Increased customer confidence – it's just one of the big gains that Greg Mills feels a small business can achieve with ISO 9000:2000 certification.
"It's not just about hanging a banner on your building. It's a message to your customers that you're doing everything possible to give them the best," says the Quality Manager of G.N. Plastics Company Ltd. based in Chester, Nova Scotia.
Like a growing number of businesses today, G.N. Plastics Company has undergone the challenging process of achieving ISO 9000:2000 certification. For novices, ISO 9000 is the name of a set of quality management standards, which was revised in the year 2000 to meet new requirements, including upper management involvement, continuous improvement and effective training. Essentially, businesses use these standards to implement a quality management system that guarantees the conformity and quality of their products and services. Once the system is in place, the company is audited and possibly awarded official certification by an accredited Canadian registrar.
"When you go for certification, you have to be ready to analyze everything you do," Mills emphasizes. From the company's beginning, quality had always been at the top of G.N. Plastics' business agenda, he says. The manufacturer of thermoforming machinery and tooling had worked hard to carve out a reputation for designing and building equipment that could produce 100% identically finished plastic products and packaging characterized by excellent clarity, detail and sparkle.
"In our business, timing is critical. We have to be able to take ideas from concept to prototyping to production testing in the shortest time possible. ISO was an essential tool for our company and we needed to really look closely at all of our internal processes," he says. In ten years, G.N. Plastics Company had doubled in size and was now doing more than 92 per cent of its business in 55 countries around the world. Naturally, business demands were becoming more complex, particularly with taking customer orders. "A lot of our systems were still verbal, which meant there was more room for error and reworking," he says. As with many manufacturers, productivity was also an increasingly important issue for G.N. Plastics. "We needed to document our discrepancies and put formal mechanisms in place," he says. Mills also says that G.N. Plastics had already attempted to achieve ISO certification in the past, but without outside help, the company had little success.
"I had some sound industrial experience with companies like 3M but I knew that I could benefit from external advice. Getting some additional expertise was a very wise decision," says Mills, who chose the BDC Consulting Group to help him through what can be a complex and challenging process. "BDC definitely demonstrated that they had the skills and resources to point us in the right direction. We found the consultant highly focussed." Another important aspect of the ISO process for Mills was ensuring that he had total commitment from the management team. "When you've got everybody committed to the process, your chances of achieving certification are so much higher," he adds. Once the company had chosen the consultant, Mills says the next step was to define the company's goals and objectives and set deadlines. "When the BDC encouraged us to go for ISO in eight months, we were a little reluctant at first. It seemed almost impossible but we proved it otherwise." His team worked closely with the BDC Consulting Group to prioritize objectives and ensure a solid work plan was in place.
Along the way, Mills says they definitely had some obstacles to face, such as calibration of measuring equipment, which involved over 400 measuring pieces. "Writing a quality management system manual is really all about gathering information and documenting your procedures. It requires time and effort from everybody," he emphasizes. In fact, it was the unwavering commitment from employees that helped the company get past some of the hurdles.
"It meant a lot of meetings over "Tim Bits" and getting feedback from the people that make your business work," says Mills. "Your team's ongoing involvement and commitment to continuous improvement is crucial to the success of ISO," he adds. Today, the company has even set up what it calls "Quality Quickies." These are twenty-minute open forums where employees can ask key questions about issues such as safety and quality management. "I'm pleased to report that this is fully voluntary and we still get 80 per cent to 90 per cent participation," he says.
Now with ISO firmly in place, Mills is certainly open to inviting his customers on site to show them exactly how their manufacturing processes work. "It's a way of saying that we have no secrets! We look at our customers as partners and as part of the family. And we're very proud to show them how it all comes together," he concludes.
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