Photo: Courtesy of The Airgun Guild.
Imagine a world without standards.
When you stumble out of bed to get the coffee, you don’t have to worry about your new Mr. Caffeinated 3000 machine inter-operating with your home. The plug will fit in the wall outlet and odds are pretty good the house current won’t set your morning espresso stockpile on fire.
In this day and age of global economies and product category ecosystems, not only do basic infrastructure items like wall outlets work, but millions of related products offer certain levels of mostly guaranteed compatibility. You can buy a case for your new iPhone with good certainty it’ll fit. The 2021 version of Turbotax for Mac or PC will install and run, even while reminding you taxation is theft. Your car will make it to the next fillup regardless of whether you stopped at Exxon, BP or Discount Bob’s Gas & Bait Emporium last time around.
Good, and arguably precise standards are not only convenient for the end user, they allow companies to make interoperable products, thereby floating all boats on a rising tide.
A couple of weeks ago I poked some fun at airgun probes and their inherent finickiness, at least for me. Shortly after, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting a couple of gentlemen who wrote in from The Airgun Guild. Self-described as “a friendly place to share one’s interest in all things airguns,” it’s a forum where people like us can share, discuss, pontificate, and solve our collective problems. This is one of the good things about the modern internet: it allows you to make interesting acquaintances like this. Nice to meet you guys!
Anyway, Alan Applegate and Stephen Dampier were kind enough to share some of their ongoing discussion on our collective opportunity to get a bit better on industry standardization. Alan admitted to agreeing with my mild frustration with probes but pointed out additional challenges in the Foster fitting world. “While I share your dislike for probes (mostly based on too many standards), so-called Foster fittings are a mess too. And, for the exact same reason — no defined size standard!”
Stephen adds, “Foster is perhaps a better connector, but holy cow the differences between foster fittings offered by the various manufacturers are mind-boggling. Then you have the paintball fittings that sometimes fit the same foster type fittings we use. the diameters are all over the place, and I have had some fail. One particular failure was a brass / stainless female fitting that came with a Yong Heng compressor. It exploded at 4,000 psi when I was filling a tank.”
As it turns out, the folks at The Airgun Guild have been campaigning for the industry to follow the traditional firearms model for quite some time.
For louder and flashier firearms, organizations like SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) worry about documenting precise standards for things like cartridge pressures, chamber dimensions, minimum and maximum case sizes, and a million other details that allow us to safely buy a box of 6.8 SPC ammo and have certainty it’ll fit ad safely function in our rifle. We’ve got some catching up to do in the airgun world.
Even the Foster fittings which I wrote about recently tend to have dimensional and structural wanderlust. Read this open letter from Alan to understand some of the details. The basic gist is even “Foster” doesn’t define a precise standard. Diameters of male and female connections, locking ball mechanisms and other such details vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so while most “fit” together, there is no defacto guarantee of a solid, leakproof, and reliable fit. Remember, we’re talking about pressures in the 3,000 to 4,500 psi range here, so details like that matter.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve come a long way baby, as evidenced by our ability to buy a rifle from company A, use pellets from company B, and fill it using a compressor or cylinder from company C. That’s wonderful and is absolutely promoting the growth of airgunning. So, I’m not pitching a fit or pointing fingers at manufacturers. Rather, I’m calling for us all to tighten up collaboration on the fine details, so this train keeps accelerating.
When you stop to think about it, our daily lives are chock full of examples of precise standardization leading to safe and reliable interoperability across products and manufacturers. Remember to thank your local standards body the next time your coffee maker doesn’t explode.