ISO 9000: The Quality Manaqement System of Today and Tomorrow
Lively, Jonathan Mark
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The industries of Southwest Michigan will soon have to conform to a new standard. This standard was not formalized here in Kalamazoo, here in Michigan or even here in the United States. This standard was formalized in Geneva, Switzerland but finds its roots in machine shops and factory floors from all corners of the world. This new standard is called ISO 9000. The evolution of the ISO 9000 series of standards begins during the late 1940's. The aftermath of World War II was the great spark plug for the United States economy. As the only remaining intact industrial base, the United States was counted on to provide ample goods to the needy world wide. u.s. industry pushed out goods at unprecedented rates and expanded rapidly as new firms entered to get their own piece of the seemingly infinite market demand. Needless to say, the quality of products during the fifties and sixties suffered. By the late 1970's, the once crippled economies of Europe and Japan were not only fully recovered but they were competing effectively with the United States. Foreign markets were no longer open and waiting for American goods. Competition cut costs, demanded efficiency and mandated quality. For companies to remain in business they were forced to produce reliable, quality products; quantity was no longer the focal point. The response of u.s. industry is best shown by the Ford Motor Company motto "Quality is Job 1". This shift of paradigm sprouted new quality systems everywhere: the Ford Motor Company's Q, General Motors' Targets for Excellence. This shift was frustrating for firms throughout the world. The new and numerous quality systems that administered the market were company specific and usually unknown to outsiders. No one system could be pointed too as the norm. Manufacturers and retailers around the world were unsure when their vendors claimed a "quality" product. In response to the confusion, several individual European countries began researching their own nationally recognizable standards to ease the confusion and facilitate more confident trading within their own borders. By 1979, the United Kingdom had formalized its BS 5750 standard for the management and operation of quality assurance. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) then took the effort a little further. Composed of the national standards bodies of 91 nations (the American National Standards Institute represents the United States), its purpose is to "promote the development of standardization and related world activities in order to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services and to develop cooperation in intellectual, scientific, technological, and economic activities" on a global scale. (7, pg. 272) ISO operates by dividing itself into over one hundred and eighty technical committees each with a specific area of specialization. In 1979, ISO chartered technical committee (TC 176) to develop one internationally recognized quality standard using the British 5750 standard as a model. For the following eight years TC 176 produced and distributed an evolving rough draft of an international standard to standards agencies around the world. Finally, by 1987, a complete series of standards known as ISO 9000 was published with the fanfare of "the refinement of all the most practical and generally applicable principles of quality systems" and "the culmination of agreement between the world's most advanced authorities of these standards as the basis of a new era of quality management. 11 (11 pg. 17) The series is rather simple in theory. It uses a simple three step system of planning, control and documentation to assure conformance to standard. When applying for ISO 9000 certification, each company will apply these steps to all of its business activities (ex. procurement, inspection & testing). This simplistic approach will force any company to know how it wishes to do business, check all of its activities for conformance and have documented procedures for each of its activities. This business 101 approach can be applied to all companies regardless of strategy or product and therefore is applicable universally. "ISO 9000 certification demonstrates the capability of a supplier to control the processes that determine the acceptability of the products or service being supplied." This series will put all businesses under the same microscope and provide an equal scale for comparison. For example: Imagine that you are a car manufacturer and have been approached by Mexico Ball Bearing Inc. with an offer to supply all of your ball bearing needs for two-thirds of the price of your current suppliers. The sales representative boasts a quality product, timely delivery and an active research and development division who continually is finding stronger more resilient materials to build with. The sales representative provides you with a sample of one thousand ball bearings that upon inspection hold up their representatives claims. Your current suppliers perform just as admirably but with a higher price tag. Should you take the deal? Of course, the answer lies within another question. can this unknown company continually deliver the quality product that was promised? ISO 9000 is a standard that could answer that question. If ISO 9000 certified, Mexico Ball Bearing Inc. will be assured to deliver what it has promised because a "security system" is in place that insures all phases of business activity, from procurement to shipping, are operating as they are advertised to be. When ISO 9000 was published, the American National Standards institute (ANSI) and the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) then jointly published the ANSI/ASQC Q90-1987 series. This series, intended for use in the United states, is a translated and then reworded duplicate of the ISO 9000 series. ' Unfortunately, industry within the United States was not impressed with this new system. The nonspecific, simplistic terminology and methodology of the standard was prematurely determined ineffective or a waste of time. However, all members of the European community unitarily accepted the ISO 9000 series of standards and immediately began implementing them into their economies. It was not until 1989, when an imminent (though not yet realized) joint European Economic Community began speaking of mandating ISO 9000 certification as the criteria for doing business within the European Economic Community that U.S. industry sensed the influence that ISO 9000 was going to have on the international market. At this time, the ANSI and ASQC laid the ground work for an American Registration Board (RAB) that would be responsible for the accreditation of all registration agencies in the United States. These agencies would be certified to audit and award companies the ANSI/ASQC Q90 certification. Until that time, any American co~pany . wanting certification to the ISO 9000 (ANSI/ASQC Q90) standards had to employ a foreign accreditation agency. Today, after five years of existence, the RAB has certified 22 registration agencies. But, its authority is still not uniformly accepted by all accreditation boards in the European Community (strides are being made to rectify this situation), so, most u.s. accreditation agencies have reciprocal agreements with an European accrediting body. Today, ISO 9000 continues to crash across America and the world. Fifty-one countries have begun adopting the standard and, with each new country, the ISO 9000 series moves closer and closer to achieving its one objective: to facilitate all forms of trade within and across borders. As acceptance of the ISO 9000 series grows the reality of the objective becomes more and more plausible. Confidence in the series will be the determining factor between ISO 9000 truly reforming the way of doing international business or becoming another passing fad. If industry truly embraces this series of standards as an assurance of product conformance; it will succeed. The response of industry over the last seven years is more than hopeful.