What do Northrup Grumman, Hederman Brothers Printing and Delphi Packard have in common? All are Mississippi companies that have earned ISO certification, the international quality seal of approval that more and more companies are finding they can’t do business without.
ISO certification provides companies facing increasing customer demands for quality and an unprecedented level of worldwide competition with a competitive edge and assures customers that products and services will meet or exceed their expectations.
“Basically, it’s making sure you cover all the bases moving production through your manufacturing environment,” said Bert Jackson, executive vice president of sales for Ridgeland-based Hederman Brothers.
ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization, was developed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1947 to establish international standards of quality in many areas. For example, ISO standards are used in formatting credit cards, phone cards and “smart” cards, all adhering to an ISO standard optimal thickness of 0.76 mm, enabling ATM cards to be used worldwide. But ISO certification doesn’t set a standard for a product or service. Instead, it sets a standard for the quality control of a product or service.
“About 186 companies in the state are ISO 9000 certified and there are others that haven’t reported to us,” said Lanny McKay, manager of the Mississippi Manufacturers Cross Match Program at the Mississippi Development Authority. “It’s a rapidly growing area. When I started this database around 1995, only 50 or so companies were certified.”
Even though the ISO standard can be applied by almost any type of business, from construction companies to service-oriented businesses, manufacturers have historically sought certification primarily for international trade. In particular, automotive and aerospace industries have embraced the ISO standard.
“ISO certification is one of the first things a customer will ask about,” said Harry Gibbs, director of national and international development for MDA. “If you want to do business most anywhere in the world, you need to be ISO-certified.”
A sampling of other Mississippi ISO-certified companies include Emerson Electric, Howard Industries, Lockheed Martin, Milwaukee Tools, Multicraft, Oreck, Raytheon, Trilogy Communications, Uncle Ben’s and Weyerhaeuser.
“We were asked by a very large regional company to prepare a proposal,” said Jackson. “Before we even got their specifications, they asked us to fill out a 25-page questionnaire about the way we operate our company. On page two, quality control systems were listed. When we answered yes to ISO certification, we were able skip to page 24 because that alone told them what they needed to know.”
ISO 9000 Standards, initially published in 1987, updated and revised in 1994, and again in 2000, are the quality assurance and quality management standards referred to worldwide.
“The 2000 standards are more customer-oriented, such as requiring more proof that customers are satisfied with the product or service,” said Chris Hansen, operations manager and ISO quality manager for Hederman Brothers. “We’re under the ISO 9001 standards of 1994 and are in the process of upgrading to the 2000 standards.”
Procedures implemented through ISO certification have cut waste and losses about 60% at Hederman Brothers, said Hansen.
“We can quickly categorize problems into five basic areas — training issues, bad materials or vendor service, the system or its procedures, equipment or human error,” he said. “Part of being ISO-certified is partnering with suppliers that are also ISO-certified. For example, if we find materials shipped improperly, such as wrong color, size, weight or finish, we write up a non-conformance report, send back a copy and ask them how they plan to rectify the problem and prevent it in the future.”
Companies considering ISO 9000 certification typically have two options: attend ISO 9000 seminars or hire consultants. In Mississippi, the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges helps guide companies through the certification process.
“ISO certification education is available through our workforce training system,” said Duane Hamill, SBCJC resource manager and director of the Mississippi Quality Awards Program. “It teaches organizations how to create their own policies and systems rather than having someone come in and do it for them. In my experience, that’s the best approach. People are much more willing to comply and to get behind a system that’s created from within.”
Hederman Brothers became ISO-certified through a New Jersey certification service and hired a consultant to help implement the procedures.
“The first step was to write a quality control manual and send it to the certification service for approval,” said Jackson. “In our case, every product is custom made so we established criteria for process checkpoints with employees taking responsibility for certain procedures. When we got it back, we put the system in place and collected at least three months of history on the procedures. At that time, the company audited our system to see if we were in compliance. Then we got our certification for three years.”
Every six months, the certification service audits the system and looks for, among other things, documentation of continuous improvement.
“They look at the minutes of your quality control meetings to see that you are talking over the things you need to do to continually improve your system,” Jackson said. “They also look at your non-conformance reports to see that they are not only being written, but that they’re also being closed. That means we have determined how to prevent a certain problem from occurring again.”
Utilizing ISO certification as a marketing tool was an unexpected benefit, said Jackson.
“We found that other companies respected the fact that we have gone to such extent to control our process,” he said.
With documentation, there’s no mystery about the steps to produce a quality product, said Hamill.
“That way, someone else can step in at any time,” he said, “and the organization can continue to produce a consistent product.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org</a.