New consortium focuses on quality assurance, ISO 9000
In the increasingly competitive global marketplace, corporate giants such as General Motors as well as small manufacturing companies have come to rely on quality-certification programs to maximize efficiency. In 1992, only 200 American companies had completed ISO 9000 certification. Today almost 8,000 firms are certified for either ISO 9000 or the automotive industry's more stringent QS 9000 standard. And many large companies are requiring that their subcontractors be certified as well. For smaller companies, however, the vigorous requirements of these programs have sometimes so strained resources as to be virtually unreachable. To help companies with fewer than 500 employees meet the standards, Industrial and Systems Engineering professor Harold J. Steudel has started an innovative consortium that includes Wisconsin companies, UW faculty and graduate students.
"We're providing an environment for information sharing and cross pollination that you can't get anywhere else," says Steudel, who has more than 20 years experience in the quality improvement field and has helped more than a dozen companies achieve ISO 9000 certification. "Right from the very beginning, in terms of a company's organizational structure, down to the nitty-gritty of implementing the system, we have software tools and products that can be used as workbooks and guide companies through this process."
Some small companies are not interested in ISO 9000 certification, but still want to meet the program's standards, which help them reduce scrap, rework, returns and complaints from customers. "They may not need the certification, because their customers don't require it," he explains. "So they forgo the cost of registration and just put in the system because it makes good business sense"
So far, six companies have joined the Quality Assurance Systems Research Consortium, or QASRC, which held its first series of seminars and workshops in February. Adding a new batch of companies every six months, Steudel says, will create a synergistic organization as veteran consortium members share their experiences with each other and new members. "Eventually, some of the people who are further along will be able to attend some of the meetings to exchange what they learned and what worked with some of the newer groups." The next kickoff meeting will be in early fall.