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 April 1997 Article

The Race for the Big Three's Business

Tips from the field for an effortless QS-9000 registration


by Ken Legg

According to the latest statistics from the American Society for Quality Control, there are 1,111 companies certified to QS-9000 to date, 8,000 tier-one suppliers in need of certification, and only 50 qualified registrars globally and 30 domestically.

According to inside information coming out of Chrysler Corp., as of November 1996, 51 percent of their 3,000 tier-one suppliers had a contract with a registrar, and 49 percent had yet to make a move.

With late winter's cold weather embracing the better part of the United States, many are flocking to trap the heat coming from under the doors of the Big Three's tier-one suppliers. No, this heat's not from the grind of machinery and hard-working craftspeople pumping out automotive accessories and cutting-edge technology. The source of this torridity is thousands of tier-one quality assurance executives sweating out the 1997 QS-9000 registration deadlines set by Chrysler and General Motors.

The following will offer those presently muddling through the registration process, and those contemplating a late start, basic yet helpful information on pitfalls in the registration process, finding a qualified registrar, integration possibilities, money-saving techniques and efficiency-based technologies and processes used to obtain a migraine-free QS-9000 registration.

Who wants it?

Unveiled in August 1994, QS-9000 incorporates ISO 9001 in its entirety, as well as nearly 60 additional industry-specific requirements. QS-9000 replaces previous quality standards required separately by each automaker. Chrysler is requiring registration by July 31, and General Motors is requiring registration by Dec. 31. Ford is not dictating that its first-tier suppliers register by a set date but is acknowledging certification.

In addition to the Big Three, several truck manufacturers are now accepting the quality standards detailed in QS-9000, including Mack Trucks, Navistar International, Paccar and Volvo GM Heavy Trucks.

Helpful tips from the field

Management must drive: " Get a total commitment from upper management first."  Nearly all manufacturers that have gone through the rigors of QS-9000, much like any other quality standard certification, will offer this as the quintessential advice for a successful registration process.

" I highly recommend educating all top managers on QS-9000, its costs, the time commitment and what they can do to help obtain certification,"  advises Dan Karney, quality manager for TRW Safety Systems Driver Operations. " Work from the top down. Once top management commits, the process will be smooth."

Efficiency-based technologies: Let's face it, a successful QS-9000 registration is predicated upon successful document management. Many manufacturers maintain that they have instituted perfectly viable quality programs. And, more often than not, they're right. However, they usually falter by failing to have a written framework that, in detail, describes their quality system's procedures, work instructions and records of conformance to        QS-9000.

So, what's the answer? One tool is an audit software program geared specifically toward preparing for a QS-9000 audit. A good software package will track an organization's progress toward certification, provide reports for management's review and answer such questions as: How well does our existing quality program address the QS-9000 guidelines? What existing documentation will complement the QS-9000 standard, and what new documentation will we need to generate? What personnel need to be in the documentation approval and editing process? What are the stumbling blocks in the audit process? What is an attainable timetable to registration?

Video inspection is another efficiency-based technology that has proven to be a useful tool to provide equipment that fulfills required accuracy and precision for inspection, measuring and test equipment, in accordance with element 4.11.2.a of the QS-9000 requirement.

In short, computer-driven video inspection systems -- mounted cameras, a personal computer and image-enhancing lights -- remove the subjective human eye from the quality inspection process and replace it with a computerized comparison of a product to a desired standard. The optimum results of video inspection technology, other than unbiased product examination, are: easy programming of products' tolerances and critical attributes, production-speed inspection and rejection of out-of-tolerance parts, and data that's quantifiable and statistically sound for analysis.

Preaudit: Don't dilly-dally; get on with it. Let the professionals tell you where your quality system's noncompliances are.    And if you're thinking of skipping the preaudit step altogether, think again. A preassessment will save money down the road by quickly pointing out those nagging discrepancies that will, without a doubt, rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune time.

" Our four-day preassessment period unearthed inconsistencies in our second-tier documentation,"  recalls Steve Burris, quality assurance director for Impact Industries, an aluminum die-casting company that supplies industries ranging from automotive to medical devices. " By uncovering noncompliant issues during the preassessment, we made our lives much easier during the final audit."

As beneficial as a preaudit can be, it will only be as good as the preparation that goes into it. To get the most preaudit " bang for your buck,"  registrar ITS Intertek Services Account Manager John Cramer strongly advises QS-9000 candidates to conduct their mandatory internal audits much more critically than any registrar would. " After all, who knows your business, procedures, documentation and protocol better than you?"  notes Kramer.

Shop around: For many more reasons than just price, check out registrar candidates. Aside from getting a minimum of three quotes from different registrars, seek out recommendations from companies that have gone through the QS-9000 certification process, and thoroughly check all registrars' qualifications.

" We surveyed a variety of registrars that touted they had a number of qualifications,"  explains Burris. " However, after our consultant checked them out, they were found to only have a fraction of the credentials they claimed they did."

Steve Thomas, corporate quality systems coordinator for South Charleston Stamping & Manufacturing, offers his counsel learned from a bout with a less-than-forthright registrar. " Make absolutely sure your registrar is qualified to issue a QS-9000 certification,"  warns Thomas. " We had to change registrars midstride, after the process began, because they weren't qualified at that time."

Another small consideration that, if overlooked, can make the QS-9000 registration process more grueling than it needs to be is that of working well with your registrar. The adage " people do business with people they like"  are words to live by when seeking the services/partnership of a registrar. This small detail has the potential to make the laborious task of certification seem unending.

Integration and savings: If you foresee other standards applying to your business down the road, like those detailed in ISO 14000, save the time, money and organizational work now by integrating certification to another standard with the QS-9000 registration process. In the long run, you'll save work hours and realize lower preauditing, auditing, consulting, travel and registration expenses by conducting two certifications simultaneously.

Be wary of overconsultation: Consultants' jobs are to recommend and assist in the implementation of a viable quality system and processes. Many consultants are more likely to scrap a company's existing program, even if it's close to meeting QS-9000 standards, in an effort to implement their program. The moral? Before blindly listening to a consultant, compare your existing programs to QS-9000 standards and see if adjustments can be made to salvage what's already in place. In other words, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Support groups: As with any trying, difficult process, input and feedback from others in the same boat help overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Networking groups can offer the experience and advice of other companies encountering similar problems with QS-9000 certification.

In a nutshell

The preceding offers only a mere snapshot of the details to consider before and during a QS-9000 certification. If you're presently engaged in the registration process or you're one of the 8,000 tier-one suppliers currently considering getting the certification procedure started, be head-smart, step lightly but quickly, and don't let procrastination shut the door of opportunity. Chrysler's and General Motors' QS-9000 registration deadlines are only a few months away.


About the author

Ken Legg joined ITS Intertek Services as director, systems registration, in 1995. He is a registered lead assessor, a qualified QS-9000 auditor and is responsible for the direction of the company's third-party registration process for ISO 9000, QS-9000 and BS 7750/ISO 14001.

Prior to joining ITS Intertek Services, Legg spent three years as technical and quality system director at NQA. His experience also includes more than 20 years with quality systems, 14 of which were spent supervising and auditing quality systems for both the construction and operational industries.

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