ISO Certification

In manufacturing, some of the requirements of ISO 9001 include procedures that cover business processes, monitoring processes to ensure quality, keeping proper records, checking outgoing products for defects and regularly reviewing processes for effectiveness. Sounds like a lot of work—and it is—so the question becomes whether or not this certification is necessary.

 

ISO—What is it and is it important to your business? For those of you more familiar with this term, please bear with me for a moment while I give a quick history lesson. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is an organization of the national standards institutes of 157 countries. However, when you hear the term ISO, it often refers to ISO certification, which is a system of guidelines that the ISO created to promote standards for quality. The guidelines are numbered, but the most common one in manufacturing is ISO 9001.

In manufacturing, some of the requirements of ISO 9001 include procedures that cover business processes, monitoring processes to ensure quality, keeping proper records, checking outgoing products for defects and regularly reviewing processes for effectiveness. Sounds like a lot of work—and it is—so the question becomes whether or not this certification is necessary.

First, ask yourself whether it is worth the cost. If you had this certification, what business would you gain? How many of your current and targeted customers require that you have it to do business with them? If you decide against it, how many customers would you lose versus the cost of certification to keep them?

Once you weigh the cost factors, there are several ways to go about obtaining the certification. The first and most important step is to know what you want to get out of the certification process. If you don’t have your own internal handbook on quality, this would be a great time to develop it and match it against your expectations for the certification process. Another good early step is to talk to your local association or colleagues that have gone through it and hear about their experiences. When it comes to selecting a certification body to work with, is one registrar better than another? Do you have to use the same one that your customer uses?

The next step depends on your commitment to the project. If you are looking to dive deep into the process, look for a certification organization. Choose one that is most aligned with your business goals, then talk with the management and make sure they have worked with companies of your size and type before. However, if you are looking at only securing the certification, there are literally thousands of consultants who either specialize in or have developed programs to help you become ISO certified. They have worked with the ISO and other certification bodies to become trained, and they sell that training and knowledge to you. Prices vary based on the size of your shop, but the important cost to remember is not the initial investment, but the ongoing training and costs expended every year. If done correctly, certification is a constantly updated exercise and an ongoing process of refining and improving.

In the Mfg.com marketplace, about 25 percent of the suppliers have some type of ISO certification. To that 25 percent, it was worth their time and money, but that also means that 75 percent of the suppliers on Mfg.com are not certified (at least not officially) and are still doing well in their business. That number is also supported by the fact that out of more than 100,000 RFQs sourced on Mfg.com, a small percentage have required companies to be ISO certified. In addition, most of those jobs are for much larger companies or those with specific industry needs (aerospace, automotive, and so on).

By itself, a piece of paper saying that you are certified will not improve your business. The standards should be put in place as a long-term strategy to improve your processes as well as your customer’s experience and relationship with you.

In summary, there are two instances when I would strongly recommend ISO certification: 1) if customers you could not survive without insist that you are certified and; 2) if it would allow you to increase sales and command a premium price for your product to cover the overhead.

Mitch Free is president and CEO of MFG.com, Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at (770) 444-9686, ext. 2946 or at mfree@mfg.com.