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In April of
1998, Creative Techniques -- an Auburn Hills, MI based designer and manufacturer
custom molded material handling products used in the assembly process -- was
presented with a serious challenge. The Ford Motor Company, a very important
customer, asked us to be among the first tier of suppliers to meet the new
requirements necessary to achieve a Q1 award -- the highest level of supplier
recognition given by Ford. The deadline was the end of calendar year 1998, which
was extraordinarily tight.
The challenge was two edged. On the one hand, it was a vote of confidence and an opportunity. If we were successful, we would be one of the first companies in our industry to attain this recognition. A leader. On the other hand, if we failed or declined to pursue the award, we risked being cut from the vendor list. The trend in the automotive industry is for major manufacturers to reduce the number of suppliers. The Q1 award could have been used to whittle down the numbers. The stakes were too high not to go forward.
Q1 requirements were somewhat confusing because they were new. Q1 requires registration to ISO 9001 for companies like Creative Techniques that both design and manufacture products. But, since our products are used in the assembly process, Ford viewed us as an equipment supplier, not as a manufacturer of production parts. As a result we had to meet the demands of the Tooling and Equipment (TE) Supplement to QS-9000, the expanded version of ISO 9000 developed for the automotive industry. Since the TE Supplement adds or deletes requirements from QS-9000, to comply with it we also had to comply with QS-9000 as modified by the Supplement. QS-9000 incorporates a number of statistical tools to measure continuous improvement not required by ISO 9001.
To add another wrinkle, Creative Techniques is not a traditional tooling and equipment supplier. Instead of building a small number of machine tools like a normal TE supplier, we produce a lot of the same kinds of molded items. In that regard we’re similar to a manufacturer of production parts like windshields or break drums.
In addition to ISO 9001 and QS/TE, Q1 also required us to implement Ford’s Quality Operating System (QOS). QOS, which is integrated with the continuous improvement element in QS-9000, adds performance requirements based around key indicators or measurables, which vary depending on what a company produces and what the needs of its customers are. To meet the needs of the customer, QOS requires an organization to regularly measure and track these performance indicators and then address any problems or negative trends. The measurables must also be posted throughout a company so everyone knows how they’re doing.
One of the first steps we took after figuring out what the Q1 requirements were was to hire a registrar, Davy Registrar Services, a Pittsburgh, PA based firm with a QS-9000 and TE background. We then had the firm do a preassessement of our current quality system to see how much ground we had to cover. It was a lot of ground.
After wading through our own quality system documents and
studying the standards, we realized we’d need a consulting group to help guide us through the process. We selected Eagle Group USA, based in nearby Troy, MI, which, although small, offered very sophisticated training including a lead auditor course that typically only the largest firms have. We also were attracted by the firm’s high energy, which was very important given the exceedingly tight deadline we were working with.
As we had worked it out, to meet Ford’s date, Creative Techniques would need to be certified by the end of September. It was already the middle of May. We had four and a half months.
The first day Tony Fletcher, the project manager for Eagle Group, visited was memorable. He had not been involved in the original negotiations. He walked around the plant, looked through our procedures and other documentation, talked to our ownership, talked to our steering committee, and then when we came out to the parking said:
"You’ve got an incredible task ahead of you guys. When I heard about this job, I didn’t think we could do it. I came out today prepared to tell you it couldn’t be done. But it looks like we can do it, but only as long as you guys know the ground rules.
"I’m going to give you an assignment every week or two weeks when I come out here. When I come back, we can’t even be discussing the fact that these assignments are done. You’ll be there looking for more work even though you’ve just done 70 hours killing yourself to get through the previous one.
"You’ve got to come off each module not only completely done, but saying, ‘What’s next?’ Okay?"
We agreed. We had to do it.
"Creative Technique’s four and half month deadline was unheard of," says Eagle Group’s Fletcher. "I don’t know of any company that has done ISO 9001 so fast, let alone QS/TE, QOS and Q1. But they had a team that was the most organized and motivated team that I ever worked with. The team leader basically gave himself up to the project for four-and-a-half months. Without this commitment, we wouldn’t have made it."
"We followed the same process as we would have if we had eight months or 12 months," explains Fletcher. "We didn’t cut any corners; the only difference was in intensity.
"The launch, where you make sure everyone knows what the goals are and what’s expected, was at the beginning; registration at the end. The halfway point was internal auditor training. "Major activities in the first half were: development of procedures and other documentation; and training, both training of employees in the new system you’re creating and training in specific tools -- such as Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) and Reliability and Maintainability (R&M) -- required by QS-9000 and the TE Supplement.
"In the second half, the primary activity was auditing, reauditing to find any holes still in the system, followed by corrections and revisions to plug the holes."
A key to our success was that our steering committee was also our management team. Everyone was in the weekly meetings.
The first thing we did was complete the Quality System Manual, the level one documentation, which we’d previously started. Then, we began to work out the level two system procedures, at least one for each of the elements in QS-9000. Eagle Group provided a set of templates, called Quick Start™, which are a useful guide in documenting procedures.
The templates were keyed to QS-9000. During working sessions, the managers who were affected by or used a given procedure could work their way through the template and come up with a draft which could then be circulated and revised.
The process was somewhat complicated because we had to revise the templates for the new Third Edition of QS-9000, ferret out all the additions and deletions required by the tooling and equipment supplement, and sprinkle in the Ford Quality Operating System requirements.
Maintaining the non-stop pace, by the end of June we’d completed the first draft of the systems procedures. These described how the processes in all our operations would run in order to meet the requirements of the Standard. Our staff was introduced to the documentation at "Information Centers" where employees could readily access the procedures.
There was a blast of resistance: "How can you say we do this?" "We do this!?" "My gosh! How are they making us do this?"
We explained that they were already doing most of what the procedures required them to do, now they’d have to fill out forms when they did it. Now they’d have to document what they did and do what they document. After the initial shock, it wasn’t a hard sell. Everyone realized the stakes involved.
To build work instructions, our level three documentation, we went on a forms hunt to capture every form, document, and record, number it, and fit it into its proper place in the quality system. Everything had to be numbered to fit directly into a procedure, so Creative Techniques would have a completely buttoned down documentation system.
In two weeks we found 170 forms. It was a revelation. Most people wouldn’t have guessed we had more than 30 forms in the whole organization. We were still finding forms in August.
But much of this documentation was unnecessary, and we eventually got rid of it.
Our production supervisors and foremen helped write many of the floor level work instructions. Having authored the instructions, they then became the trainers for machine operator activities. Everyone on any of our three shifts who’s a machine operator or assembler was trained in the quality system. As employees went up the system they received additional training. An assistant foreman, for example, who deals with shipping was also trained in handling, packaging preservation, and delivery.
In fact, all training in the quality system procedures was done by Creative Techniques. Eagle Group provided us with one and two day seminar type training in the basic quality tools required by the Standard. For example: Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP), required by QS-9000, enabled us to determine the customer’s requirements early in the proposal stage; Reliability and Maintainability (R&M) training, which was key to satisfying the requirements of the TE Supplement, showed us how to develop life-cycle cost modeling for new products and a system to collect reliability and maintainability data on previously developed products that had been in the field.
As the documentation was introduced, Eagle Group began internal auditor training. The intense three day on-site course trained a cross-section of our employees -- a quality assurance technician, a die setter, an assistant foreman, an engineer, a cost estimator, as well as managers and owners -- to audit to the standard. It was the backbone of the project. Internal auditing identified what we were doing right and what we were still doing wrong. It identified gaps in our system, so we could close them. It ensured that everything in our system was interlinked.
In early August after two rounds of internal audits and revisions of our procedures, we were ready for the Final System Review by Eagle Group. It was a preassessment audit in which two consultants, who were new to the project, spent two intensive days shaking out our system. Eagle Group knew just where to hit. Friendly fire is the worst. But it was what we needed, a dress rehearsal for the registrar.
By the first or second week in September we had closed the gaps identified in the System Review and were ready for the registrar. What we said, we did. What we did, we said. And everything we did and said pointed to the standard.
The registration itself was less harsh than the Final System Review had been. During the two day process the registrar’s assessors identified one minor finding relating to Document Data and Control. We were able to close it before they left.
The completed assessment certified us to ISO 9001 and attested to our compliance with Ford’s Quality Operating System. Since there was no apparatus for registering to QS-9000 with the TE Supplement, we received a separate letter which warranted that we were in compliance with QS-9000 and the TE Supplement.
With certification, the Q1 Award and the flags flying in front of our buildings, we feel we have legitimacy as a supplier. Since we were first or among the first in our industry to reach this goal, we also feel the Award confirms us as a leader. It gives us a sense that as a small company, we can survive and prosper in the industry niche we’re in.
Our operations have also improved. We expect to see the kind of bottom line impact the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) found in its recent fourth annual Quality Survey Report. That Survey reported that in the first year of QS-9000 certification savings averaged more than 6 percent. Survey respondents also reported a 48 percent improvement in parts per million defects, a 38 percent improvement in on-time shipping performance, and a 23 percent increase in OEM market share.
If we enjoy the kinds of improvements suggested by the AIAG survey, the quality system will quickly more than pay for itself.
Rich Parker is Operations General Manager for Creative Techniques. He can be reached at (800)473-0284. The company’s web-site is at www.creativetechniques.com.
Tony Fletcher, Director, Operations, can be reached at (800)807-9044 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm’s web-site is at www.eaglegrp.usa.com.
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