If you are designing products for the US market, you will undoubtedly have at least heard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), if not used one or more of their standards or services. Some of their standards, like the ANSI/NEMA Z535 family of standards covering safety signs and labels and related topics, are also used in Canada and elsewhere around the world. But what do you know about ANSI? Read on to learn more about this important organization!
1. ANSI is 100 years old in 2018
ANSI was founded in 1918 as the American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC). Its name changed several times since its founding eventually becoming the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1969.
2. What is ANSI, anyway?
ANSI is the National Standards body for the United States of America. They exist by the authority granted by the US National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). ANSI oversees standards development activities by 237 standards development organizations (SDO). The top 20 largest SDOs are responsible for 90% of the standards currently under development.
ANSI is also responsible internationally, representing US interests in the ISO and IEC arenas. ANSI’s international activities help to enhance the global competitiveness of U.S. business and the American quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and promoting their integrity. ANSI’s work directly supports the US Government’s standards policy. Active in both national and international standardization, ANSI is a major proponent of the United States Standards Strategy (USS). This document establishes a framework that can be used by all interests including companies, government, nongovernmental organizations, standards developers and consumers, to further improve U.S. competitiveness abroad while continuing to provide strong support for domestic markets. Using the USS as a guide, ANSI is successfully facing the standardization challenges of a global economy while addressing key quality-of-life issues such as safety and the environment.
3. ANSI standards
While responsible for the oversight and coördination of standards development in the USA, ANSI does not actually develop any standards, however, they are responsible for assessing standards against national criteria and adopting those meeting the criteria as American National Standards (ANS). There are no “ANSI standards”, only ANS standards.
ANSI provides all interested US parties with a neutral venue to come together and work towards common agreements, but ANS documents are developed by technical committees created by the SDOs. There are now more than 11,500 ANS documents, covering topics from acoustical devices to construction equipment, from dairy and livestock production to energy distribution, and many more.
The ANS accreditation process is based on the ANSI Essential Requirements: Due process requirements for American National Standards. The process ensures that standards developed by ANSI member SDOs have been developed with integrity and transparency. A separate process, based on the Essential Requirements, determines whether standards meet the necessary criteria to be approved as American National Standards. The process for approval of these standards is intended to verify that the principles of openness and due process have been followed and that a consensus of all interested stakeholder groups has been reached.
The hallmarks of this process include:
- Consensus must be reached by representatives from materially affected and interested parties
- Standards are required to undergo public reviews when any member of the public may submit comments
- Comments from the consensus body and public review commenters must be responded to in good faith
- An appeals process is required
That is why American National Standards are usually referred to as “open” standards. In this sense, “open” refers to a process used by a recognized body for developing and approving a standard. The Institute’s definition of openness has many elements but basically refers to a collaborative, balanced and consensus-based approval process. The content of these standards may relate to products, processes, services, systems or personnel.
4. New Projects
ANSI SDOs receive many proposals each year for new standards. Currently two of the most exciting new projects are:
- ANSI Unmanned Aircraft Systems Standardization Collaborative (UASSC) for standardizing drones (https://www.ansi.org/standards_activities/standards_boards_panels/uassc/overview?menuid=3)
- America Makes & ANSI Additive Manufacturing Standardization Collaborative (AMSC) for accelerating the development of additive manufacturing and 3D printing standardization.
5. How to get ANS documents
Voluntary technical standards like those produced by ANSI SDOs, unlike legislated standards produced by government departments like the US OSHA, are copyrighted by their creators. The costs of developing standards can be considerable, so these documents are sold as a way to recover some of the cost of their development.
In some cases, ANS documents may be brought into the public record by way of a court case, in which case that particular edition of the standard may become free-to-access, for example, ASME B20.1 – 1957. While there are many examples of this, generally speaking, ANS documents are not available for free. Sites offering ANS documents for free are breaking copyright laws, and anyone found in possession of documents obtained this way can be charged under US copyright laws.
If you are looking for an ANS document to use for research or in the development of a product, process or service, you can search the ANSI database by visiting in the ANSI Webstore. Standards can be purchased individually, in sets of related documents, and as subscriptions.
6. Keeping up-to-date
I said there would be five things you needed to know in this post, and I always like to over-deliver, so here’s number six!
There are a number of ways you can stay up-to-date with ANSI and your favourite ANS documents.
- Purchase a subscription to a standard, like the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70)
- Follow the ANSI blog for general news
- Check in with the ANSI website from time-to-time
- Follow ANSI on Twitter @ansidotorg
If you have more questions about ANSI or other standards developers like CEN, CENELEC, CSA, IEC or ISO, get in touch with us, we’d be happy to help! Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below, or drop us an email.