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Taco van der Maten takes office as new ASTM vice chairman

By Aaron Stone

ASTM International, one of the world’s largest standards developers, has welcomed a new second vice chairman to their board. Taco van der Maten, the 2016 chairman of the finance and audit committee, formally accepted an offer from President Jim Thomas in November to assume a position as third in command on ASTM’s board. Van der Maten’s two-year appointment commenced 1 January 2017 and extends until the end of 2018. The new second vice chairman recently spoke with Fuels & Lubes International about his new role, and the multifarious career pathway that led to his election.

Van der Maten has been a member of ASTM for almost 11 years, joining back in 2006. ASTM is an international standards organisation that develops and publishes consensus technical standards, describing testing procedures and classification of materials for an extensive range of products, system and services. It has a lengthy history, originally formed in 1898, and is currently based in West Conshohocken, Penn., U.S.A., while cooperating with satellite operations in several countries throughout the globe. In excess of 12,000 ASTM standards are used throughout the world, and the company considers 30,000 leading technical experts and business professionals, from 140 countries, as members.

Van der Maten has been influential within ASTM over the past decade. He is currently chairman of Committee F40 on Declarable Substances in Materials. The F40 committee is tasked with developing standards for the evaluation of restricted materials and substances, like REACH, and includes a committee with more than 150 technical experts. He is also a member of Committee D02 on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels and Lubricants, and D20 on Plastics. Prior to the added responsibility as second vice chairman, van der Maten was an executive director and chairman of finance and audit for ASTM.

So how did a Netherland-based analytical chemistry professional become involved in ASTM in the first place? The question is perhaps more perplexing when you consider the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) is more prevalent in his native region. In fact, van der Maten is also a member of ISO as well as the DUTCH, National Standardization Organization, NEN (a requirement before accepting International ISO membership). Van der Maten believes ASTM and ISO are “totally different… they all serve a different purpose”, although he maintains the commonalities are trade, safety and the environment. They all aim to “create a better world, or help the world grow faster by standardizing.”

The path to vice chair of the global non-profit was, by his own admission, equal parts good fortune and planning. He says “it just happened… you see an opportunity and you grab it.” Travelling to China in 2006 for an ASTM meeting to discuss REACH and Regulation of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), it just so happened there was no sub chair; van der Maten realising an opportunity to volunteer for the role. Soon after, the committee chair couldn’t continue, elevating van der Maten into a caretaker role until he was voted in by the membership the following year.

Van der Maten’s bio certainly makes for an interesting read. An impressive series of chemical- related appointments across multiple industries. Currently marketing manager at PANalytical in Almelo, the Netherlands, van der Maten is responsible for global polymer, oils, fuels, petrochemicals and environmental markets. He has been with the company since 2006. However, his early career could easily have led this affable chemistry enthusiast down an entirely different path.

Van der Maten graduated from the Dr. Ir. W.L. Ghijsen Institute in Utrecht in 1985 with an analytical chemistry degree, a pursuit he says involves the fundamentals of chemistry but perhaps a lot more “number crunching.” Such a discipline requires the atypical skill mix of attention to detail, alongside abject creativity.

A stint as a research chemist for Heineken in Zoeterwoude, the Netherlands, followed soon after graduation. Anyone who favours a drop of the popular Dutch lager will be thankful their beer no longer goes stale so quickly, owing to the efforts of van der Maten and his team. Beer, even when unopened, undergoes a transformation in the chemistry over time. The position was part of a group scrutinising the molecules responsible, and identifying opportunities to alter brewing conditions to prolong beverage quality. This may seem like a dream job for many, although van der Maten reveals he left in search of a more challenging placement.

An impressive 18-year term at Royal DSM in Sittard-Geleen followed, a global science-based organisation active in health, nutrition and materials. Roles as a research chemist, service delivery manager and business development manager were part of a heavy time investment in the company where he did “many different things from analytical chemistry to laboratory information management systems, [and] at the end, consultancy of selling knowledge from a company to the outside world.”

A career change predicated by family commitments led to van der Maten becoming a PANalytical staff member. PANalytical is a world-leading supplier of analytical instrumentation and has recently merged with Malvern. Both companies are owned by parent company Spectris plc and operate within the Materials Analysis segment of Spectris.

While PANalytical is an instrumentation company, van der Maten says his role draws on past experience as he is focused on “translating customer problems into machines.” Identifying what issues customers are trying to resolve, and how to do it “fast, quick, reliably and accurately” is central to his function in the organisation.

Clearly van der Maten’s commitment to ASTM makes him a superb ambassador for Malvern PANalytical, although he modestly assures us every employee is an ambassador regardless of their position in an organisation. When quizzed on the mandate and objectives as vice chairman, alongside support to the chairman, he suggests the most important deliverable is maintaining a “long-term focus” and continuity. Sure, says van der Maten, there will be “difficult problems” that need to be dealt with “as they come in,” but he concludes the key to success in his role is selecting the right people, in the right positions, to steer the organisation into the future.