Blog – What does ISO 9001 mean for customers?

Blog – What does ISO 9001 mean for customers?

It's a small term that means so much in manufacturing: ISO 9001 certification. A globally recognised standard in quality management, ISO 9001 is synonymous with integrity, excellence and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.

If you’re hearing the term ISO 9001 for the first time, the short explanation is it’s a set of procedures dictating all of the processes in an accredited manufacturing business – everything from the design and prototyping to the manufacturing itself, right through to the delivery of goods and invoicing.

As Paul Hughes, Managing Director of Integra Systems, explains, “It’s a set of procedures that pretty much govern the way you do business.”

“I'll build a quote in our system,” he says. “If the job gets converted to a sales order then it gets converted to a work order. Once a work order is raised, all your materials can be purchased from it. In effect, it creates a ‘traveller’ that goes around the factory, through the process, tracks your materials then, finally, it gets invoiced out. So that’s ISO 9001’s underlying framework to the business.”

Having the official accreditation has not always been an essential component to doing business at Integra Systems. However, the company’s growth and ever-expanding customer demands caused management to re-think their position. Changes made to the assessment criteria in 2015 also encouraged Integra to consider adding ISO 9001 to their list of achievements.

Ultimately, the move to attaining ISO 9001 certification has not only driven a comprehensive overhaul of Integra’s design and manufacturing processes for the better but it has also been the catalyst for positive cultural change.

“For a long while, we had our own internal quality system that we ran by,” admits Paul. “We were a little bit reluctant to embrace the ISO way of doing things because a lot of our customers didn't really require it. But with changes to the accreditation process, it's become far more holistic and in line with our way of thinking.”

“It's not just about the quality of your parts now,” he continues. “It's all to do with the touch-points of your business, and how you conduct your business. Before that, getting ISO 9001 seemed like a lot of cost to a business for no real benefit.”

Krystal Davis, Continuous Improvement Designer at Integra Systems, says the ISO 9001 was traditionally very ‘documentation heavy’: “You were documenting every single meeting, documenting the minutes of meetings, every person that had been on the factory floor, in the office, even your courier. It was really a mundane and lengthy process, so a lot of companies were, I guess, intimidated by it.”

“Looking at the old version of ISO 9001 versus the new version, you just wouldn't want to touch it, especially for a small company like us that doesn't have a big team dedicated to it.”

Like Paul, Krystal isn’t short of praise for the way the rewritten accreditation challenges businesses to approach the process from a more holistic perspective: “It works side-by-side with your processes. It sharpens up processes to make sure your outputs are of a high quality, and your function within the business is also high quality.”

Pursuing ISO 9001 accreditation forced Integra to address a number of inefficiencies, which was both a welcome and unanticipated by-product unearthed by the process.

“We were forced to learn what exactly our company needed,” explains Krystal. “The amount of times we changed a process or had to re-write a procedure or something we didn't think was going to happen that much. We just thought, ‘Okay, the way we do things now – or the way we did things back then – we put it on paper and it's a quality system.’ But we found there were bottlenecks we didn't realise we had in the company.”

“So we would write something, and the guys from Vative [an external consulting organisation that helped Integra through the process] would say, ‘Keep doing what you're doing.’ Then we might give the guys in production a drawing and say, ‘Follow your process, because it's working, we're getting products out to customers.’ But we then had to really break down into that process, and that's when we uncovered all those bottlenecks – where parts were stopping and where we didn't actually have a good flow of work building up.”

“We didn't realise you can't just have one or two over-arching procedures,” continues Krystal. “You have to really go down, look at the nuts & bolts of your flow in your whole company and go through systems like that.”

As the law of unintended consequences dictates, the journey towards ISO 9001 certification was the catalyst for important change at Integra Systems. While there were some initial suspicions about introducing external consultants and increased monitoring of processes where agility and flexibility could potentially be lost, Paul and Krystal agree that explaining ISO 9001’s role in the organisation’s bigger picture, and encouraging their employees to buy into the challenge, sparked a fundamental cultural overhaul.

“Originally, we would get around together and say we're getting ISO 9001 – it's a quality management system, and we're going to implement it,” says Krystal. “And I think for a little bit, [the staff] weren't really getting why we were doing it. They were a bit like, “Oh, this is just the office doing something new, and trying to change what we're doing down here.’ But we didn't actually have a full understanding of what we needed to really do at the point either.”

“When we saw that we really had to break down our flow into bits & pieces, we realised we could get everyone back together and say we're slightly changing what you're doing now because of these reasons. And these reasons will have these flow-on effects. As soon as everyone saw why we were doing what we were doing, and the result of those actions and those changes, the cultural change was massive. This change management was critical to successful implementation.

Obtaining the accreditation was one thing but, as Paul and Krystal explain, there is ongoing heavy-lifting involved in making sure Integra keeps its certification. Continual improvement is at the heart of ISO 9001, and that’s something that hasn’t been lost on Integra.

“There’s a checklist that we do on a regular basis,” says Paul. “That just gives ourselves a healthcheck on how we're adhering to the standards. And then, on a quarterly basis, Krystal and Sanjay [Production Engineer at Integra] will conduct a full internal audit, just as an external auditor would do.”

“And you've got to make sure that you keep talking with everyone,” adds Krystal. “We know there will be some changes that we'll have to make at different stages and that's perfectly fine. Every company has to do that anyway. So, on the back of one of our busiest periods of the year, we'll see where the quality system has maybe failed, or it needs to be tweaked, and where our quality system has really succeeded. That's how we keep the quality system going.”

“I know, just off the top of my head, there are a few procedures I want to tweak just from observing the guys and having a chat with them,” she continues. “It's a lot of observing, talking with people and doing little tweaks here and there to really keep your points system running. It’s not just set-and-forget.”

At the heart of ISO 9001 is what it means for the customer. And, for Integra’s customers, the improved accountability is something Paul and Krystal hope will loom large, especially in the eyes of some of their major customers.

“As a minimum, defence companies actually require you to have the ISO 9001 qualification,” says Paul. “We’ve been involved in a number of projects with Mercedes Benz but, as soon as we got the ISO accreditation, it lifted us to a new level in their mind. It earned us an approved supplier status with Mercedes Benz.” 

Krystal remarks, “On a really base level of delivery and providing products to customers, we’ve set up a system to be fluid and relatively predictable in how it's going to turn a product out. We can say, okay, we've got an order from someone. We've designed it, and this is when you'll be able to get your part. We know it will be of a higher quality because we have quality checks throughout the whole process.”

“Having ISO9001 certification makes it easier for us to do what we say we're going to do. In the real world, stuff does go wrong but having ISO 9001 makes us a lot more accountable and gets us a lot closer to doing what we say we're going to do for a customer.”

“I think it lifts you to a higher status in the market,” concludes Paul. “It gives your business some definite credibility.”

Find out how Integra can make your vision real – www.integrasystems.com.au

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON April 08 2019
Written by Emma Westwood