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A quality manager's guide to QS-9000

by Jesse Jones and Vanessa R. Franco


Most everyone in quality is familiar with ISO 9000, but the more industry-specific standards and requirements based on the ISO 9000 standards series can seem a bit mysterious to those new to the industry. Fortunately, the purpose of industry-specific standards is similar to that of general standards: to promote quality and continual improvement by decreasing variation within production systems.

 Until Chrysler, Ford and General Motors introduced Quality System Requirements QS-9000 in 1995, suppliers had to not only meet ISO 9000's demands but exceed them to satisfy the Big Three's requirements. The difficulty was that there was no universal system for doing so. QS-9000 remedied this by including all of ISO 9001:1994's requirements and embellishing them with automotive industry interpretations and additional requirements, which, in all cases, had been previously used and required by the Big Three.

Radley M. Smith's 14 Steps to QS-9000 Implementation

1. Understand the current quality management processes of the organization, typically having all participants in each process draw up a flowchart for the process.

2. Develop a concise draft procedure based on the flowchart.

3. Determine if the process can be improved, usually through simplification.

4. Compare the draft procedure with QS-9000 to determine whether the QS-9000 requirements for that process are being met.

5. Modify the draft procedure, if necessary, to meet QS-9000 requirements.

6. Implement procedure(s).

7. Internally audit to see if the procedure is understood, is being followed and can be improved upon.

8. Have the third-party registrar conduct a preassessment to identify any obstacles to registration. (optional)

9. Modify procedures as necessary or to improve them.

10. Hire a registrar to conduct a document review to determine if the system, as documented, meets QS-9000 requirements.

11. Modify documents if necessary. (This is frequently not required.)

12. Have the registrar conduct registration assessment.

13. Correct all nonconformances.

14. After the registrar's assessors have recommended the organization for registration, the registrar's registration committee reviews the findings and the registrar issues the certificate, the organization continues using the QMS and conducting internal audits to verify implementation and to identify improvement opportunities. The registrar conducts a surveillance assessment periodically (typically, every six months) to confirm implementation.

 This kind of standardization may be a boon to the OEMs, but what's in it for suppliers? "Essentially, companies follow the

QS-9000 process because their customers require it," says Radley M. Smith, director of KPMG's automotive division, co-author of Quality System Requirements QS-9000 and author of The QS-9000 Answer Book (Paton Press, 2001). "No QS-9000, no invitations to bid on new business. Some tier one suppliers have required their suppliers to become registered to QS-9000, presumably because the tier ones saw value in doing that, just as their customers, the U.S. Big Three, have done. There are even a few nonautomotive companies that have become registered to

QS-9000 for its own merits. In reality, nothing in QS-9000 is in any way restricted to building cars, trucks, engines, transmissions or the like. Rather, it's just a body of requirements that the Big Three have found effective for driving quality improvement throughout the supply chain.

 "For suppliers of complex components (e.g., anti-lock braking systems), there are major benefits in forcing QS-9000 down the supply chain, at least to the level of tier-two, tier-three and tier-four suppliers that provide critical components. But when you get to the level of the supplier of bulk plastic molding compound or sheet steel, the benefits of having QS-9000 rather than ISO 9000 are much less significant."


Comparing ISO/TS 16949 and QS-9000

 QS-9000 isn't the only ISO 9001-based requirement used by the automotive industry. Developed by the International Automotive Task Force, the relatively new ISO/TS 16949 is a set of standards based on existing automotive requirements of the United States, Germany, France and Italy: QS-9000, VDA 6.1, EAQF and AVSQ, respectively. Unlike QS-9000, automakers that require ISO/TS 16949 of their suppliers have put a tight limit on the number of registrars that can certify companies to ISO/TS 16949. "They did this to reduce variation within the integrity, competence and consistency of the registration process," explains Smith. "They limit the number of suppliers of radios or windshields for the same reason. W. Edwards Deming taught the auto industry that it's hard enough to find and work with a few good suppliers, so why dilute your efforts with many? Third-party registration is a product, just like a windshield. Supply-base reduction began in about 1990 and has since accelerated."

 Companies registered to ISO/TS 16949 have the option of maintaining one quality system registration to meet multiple customer quality requirements. As such, many questions have arisen concerning QS-9000's longevity. "ISO/TS 16949 needs to be understood from the Big Three's point of view," continues Smith. "If keeping QS-9000 alive serves their needs, it will survive. If they say that suppliers must upgrade to ISO/TS 16949, it will happen and the role of QS-9000 will decline. There's no free choice in the automotive supply chain other than deciding if you want your company to be in it."


QS-9000's shortcomings

 As with any system requiring conformity to a specific set of standards, those involved in the process inevitably face questions about the practicality of implementation. And the mythology surrounding QS-9000 might pose the biggest obstacle. For example, just being registered to QS-9000 won't make a company a world-class supplier. QS-9000, like ISO 9001, is a bare-bones requirement, the minimum needed to attain what's widely seen as an acceptable QMS. "If companies don't follow and improve their QMS every day, they will deteriorate," explains Smith. "If their products are obsolete or not competitively priced, they'll go out of business. If they do all of the above but can't supply parts in the required quantities and have them always available per schedule--no matter how often and significantly that schedule changes--they will be out of business. Once a company is QS-9000 registered, it has just left the starting line in an endless race."

 A company could decide to pursue QS-9000 compliance or registration simply because it comprises a group of elements that can form the outline of a manufacturing organization's QMS, Smith says, pointing out that one potential benefit lies in the international recognition that a company with a QS-9000 system is likely to be a more consistent supply partner than a company that doesn't have one. But these theoretical benefits haven't had much opportunity to be tested.

Typical QS-9000 Implementation Pitfalls

Radley M. Smith and Rob Kantner identify the most common sources of problems.


  Neglecting to understand the current process and how well it currently satisfies QS-9000's requirements. Writing procedures from scratch for the sole purpose of gaining registration with no reference to what is currently being done is the most common mistake.

  Overdocumenting procedures, believing that they're being written for the registrar rather than for the use of the people in the process

  Failing to conduct enough internal audits

  Failing to conduct internal audits in an atmosphere of freedom to tell the truth and with an effort to understand why the procedures may not have been implemented

  Rushing to registration. In most cases, taking six to nine months produces a better QMS with fewer missteps and less wasted time than compressing the process into three months.


  Failing to secure full and consistent top-management support

  Creating a system that is too generic and doesn't fit the specific organization and its methods and culture

  Overdocumenting the system because it's not used as tool for continual improvement but only trotted out to please auditors and customers

  Going through the motions and striving to bluff through audits or overwhelm auditors with paperwork

  Losing sight of the system's ultimate purpose of improving the process and the organization's ability to meet customer needs


 "I'm not aware of a single organization that has implemented QS-9000 without being required to," says Rob Kantner, consultant and author of QS-9000 Answer Book (John Wiley and Sons, 1996). "On the other hand, a significant number of our client firms have implemented ISO 9001 (or ISO 9002) without being required to. Our universal advice to organizations, client or not, is not to implement QS-9000 unless they're required to do so. Implement ISO 9001 and then 'upgrade' or transition to QS-9000 only if and when it becomes appropriate."

 Another shortfall lies not with the requirement itself, but with the way it's being implemented and approved. "There's serious inconsistency in standards of auditing and enforcement among registrars," Kantner says. "This is true with ISO 9001 as well. The audits need to focus more on proven results of the system (continual improvement and reductions in waste) than just on 'paperwork is OK.' "



 As ISO 9001:1994 makes up a substantial portion of QS-9000, there has been some question about whether the automotive requirements will be updated to reflect ISO 9000's recent revision. However, Smith reports that the Big Three have recently officially reaffirmed that QS-9000 will not be updated. "They stated that their contract with ISO in Geneva allows for renewal beyond the Dec. 15, 2003, 'drop-dead' date for ISO 9000:1994," he explains. "Therefore, there's some possibility that the Big Three could keep ISO 9001:1994 alive in QS-9000."


QS-9000 resources

 Every QS-9000-registered company needs to have and follow six supplementary manuals in addition to the basic Quality System Requirement QS-9000:

  Failure Mode & Effect Analysis (FMEA)

  Statistical Process Control (SPC)

  Measurement System Analysis (MSA)

  Advance Product Quality Planning (APQP)

  The Production Part Approval Process (PPAP)

  Quality System Assessment (QSA)--a checklist for evaluating supplier sites


 "Additionally, each of the automakers has customer-specific material, which are identified in QS-9000," says Smith. "Suppliers must have and follow those for each customer that they deal with."

 Innumerable "how to" books by consultants and quality practitioners are on the market, but be careful to research authors' background and experience. "Some of these books are good, others are worthless and a few--such as those that dwell on the documentation aspect--are damaging because they provide counterproductive guidance," explains Smith. "In reality, each supplier has to develop a unique QMS for the company based on their products, their customers, their employees and, most important, the sources of variation in their manufacturing processes."

 Kantner agrees that carefully selected books other than the mandatory documents can be useful, but adds, "The best optional resource is participation in some sort of user group--even informal--of organizations working toward or compliant with QS-9000 to share experiences, knowledge and other information that is only obtained through actual application."


QS-9000 in a nutshell

 "QS-9000 is a tool," Smith points out. "It's not perfect, but it does avoid the redundancy of each automaker having completely unique requirements, and conducting regular audits to these requirements of every supplier site." In short, QS-9000 isn't appropriate for all organizations, nor is it a guarantee of success for those organizations to which it's tailored. If your auditors don't demand a lot of you, you're not getting what you're paying for. Your QMS, whether geared toward automotive processes or not, is only as good as you make it.


About the authors

 Jesse Jones is Quality Digest's assistant editor. Vanessa R. Franco is Quality Digest's managing editor. E-mail comments about this article to .



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