By Dick Kallage, Contributing Writer
Recently a number of fabricators have asked me if I think ISO 9001 (called ISO in this col- umn) certification is actually worth the time
and expense involved. Like everything else, the
only realistic answer is, It depends.
The companies I ran were all ISO-certified. But we
also had other, industry-specific certifications. To this
day I can’t say that ISO 9001 in these cases generated
any more access to business than the industry-specific certifications did. However, many of the processes and procedures embedded in ISO 9001 certainly
overlapped and in some cases were almost identical
to the ones in the industry-specific certifications.
The real question is, In the absence of any specific
certifications a fabricator must have to participate in
a particular industry, does ISO certification provide
any real benefits commensurate with the investment?
Let’s dispose of the easy answer—the revenue
answer—first. If your major customers or prospects
require ISO certification, then you really don’t have
a choice. If you intend to play or keep playing in that
space, just do it.
There are two exceptions to this, both of which I
have witnessed with fabricator clients. The first is
grandfathering of a supplier not certified when the
customer initiated its ISO requirement. A pragmatic
approach, grandfathering works best when a fabri-
cator has exceptional past performance. The argu-
ment is that it is unlikely that ISO certification would
have any effect on supplier performance. However,
the grandfathering is conditional on continued ex-
The second exception is rather dicey. Those of you
who follow this column know that I see evidence of
“price-primacy” sourcing at more OEMs across a
range of industries. In these cases, the OEM’s pur-
chasing function has extraordinary power in sourc-
ing decisions, and this power is focused on price.
In one case I witnessed, the OEM had a long-standing ISO requirement for suppliers but signed
a significant contract with a non-ISO supplier that
offered an attractive price. The contract didn’t even
demand that the supplier become ISO certified.
The only reference was a weakly worded separate
“memorandum of understanding” that the supplier
would make “all practical efforts to attain certification within the next 18 months.”
One can only imagine the fur that flew between
purchasing, quality assurance, and production
over that move. But it happened. It could also “
un-happen” if the OEM suddenly starts demanding ISO
But, let’s look at ISO
not as a means of generating new business but as
a tool to improve performance. It does have a lot
going for it.
ISO 9001 is above all a
standard that has its
roots in the total quality management (TQM)
movement of the 1980s.
As originally advocated
and practiced, TQM was
to many (including me) a
Read more from Dick Kallage at www.thefabricator.com/author/dick-kallage
ISO or no?
Is ISO 9001 certification worth the effort?
IMPROVEMENT INSIGHTS case of theory suffocating practicality. Still, the core
underlying principles were valid. It was its practice,
not its concepts, that limited TQM’s deployment.
Each OEM had its own version of TQM that it in-
evitably foisted upon suppliers, usually to a degree
well beyond what the OEM had imposed on or had
achieved itself. At one time I had more than a dozen
major OEMs with their own TQM requirements and
auditors. More than once I had two OEMs in my com-
pany at the same time auditing our compliance to
their TQM standards and interpretations, the latter
of which were highly auditor-dependent. Yeah, nuts.
ISO is a mainly successful attempt to make TQM
more practical, but with enough breadth to satisfy
(and therefore replace) the individual requirements
for most OEMs. It took a while. The original ISO
preparation and certification process was at least
as tough as the toughest OEM demands I’ve seen.
Much of it suffered from the dogmatic approach
that plagued the original TQM regime.
Over the years I have seen more practical require-
ments in the standards. The latest iteration, ISO
9001:2015, seems to carry on that trend and appears
to reflect more of a best-practice approach to TQM.
As stated by ISO itself (in this case, the Switzer-land-based International Organization for Standardization, www.iso.org), the purpose is to “set
out the requirements for a (robust) quality management system.” The stated major benefit of these requirements is to “help businesses and organizations
to be more efficient and improve customer satisfaction.” These requirements are based on the following quality management principles:
• Customer focus: Meeting or exceeding customer
needs and expectations, and having a means of
hearing the voice(s) of the customer(s) and aligning
with those voices.
• Leadership: A clearly stated and communicated
business focus or mission.
• People engagement: Means of empowering the
organization’s people to satisfy the customer focus
and organization mission.
• Process focus: A clear understanding and documentation of the organization’s key processes and
their characteristics, and how they interrelate and
function as an integrated system.
• Improvement: Means of improving processes
and results through formalized systems or structures that capture opportunities, prioritize them,
and execute the initiatives.
• Evidence-based decision-making: Basically
maintaining and analyzing key metrics and data
that act as feeders to the improvement system, and
having a review process such that key company decisions are based on available evidence.
• Relationship management: Means of involving
key third parties, such as suppliers, in accomplishing the company’s mission and goals.