Not satisfied with adopting a wait-and-see attitude about certification, Plasticolors Inc., which produces high-technology colorants primarily for the plastics industry, achieved certification to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and QS-9000 in a scant three years. The company employs 145 people at two plants 55 miles east of Cleveland and transacts an estimated $30 million in business per year. It sells about 40 percent of its colorants to manufacturers that are tier one suppliers to the automotive industry.
Plasticolors' thoughtful integration and implementation of quality, health and safety, and environmental systems -- which tie directly to its corporate mission -- have saved it more than $100,000 per year in workers' compensation premiums. In addition, a recent employee survey gave the company high marks in areas specifically affected by the management systems, such as understanding individual job responsibilities as well as health and safety, and environmental policies.
ISO 9000 positioning in the plastics industry
Plasticolors has configured its combined, one-paragraph ISO 9000 policy statement to link with its strategic mission. As a result, its management systems meet customer, community, regulatory and employee needs; contain costs; and minimize waste. The company's strategic mission for 1998 through 2000 is based on five guiding principles that reflect ISO 9000 policy goals; more detailed strategies are outlined for each segment of the business annually. Plasticolors aims to:
Manage growth through emphasizing and expanding core competence.
Maintain a focus on employee and customer satisfaction.
Encourage a motivating, rewarding and emotionally satisfying work environment.
Strive for technological excellence.
Be the best at what it does.
"Plastics and coatings require color, so there are many color manufacturers," observes Plasticolors' CEO Steve Walling. "Most target specific kinds of businesses. It's a multimillion-dollar industry that produces 3 billion pounds of color-enhanced plastics per year, although in overall material usage, color paste represents a small percentage. Certifications put our company in a good position.
"Having three certifications enables us to manage the business in a more consistent way. Within our management system, we can now support our business strategy development all the way through to customer satisfaction. We also have a process that delineates specific guidelines for taking new product development into manufacturing. Each person knows exactly what to do and buys into the process."
Through very specific analyses, the company determined that the technical process of creating color could improve significantly by implementing ISO 9001. Plasticolors achieved ISO 9001 certification in December 1994. "Historically, we've always had a quality orientation," asserts Walling. "We were expanding our business to Europe and found a demand for certification that eventually emerged in the United States."
Prior to certification, employees had more latitude to create ad hoc processes because there were fewer specific, assigned responsibilities, observes Donald Herndon, Plasticolors' total quality manager. This sometimes caused downstream problems. A quality management system, although it can create a degree of rigidity with assigned, documented and controlled responsibilities, ensures that a job is performed the same way on all shifts, he points out. Organizationally, the company endorses the quality program at a high level by having its quality manager report directly to Walling.
Documenting an environmental orientation
Plasticolors' quality orientation also extends to environmental issues. In 1992, it won the Ohio Governor's Excellence Award for its waste minimization program. "In midsummer of 1995, we discussed ISO 14001 and considered implementing and integrating the draft standard, which was later signed off in September 1996," recalls Herndon. "For us, one of ISO 14001's selling points came from section 4.9.b of QS-9000, which we were also evaluating, that requires a company to comply with all pertinent government safety and environmental regulations. We felt that this validated the need for ISO 14001." Having a certified EMS in place helped the company demonstrate that these requirements were being met for QS-9000, he observes.
ISO 9001 certification provided the means to institute ISO 14001, says Herndon. "If the technical director and I had proposed an environmental management system before the company was certified to ISO 9001, we probably would have been shot down," he admits. "Generating documented policy and procedures as well as associated training documents, internal audit processes, corrective action and management review processes would have seemed so overwhelming that no one would have understood the return on this. But because we had the basic system, the framework was in place. All we had to do was formalize what we already were doing and improve upon it year by year. We added two new procedures that didn't fit into the existing processes."
Adds Walling: "Don Herndon managed us through ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and QS-9000. An outside consultant facilitated our process and got us through the initial changes. We liked what ISO 14001 represented, that it gave us a way to merge health, safety and environmental aspects. We received our ISO 14001 certification in October 1996."
Certification included some very exacting requirements, such as identifying environmental aspects, associated impacts and objectives, and continuous improvement. However, they resulted in significant improvements for the company, according to Walling.
The ISO 14001 implementation team consisted of four people, two in quality, health and safety, and two in environmental. Others were involved where appropriate. "We found we were doing many of the things that were required, but they weren't well-documented," explains Madachik.
Now, communications about the standard are covered in monthly safety meetings. Employee concerns are documented on health, safety and environmental forms, and referred to a steering committee, a key part of the system. "These concerns could be as simple as a leaking pot or someone smelling a strange odor when making a product," notes Madachik. "We take that information, categorize it and assign aspects to it for ISO 14001. Then we decide the impact and give it a rating." The company also holds quarterly communications meetings, usually about business and employee involvement in the surveillance process.
Training in regulatory matters takes place almost continually, and articles about ISO 14001 issues frequently appear in the company newsletter. In addition, any change or problem in the system usually draws Madachik to the plant floor to talk with employees individually. He also is working on an intranet system that will allow employees to browse online for information about the standards, handbooks, material safety data sheets and other relevant material.
Corporate culture under ISO 14001
The changes in the company since instituting ISO 14001 are significant and positive, indicates Madachik. "We have a better handle on regulatory issues in general, with a more organized and consistent approach," he says. "Employees are more environmentally aware and understand the seriousness and logic of their individual responsibilities. Health, safety and environmental elements are much better integrated into the business system."
Communication is fostered from the top to the line employees, who provide knowledgeable input. "The ISO 14001 system requires that everything be brought out on the table, so we decide together whether and how to proceed, which can save time and money," explains Madachik. "In replying to the frequently asked question, 'Has this been worthwhile?' I have to say, 'Absolutely, yes.' "
ISO 14000's financial benefits are only now emerging, notes Madachik. He's particularly pleased with the health, safety and environmental forms that employees use to gather and categorize relevant issues. Now, hazards such as spills, personnel exposures, unsafe air emissions or waste generation are handled efficiently and proactively. Keeping tight controls on such issues isn't easy. Dry pigments, similar in consistency to copier toner, can go everywhere and contaminate other products. But the costs definitely live up to the benefits derived, he maintains.
The QS-9000 flow-down effect
QS-9000 became a part of Plasticolors' corporate culture in July 1997 after Ford, General Motors and Chrysler decided they wanted tier one suppliers to become certified to the requirements. (At this point, Ford is requiring only compliance to QS-9000). By doing so, the automakers sought to establish a preventive measure, explains Herndon. Parts received from tier one suppliers go directly to the assembly line, where defect detection is very costly.
Before taking on QS-9000, Plasticolors already had a well-developed design control process, but it needed to develop and implement a robust quality planning process, says Herndon. "The advanced product quality planning required by QS-9000 has five stages, each of which requires specific inputs and outputs," he says. "Some of this was done in our design control process, but not to the degree required by APQP. We needed to develop documented processes in keeping with the requirements and commit to more training for personnel."
Walling remarks: "This was the most complex standard. There was a more intense, proactive approach to quality, with the focus on prevention rather than detection. This helped us with our goal of meeting or exceeding our customer expectations." QS-9000 required a significant learning process for employees. However, instituting the standard allowed the company to develop more mature quality management and operating systems, he says.
One surprisingly effective QS-9000 application emerged when the company developed DriLuxe, a new pigment for water-based systems. Larry Haines, Plasticolors' business and market development manager, wanted to apply advanced product quality planning principles when addressing DriLuxe's marketing potential. "We developed this new technology four years ago, assuming that its natural fit would be in textiles," explains Haines. "However, many of the initial assumptions no longer were valid. Prices in textiles had fallen, and some companies had begun working with crude pigments to reduce costs. Our high-performance product was out of sync." Then Plasticolors made a change in direction.
An evaluation indicated that water-based coatings presented several needs that DriLuxe could fulfill, explains Haines. Through APQP, the company was able to positively identify customer needs and develop specifications for the application. The APQP failure modes and effects were identified, allowing Plasticolors to ascertain that the new process was designed for consistent reproducibility, he adds.
"In the past, when we approached new product or application and market development, we haven't worked as well together in terms of interdepartmental teams," comments Haines. "The QS-9000 model forces us to do that. Now we have research, manufacturing, marketing and technical services people talking together in the same group, all working toward a common goal."
"Having an ISO 14001 EMS helps us provide a healthy, safe, pollution-free environment," summarizes Herndon. "We have more control and better response time when issues arise, and the system is documented and improved upon. In the long run, we feel this system will save us money by helping us avoid environmentally sensitive issues and employee injuries."
Company expenses paid out downstream can be recouped by focusing efforts on prevention, says Herndon. "About seven or eight years ago, we were 30 percent to 40 percent penalty-rated by the Bureau of Workers Compensation. We've done a lot of work to reduce the number and severity of incidents, and now we're about 90 percent credit-rated. Our premiums have dropped from about $120,000 a year to about $15,000 a year. This is documented annual savings.
For people who have a pessimistic, glass-is-half-empty attitude toward certification, implementing ISO 9000 represents greater rigidity and more bureaucracy in a company, observes Herndon. However, an optimistic view is reflected in the results of a recent employee survey that gave ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and QS-9000 high marks for a range of management system components. Documenting job responsibilities and knowing where to find that documentation earned particular approval, as did understanding how quality, health and safety, and environmental policies apply to individual jobs; valuing internal audits to maintain conformance; efficiently and effectively communicating; and establishing accurate work instructions, training documents and control plans for individual employees.
"It's a lot of work, but we need to do it," commented one employee. Overall, employees prefer having ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and QS-9000 certifications along with the combined systems' structure, straightforwardness and ease of use, even if they require extra effort, asserts Herndon.
Plasticolors is looking forward to still more demanding goals. The company is using Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria as a model for pursuing total quality management, reports Herndon. "We aren't focused on winning the award but on meeting the criteria," he says. "We may submit an application next year just to see where we stand, based on an assessment by the Baldrige examiners. Our goal is to use the program as a benchmark in becoming a world-class organization." The company's goal is to satisfy stakeholders, including employees, and it will use the Baldrige criteria to strategize improvements for the coming fiscal planning year.
About the author
Annette Dennis McCully, owner of McCully Technical Services in Kirkland, Washington, is a technical writer and science journalist who develops corporate policies, case studies and technical handbooks. For more information, contact her at telephone (425) 488-3480, fax (425) 485-9232 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.