Now that our part of the planet is back on standard time, it's time to think about standards. In spite of what the time-tinkerers of the world would have us think, there are some real benefits to standards. Things like having everyone singing from the same page, for example. Or, to mix a metaphor, when you're comparing apples with oranges, it helps to level the playing field. Standards are the leveling-screws we use to adjust the floor of the coliseum we call business.

A recent study by Global Commerce Initiative (GCI), the world's largest advisory group for the development of voluntary data standards for business, supplies some background. GCI, along with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, says worldwide standards on supplying consumer goods to international markets have the potential to positively impact business performance by 10 percent to 15 percent.

What's significant here is that this group has begun to quantify business benefits that global standards will bring to consumers, and just how these standards can take us toward the realization of seamless supply chain practices.

Folks in the transport packaging part of material handling have long argued for standardization, particularly when the argument revolves around pallets and containers.

To provide container suppliers with a common and consistent means of testing containers, the Automotive Industry Action Group's (AIAG) Returnable Container Work Group -- under the direction of its logistics project team -- has modified its Returnable Containers Performance Test Guidelines document.

This revised document includes new testing procedures and streamlines the overall testing processes. Engineers can use the guidelines to help evaluate containers and ultimately support which containers are chosen for transport. The updated document factors in information from people who used the original document, published in 1999, as well as comments from AIAG's work group.

Several enhancements are contained in the Returnable Containers Performance Test Guidelines document. Here are some examples:

• New test for unitized loads;

• Larger sample size requirements (to help obtain better data);

• Improved instructions on how to properly record data;

• General section that summarizes all common information from the entire document.

"Our main purpose for revising these guidelines is to ensure that material being shipped in the containers arrives at its destination safely and undamaged," says Morris P. Brown, AIAG program manager. "This document helps make that task easier, especially the section on unitized loads, which will make it possible to address what happens to an entire load throughout the testing process."

The document contains four container test procedures:

• Hand-held;

• Bulk-box;

• Pallet;

• Unitized load systems.

These procedures are further divided into separate tests and a detailed explanation of the purpose and objective of each test is given, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to complete the test and requirements for the final report.

Some of the tests included in the document -- such as compression, deflection, impact and rack loading -- are intended to cover various aspects of handling environments that could be encountered during typical use. The values from the tests can be used to ensure that the container will perform adequately in distribution, material handling and transportation environments.

The impact of sharing common data standards between manufacturers and retailers is far-reaching. The retail consumers are clear winners. However, benefits from standards such as those presented by the AIAG for the automotive industry create a level playing field, giving everyone along the logistics chain a chance to win.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor