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Do you think QMS implementation and ISO 9001 certification is unaffordable?

You can’t afford not to do it.

Produce quality or die may sound harsh, but for manufacturers in the electronics industry, it is true. The ability to consistently produce a quality product is the baseline for business success. And if you can’t do it cost-effectively, you can’t innovate, develop new products, or open new markets.

That’s why Sunstone recently implemented a certified quality management system (QMS). The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 family and ISO 9001 certifications are built on standards achieved with a QMS. Deploying a QMS was integral to our successful certification and put our organization on a path to creating continuous quality improvement.

For Sunstone, it was a journey worth taking and one we encourage you to consider. Fair warning: ISO adoption can be challenging.

Roadblocks can materialize from at the top of the org chart or on the production floor. Lack of management commitment can stop a QMS initiative before it starts. At a deeper level, in-place manufacturing infrastructure can represent very significant and very real barriers to QMS implementation. Absent guidance saying otherwise, employees may equate improved efficiency with a reduced workforce or elevated job standards.

Obstacles do not have to become permanent roadblocks. ISO adoption is a challenge, but with management commitment, sound process, and good communication, ISO certification is both achievable and sustainable for any size organization.

Considering ISO is a big step for most businesses; deciding to move forward can be downright daunting. There exists an overwhelming menu of options for how to get certified, with offers for everything from procedural manuals to quality management software to on-site consultants. Our first question: Where do we start?

Our journey began with an internal focus — leadership deciding what we wanted from a QMS. We were not interested in just a badge for our website. To make the investment worthwhile, our goal was to create a system that would drive continuous improvement, grow the business, and improve profitability.

We then considered how much we were going to invest in the process. We first established a baseline cost for delivering quality, then moved with the goal of every $1 spent on QMS and ISO creating at least $1 in savings associated with the price of nonconformance.

The costs associated with items like scrap and rework were not a surprise, but the deeper we peered into our own manufacturing process, the more opportunity for improvement we found.

In one case, a longtime customer asked us to build a next-day order on their behalf rather than use the online portal themselves. The specs they provided were for an outdated version of the board. Our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system would have caught this and prevented the snafu, but a newer employee managed to manually circumvented process and initiated production of the wrong design.

Institutional knowledge not readily available created a process gap that would have been prevented had our QMS been in place at the time. Part of the ISO process involves ferreting out “stuff employees just know” and making it available to and useful for the broader organization, as well as a process for follow up and correction to address customer complaints to ensure it doesn’t happen again to anyone else.

This specific case required the documentation, training, and instruction that ISO standards provide.

Hiring an outside consultant was critical to our success. We have a lot of experienced people on our team and they’ve played a huge role in establishing Sunstone’s reputation for delivering quality. A fresh perspective on our operation would ensure objectivity as we evaluated and improved our processes.

A lot of folks want to sell ISO consultation services. When you start shopping for a partner you will encounter a vast and even overwhelming number of options. We reached out to the American Society for Quality (ASQ) for help choosing a consultant. They assisted us with our initial audit and helped us find a consultant who could consult with management, manage the implementation process, help create and administer the internal auditing program, and provide ongoing support.

Most important, we found the right person for our organization — someone who fits with our management style and corporate culture.

Consultants cannot do it alone. We believe you need a key person (or persons) on your team who is passionate about QMS, respected throughout the organization, and able to effectively communicate with each business unit and individual personnel as needed.

Your internal champion(s) will serve as full-time facilitator during both the QMS implementation and the ISO certification process. Employees may view an outside consultant as a threat, and it is up to the internal champion to allay these fears, foster a positive attitude, and sustain the overall effort.

The real key for us was top management. Our company owners and officers indicated ISO was a top priority on day one. They made themselves available to employees, answered questions, and kept everyone engaged.

Management also works closely with the consultant and internal champion, regularly reviewing initiatives, analyzing reports, and directing resources where needed in a timely manner. Also of utmost importance: reinforcing that this is a company-wide initiative requiring everyone’s participation.

The results have exceeded our expectations in terms of increased customer satisfaction, additional sales opportunities, and more efficient, happier employees.

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