Thomas Passek is only the sixth managing director in the 100-year history of ASM International, but that only tells part of the story of the global network once known as the American Society for Metals.
“It’s not just about the magazine that members get in the mail, the website they get to access, the technical journals and information that are available to you, but that you are really part of a larger community,” Passek says.
That need to connect, to collaborate, was the impetus for the organization’s founding, which took place in Detroit when 18 heat treaters and automotive employees formed The Steel Treaters Club, the forerunner of ASM International.
The original group has grown into a professional technical society for metallurgists, material scientists and engineers. The more than 30,000 members are located in 100 countries around the world.
ASM has an easily recognizable facility in northeastern Ohio that features the world’s largest openwork geodesic dome, built in 1960, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site, called Materials Park, was the work of William Hunt Eisenman, ASM’s longtime managing director from 1918 through 1958, Cleveland architect John Terence Kelly and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller.
ASM primarily offers high-quality technical information and data as well as professional development opportunities. It aims to facilitate networking among and between members of the materials community, both members and nonmembers, to help solve technical problems and advance their individual career as well as the organization’s business.
While that is the core of ASM’s mission since its beginning in 1913, carrying out that mission has not been without challenges. Those in more recent years have been some of the most demanding.
Meeting today’s challenges
“I think that in the day of technology and Google and Pinterest and simulated games, the need for and value in people getting together face-to-face and sharing ideas, problems and solutions has become that much more important,” Passek says. “And when you talk to our long-standing members, they talk about ASM helping them solve problems through the connections they made as being a member of the organization.”
To that end, ASM organizes and operates about 10 conferences and expositions regularly around the world. For instance, ASM held an event last year in Prague on shape memory materials — those that have the ability to recover their original shape from a significant deformation when subjected to a particular stimulus.
An event was also held in Busan, South Korea, on thermal spray technologies, which involves coatings that help increase the life and value of a component.
“We also hold countless other events in North America,” Passek says, on subjects ranging from aerospace coatings to microgravity materials science to testing and failure analysis.
Passek, who has been managing director of ASM since October 2012, began with ASM in 1986 and has been with the organization since, minus a three-year period when he was executive director of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing.
Focus on content and data
He sees his role, other than that of making sure that current initiatives continue to be supported to make them successful, having two areas of focus.
First, is to protect the association’s core — the content that has been collected over the years and is being collected now.
“That has always been a real strength of ours — the ability to acquire and aggregate content from anywhere in the world that it may exist,” Passek says. “Then we take it through a value-added process of vetting with subject-matter experts to make sure the content we share and distribute is technically accurate.”
That focus also includes finding more effective ways to make content available, whether it is in print or online, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
His second area of focus is to expand acquisition and management of data.
“We are moving more and more into the area of data, to acquire and manage data so people can make better decisions based on materials data,” Passek says.
The White House in 2001 announced an initiative called the Materials Genome Initiative, a collaborative endeavor of the public and private sectors designed to double the pace of innovation, manufacture and deployment of high-tech materials in America.
“It really talks about accelerating our pace of developing new materials to positively impact manufacturing in the United States — so we have a number of initiatives we are pursuing. One project is called computational materials data network, which is trying to aggregate data in various industries and various material clusters so people can use that in modeling, to help advance and accelerate modeling to develop and deliver new engineered materials to advance manufacturing.”
Work is done through local chapters and affiliate societies to help members solve challenges. Passek believes strongly in helping people connect with each other.
“When you know that you are having a problem with a thermal spray coating adhering to a certain type of material, our thermal spray society members are able to access a niche group of a thousand other members who deal with these issues,” he says. “They help each other even if they are competitors. They share enough information to help people go through that process of discovery, and much quicker than they could if they didn’t have that kind of connection.”
Being a valuable educational resource
Passek says ASM can help fill a void for engineers who want to advance their knowledge, for example, if they received a more generalist education.
“It is an opportunity for us because of our professional development activities,” he says. “We can help fill some of those voids. Our education department here runs three- to five-day intensive courses in which we bring in a subject-matter expert from the 30,000 members.
“We have these courses that really teach them more in-depth about the material, the metallurgy, the processes, the mechanics behind a lot of this. It serves a need to better prepare and educate the staff from the industry, whether it is automotive, heavy machinery, materials producers or medical devices.”
There was a time when General Motors would have a metallurgy department with 30 metallurgists, Passek says, but those days don’t exist anymore.
“You now have either a materials engineer working on a team with others or a mechanical engineer who has been asked to make material-selection decisions. The challenge for us is to still show them that connection back to fundamental material science and how their association with ASM can help.”
ASM also puts a focus on high school students through its education foundation.
“We hold a camp at Materials Park once a year that brings about 30 students from all over the country — and often international students — and they spend a week working with subject matter experts, our members, in solving a failure problem, in a format almost like a ‘CSI’-for-materials,” Passek says.
This program was started in 2000 with 30 students at the first camp. As of today, almost 250 student camps have taken place all around the country, touching nearly 9,000 students. Teacher camps are offered as well, having reached about 5,000 since the program’s inception. ●
How to reach: ASM International, (440) 338-5151 or www.asminternational.org