Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A "Standard" Price

Boy, oh boy.  Talk about nickels and dimes ... but try $50's and $100's instead!!!

I remember a day, not so long ago, when aerospace standards (such as soldering, cabling, materials, etc.) were all available free of charge (or for a minimal printing fee).  Now, it seems as if almost all standards, be them IEEE, IEST, ISO or whatever, can only be purchases for upwards of $100.  Companies like IEST seem to be popping up all over the place, putting price tags on the latest versions of standards that aerospace companies require to do their jobs properly.

For large space companies that produce many, many large satellites in the 10's or 100's of millions of dollars, a few standards every few months at a few hundred dollars per standard is not likely to be much of an issue.  However, for the microspace sector, margins are generally pretty low and so we need to choose carefully where we put our money.  This is further complicated by the fact that with microsatellites becoming more and more prevalent in the space industry, stakeholders are putting increasing demands on the performance of microsatellites, which further strengthens the need for standards!

I understand people wanting to make money in the business of standards production.  Let's face it -- everybody is out to make a buck or two on something.  However, I have to question the ethics behind charging almost $200 for an industry-wide standard on contamination control (which used to be freely available as MIL-STD-1246C).  Yes, you can still download the older versions of the standards from sites like EverySpec, but they are just that -- old versions.

So, what ends up happening?  Usually one of two things.  Either engineers simply use the older versions and hope that nothing has changed, or they don't cite the use of any standard, defeating the entire purpose of standards in the first place.  Yes, you could argue that it's the cost of doing business in the space sector, but standards should not exist for the the sole use of companies that can afford to constantly purchase the latest and greatest versions of every relevant spec out there.  It doesn't seem right to me.

I think the situation gets even more serious with residential building / electrical codes.  At over $100 per copy, I'm certain that most "do-it-yourselfers" decide to forgo the expensive code and just "wing-it".  Is this what we want?  One has to wonder, is this a means of forcing would-be "do-it-yourselfers" to hire qualified electricians for relatively mundane tasks like installing a light switch or moving an outlet.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist or anything, it just makes you go "hmmm".

I suppose there is also the question of who would be willing to put these standards together for "free".  Good question.  Space agencies around the world?  International organizations?  Again, I'm not sure.  It's quite a conundrum.

But one thing is for sure:  If more and more people don't use "standards" for whatever the reason, they are not "standard".

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