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Warning: Dangerous Curve

One reason the Big Three decided to distance itself from the ISO 9000 process is ISO itself.

by Paul Scicchitano


QS-9000 was starting to cruise along like a well-oiled machine, which may explain why no one noticed the hairpin curve in the road linking the automotive requirement to the ISO 9000 community at large.

The Big Three are now close to moving ahead with plans to replace the verbatim text of ISO 9001 in its widely distributed supplier quality document. Though an attempt would be made to make the new document as similar to ISO 9001 as possible, it might no longer be deemed technically equivalent to the quality assurance standard in the eyes of accreditors.

As things stand now, companies meeting existing QS-9000 requirements automatically comply with ISO 9001 or ISO 9002, depending on whether they do design work. Companies that attain third-party registration to QS-9000 also receive ISO 9000 certificates.

Until now, the car giants have remained faithful to the text of ISO 9001, merely adding supplementary requirements as they deem them necessary. If and when automakers proceed with such a radical shift in direction, it will be questionable whether they will be able to neatly align their document with the next revision to ISO 9001, tentatively scheduled for publication around the year 2000. Actual drafting work on ISO 9001 has not yet begun, so the car companies probably would rely on outlines as they go about their task of drafting the new document.

The new automotive requirement, which probably would be called something other than QS-9000, could be available in 1998, at least a full year before the earliest date that a revised ISO 9001 is expected to hit the streets. At that point, it would be up to the International Organization for Standardization to decide how much -- if any -- alignment should take place.

A number of automotive suppliers have undoubtedly benefited by also having ISO 9000 certificates, particularly if their business is not predominantly based on Big Three contracts. These companies could be looking at significant additional expense if they want an accredited ISO 9000 certificate in the future.

One advantage for automotive suppliers under the Big Three proposal is that the new document would be issued jointly by the International Automotive Sector Task Force, which is presently made up of the Big Three and automakers from Germany, Italy and France. In theory, suppliers doing business with any of the participating car companies would need only to meet customer-specific requirements in addition to the basic automotive requirements document. 

The Big Three insist any change would be transparent to suppliers currently meeting QS-9000 requirements. The change would not affect this year‚s deadlines for tier-one suppliers to attain third-party registration to QS-9000, nor would it hold up publication of a planned revision to QS-9000, tentatively scheduled for the third quarter. But news of the possible change has sent an entire convoy of QS-9000 registrars, consultants and trainers into a fishtail. They have based their long-range business plans on forecasts of new and continued business from the automotive sector.

The Big Three plan to continue to rely on the third-party system in the future, but car companies probably will drop registrars that have not been meeting performance expectations. This will allow some new firms to enter the market.

One reason the Big Three decided to distance itself from the ISO 9000 process is ISO itself. The organization has been unwilling to grant the International Automotive Sector Task Force official liaison status so that it might participate in the ISO 9001 revision process.

Apart from the participation issue, the Big Three is also worried by discussions aimed at harmonizing and/or integrating ISO 9001 with the ISO 14001 standard on environmental management systems. The car companies believe such discussions might delay the standards writing process while adding no clear value to them as purchasers.

Then there is the issue of alternative registration, which the car companies do not see as providing the same level of assurance as traditional third-party registration methods. Under the alternative approach, which has been gaining acceptance by some of the world‚s most prominent accreditation bodies in recent months, registrars can place more emphasis on an eligible company‚s internal resources and scale back the intensity of surveillance visits. Registrars also may rely more heavily on site sampling.

Automakers do not completely rule out the possibility that they might reconsider their position if some of their major concerns are addressed. But that appears unlikely at the present time.

Better buckle up for a bumpy ride.


About the author

Paul Scicchitano is managing editor of Quality Systems Update and The Environmental Management Report, monthly newsletters devoted to ISO 9000, QS-9000 and ISO 14000 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. Telephone (703) 591-9008, fax (703) 591-0971 or e-mail isoeditor@aol.com.





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