In these challenging times, standing out from your competition is more critical than ever. That's why thousands of small companies are investing time and money to improve their manufacturing processes so they can meet what are known as "ISO 9000" standards. ("Iso" means "equal" in Greek.)
The standards, established to encourage quality management and manufacturing processes, are based in part on standards set by the U.S. Department of Defense and international military organizations for defense contractors. The International Organization for Standardization in Switzerland publishes hundreds of standards for just about every product made worldwide, according to ISO experts.
Many big companies and prime government contractors prefer to do business with ISO-certified manufacturing companies, according to Charlie Scalies, president of Source4Quality.com, a consulting firm that helps companies prepare to meet the standards and apply for ISO certification. There are several companies authorized to issue the actual certificates. "We are talking about process management--that's what it's all about," said Scalies, a former contract manager for Litton Industries. "You design your manufacturing system so the process is seamless and everything is trackable."
Scalies likes to compare meeting ISO standards to the adventures experienced by the characters in The Wizard of Oz. "You must have qualified and trained people to make sure the Yellow Brick Road is built right to get you to that big green thing called Emerald City," he said.
Scalies works with many small clients to prepare them for the certification process, which can take months and cost thousands of dollars, depending on what equipment and systems are needed to improve quality. Scalies also trains internal auditors to make sure companies continue meeting the quality standards necessary to keep their ISO certification. "We bring a lot more to the table with ISO certification and new equipment," said Stephen Reh, president of Rehtek Machine Co. in Passaic, New Jersey. Reh hired Scalies to improve Rehtek's manufacturing processes so the company could be ISO-certified last year.
Reh said he spent about $30,000 to upgrade equipment and computerize operations at his 12-employee contract manufacturing company. "The employees embraced the changes because we set procedures that streamlined our manufacturing process, and everything was done according to detailed instructions," he said. Reh, who received a federal matching grant designed to help small firms improve their manufacturing operations, said the ISO certification process "transformed the business from a little job shop to a contract production facility."
"Everything is traceable from when it comes in the door to when it leaves," he said. "There is no more confusion on the shop floor. With set procedures in place, I can sleep at night, knowing everyone is making parts according to written specifications."