the methods developed by the CEN/TC 138 and ISO/TC 135 committees;
  • assembly techniques via welding and adhesive bonding and the assembly of composites/other materials along with methods for analysing ageing, damage mechanisms, etc.;
  • processing qualification;
  • machines and processes, for which there is no standardisation work currently underway in France despite a significant level of R&D.


At the request and upon the initiative of the various stakeholders in France and in Europe, led by Germany, and worldwide, where the Asian presence has grown in stature in recent years, new standardisation work is due to start up in the coming months.