Survival Of The Fittest

The Gold Standard

As the u.s. manufacturing sector becomes ever more international, even the smallest companies must transform themselves into global players. One of the first steps toward this goal is meeting the international standard for manufacturing quality--ISO 9000 or ISO 14000.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which involves 99 countries, works to promote standardization in relation to international trade. ISO 9000 is the measure developed for all companies; ISO 14000 is a set of requirements geared toward manufacturers and designed to help them meet international environmental-impact guidelines.

James Kolka, a lawyer in Murietta, Georgia, who specializes in liability issues related to ISO 9000 and 14000, says the U.S. auto industry has created its own adaptation of these standards (QS 9000) and has mandated all suppliers be certified by a certain date. The U.S. Department of Defense is also moving toward embracing the ISO 9000 standard.

ISO 9000 accreditation or certification requires companies to go through steps designed to control quality through statistical analysis and documentation. Companies are evaluated by certified examiners.

The cost of becoming ISO 9000-certified varies, says Kolka, but he estimates the cost of implementing the standards at $25,000 to $50,000, depending on how much of the necessary system is already in place.

McGraw-Hill Co. Inc. produces a handbook, Registered Company Directory, which tracks the number of U.S. companies that are ISO 9000-certified. It is available by calling (800) 773-4607. And the American Society for Quality Control (414-272-8575) can provide you with a list of ISO 9000 auditor training course providers nationwide, as well as a list of registrars--companies or organizations that will verify that your company meets ISO standards.

"Implementation of these standards is happening worldwide, and [the United States] is behind," says Kolka. But if America's small manufacturers hope to keep up with counterparts that have competed internationally almost from the start, they must put aside their cynicism and gear up to be players in a game that has moved to an international arena.

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Survival Of The Fittest.

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