ASTM Standards & Steel Products

January 8, 2022 | Categorised in:

measuring steel composition

If you’ve worked in the steel industry or looked into purchasing steel before, you’ve probably seen ASTM designations before. For instance, we commonly use ASTM A36 steel, a low carbon alloy, in products like our plates and coils. But what is ASTM and what does A36 mean?

What does ASTM stand for?

ASTM International, or the American Society for Testing and Materials, is a globally-recognized organization made up of material producers, users, and other scientific-focused parties involved in the manufacturing and applications of materials. Their job is to develop standards for a wide variety of testing, classifications, practices, and more to inform and supplement regulations and laws around the world. Through this, ASTM International is at the forefront of ensuring the safety, quality, and consistency of material production and usage.

What do ASTM standards cover?

Saying that ASTM standards apply to “materials” is very broad, but that’s because they really do apply to a huge number of industries and products. From paints and petroleum to textiles, plastics, and metals, ASTM has over 12,000 standards that can apply to thousands of different goods or substances.


Another common designation acronym that you may be familiar with is ASME. This is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which develops codes and standards for mechanical engineering safety and applications. Both ASME and ASTM work together to create specifications where their areas of expertise overlap, and ASME often uses certain ASTM-certified materials in their ASME-approved processes and equipment. However, there are still many ASTM standards that don’t meet ASME criteria for certain applications.

What are the types of standards that ASTM develops?

ASTM standards are broken into six categories that span the manufacturing process as well as conceptualization and terminology. Those categories are:

  • ASTM Specification Standards: Conditions and provisions for products, materials, systems, or services to meet. Based on these conditions, it will be determined whether certain test methods are appropriate.
  • ASTM Test Method Standards: Specifications for procedures that determine a property or constituent of a product, material, or collection of materials. Often includes details about testing apparatus, specimens, process steps, and calculations of data.
  • ASTM Classification Standards: Requirements for assigning products, materials, systems, and services into categories or groups. The requirements are based on factors such as composition, properties, origin, and more.
  • ASTM Practice Standards: Specific instructions for the performance of a task or operation. Often includes a checklist and series of steps to safely and effectively accomplish said task.
  • ASTM Guide Standards: Typically details several choices for the user to pick from rather than a single answer. For instance, a set of procedures to accomplish a given goal but the selected method depends on the individual situation or needs.
  • ASTM Terminology Standards: Covers terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and symbols that are used in a given industry. Defining each reduces confusion around materials or chemicals that have multiple names.

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How to read ASTM designations

Most ASTM codes consist of a letter followed by a sequentially-assigned number. The letters refer to different categories of products, materials, or processes:

  • A: Ferrous metals and products
  • B: Nonferrous metals and products
  • C: Cementitious, ceramic, concrete, and masonry materials
  • D: Miscellaneous materials
  • E: Miscellaneous subjects
  • F: End-use materials and products
  • G: Corrosion, deterioration, weathering, and degradation of materials and products
  • H: Joint committee and district recipients

For the purposes of this resource, we’ll mostly focus on A prefixes because steel is a ferrous metal. The number that comes after the prefix letter is arbitrary and just identifies the exact code or standard within the category specified by the prefix.

ASTM standards for steel

Looking specifically at steel, ASTM standards are typically used to differentiate the steel grade and chemical composition of the material, as well testing and finishing services. As mentioned earlier, ASTM  A36 steel has a low carbon content and other properties that are kept in a tight tolerance. These include its density (7,800 kg/m³), Poisson’s ratio (0.32), and ultimate tensile strength (58,000-80,000 psi).

An example of ASTM designations for testing would be E23 (which falls under “Miscellaneous subjects”), the standard for Charpy V-Notch Tests that we perform. It specifies the dimensions of the sample, the steps that need to be taken, among other factors — learn more about impact testing here. In terms of finishing services, hot-dip galvanizing steel has three ASTM codes that govern the process and guidelines: A123, A153, and A767.

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