When ISO 9000 was first conceived in 1987, the terms “quality management” and “process improvement” created a quiet murmur among executives and plant managers in the coatings industry. With the rapid globalization of the manufacturing world economy, however, the need for international quality standards that would establish quality-management system (QMS) parameters for all chemical process manufacturers was evident. The murmur grew to a buzz, but talk was cheap and implementation of these QMS processes would be costly.

Now, 12 years and two revisions later, ISO quality and environmental management systems (QMS/EMS) are among the most important and widely adopted strategic initiatives in the coatings industry, raising expectations for quality manufacturing throughout the industry. In fact, the number of certifications is expected to double under the new 2000 revision.

“Quality is an increasingly important criteria for supplier selection, and can provide that competitive edge in a commodity industry where it often comes down to price,” said Mike DePasquale, president of Prism eSolutions, a premier provider of ISO-9000 and ISO-14000 training, consulting, and Web-based support services. “Chemical companies must be able to innovate to survive — find cost-efficient ways to improve processes and quality.”

Why are so many companies so aggressively seeking ISO certification? Some believe that ISO is the best way to improve their operations and increase their competitiveness; others seek certification so they can be considered for certain large sales opportunities. Now that registration costs and implementation times have flattened, more companies can afford to seek these rigorous standards.

Special Process Issues

ISO 9000 is no longer just a label to attach or stamp on advertising and promotional materials, nor is it something you do to increase sales opportunities. Being ISO certified — and the corresponding business process improvements that follow — allows companies to improve efficiencies, become globally competitive, and increase profitability.

Today’s new ISO 9000:2000 standards-based quality parameters are beneficial to all coatings manufacturers because they address special process issues, which are defined as any process where the resulting output cannot be verified by subsequent monitoring or measurement, through a monitoring and measurement technique known as process validation.

Coatings involve a number of special processes, from the manufacturing of the product to its final application. Because manufacturers can never be sure how a coating will perform in the field until it is in service, process validation is essential. Management must monitor and control all of the crucial factors that can affect final performance of the product. According to the ISO 9000 standard, this validation must “demonstrate the ability of these processes to achieve planned results.” This standard is crucial in the evolution of new, advanced coatings that incorporate structurally self-repairing composites and other innovations.

The Seven ‘M’s of Quality

ISO 9000 forces management to consider the points at which quality problems could — and typically do — occur. These points can best be described as the “Seven ‘M’s of Quality.”

The first four categories are familiar to most industry professionals, and account for many of the errors that occur during a given process — most plant managers in the chemical industry have at least some experience with either human error, mechanical failure, process inefficiencies, or material flaws. The last three ‘M’s, however, represent areas that are often neglected. Measurements, for example, refer to the specifications spelled out by the customer, or by the formula, and the way in which the accuracy of these measurements is ensured. Model is the ideal design or formula that will meet the customers’ needs. Milieu pertains to the overall manufacturing environment, including equipment, plant temperature, humidity and pollutant levels.

By integrating and following the criteria defined in the ISO 9000 standard, companies are forced to consider and implement controls to ensure quality in all seven categories. Elements that do not pertain specifically to these categories can be isolated and set aside, preventing time-consuming distraction so companies can spend their time and energy solving problems, instead of exhausting all of their resources just identifying them.

Resolving Quality Issues

Quality issues must be addressed in a way that most benefits each individual company, and applies the most to each individual situation. There are no arbitrary requirements in ISO 9000; there are simply general requirements that must be considered and addressed appropriately. If problems are addressed incorrectly or not addressed at all, the result will appear in the form of non-conforming material, which will trigger an immediate corrective action.

On the other hand, if the company errs on the side of implementing too many controls, additional costs will arise that may go unrecognized, putting added strain on the company. Companies can find the right balance of action by involving outside professionals who know the processes they’ve implemented, and the documentation of those processes. According to a D&B survey of 6000 ISO-registered firms, average first-year savings exceed the average total cost of achieving certification — often including the cost of retaining valuable outside assistance.

The new ISO 9000:2000 version of the ISO 9000 standard requires management to contact customers directly to get feedback on their level of satisfaction. Once this information is gathered, management must then implement a program to use it for continual improvement. Ultimately, this requires a review of the Seven ‘M’s of Quality to find opportunities for improving the control of the processes without increasing the total cost. Process facilitators have been successful in helping team members identify ways of improving processes efficiently and cost effectively. Even more important, consultants who help companies implement process improvement programs that can be easily upgraded as requirements change will really benefit. ISO 9000 is required to have major upgrades every five years.

The Next Step: 9000 Meets 14000 for Improved Performance

Now that ISO 9000 has been established as a quality requirement in the coatings industry, industry professionals have begun to wonder, “What’s next?” The answer can be found in an accelerating trend toward adoption of ISO 14000-based EMS, which offer a means to effectively manage the environmental costs and optimize the profitability of operations. ISO 14000, which is an evolution of ISO 9000 standards, is designed to address process improvements in these environmental areas by way of energy audits, hazardous materials management, and other techniques. ISO 14000 holds great promise for reduced waste and higher material quality because it emphasizes the elimination of waste early in the procurement process, especially in industries such as coatings where there are significant amounts of raw material input.

ISO 14000 identifies and eliminates all waste that enters production through current procurement practices before it enters the manufacturing environment. By studying the environmental aspects of an organization’s activities, products or services, organizations find new paths to cost reduction and, interestingly enough, paths toward higher quality.

And here’s the real benefit. When ISO 9000 quality management systems are integrated with ISO 14000 environmental systems, the two processes support each other. Opportunities for better quality practices exist in the quest for better environmental practices, and better environmental processes are often the result of improved quality. A merged system, which is currently available, is often the answer for companies seeking improvement in both areas.

The key to pursuing these two management initiatives is to focus on strategic process improvements made possible by evolving technologies that automate the documentation and communications aspects of implementation. Historically, document disarray and communication redundancies have made implementation of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 slow and costly. The advent of new Web-based technologies, however, makes it possible for companies to host entire documentation, project management, and training systems for the implementation of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards, significantly reducing the cost of each individual component and minimizing the time to implementation.

An Integrated Approach

There are plenty of ISO-certification consultants available to assist coatings manufacturers seeking certification, but most only offer one piece of the puzzle, neglecting to help companies transform their ISO-certification status into real-world strategic process improvement (SPI). Three integrated services are required for fast, quality ISO-based QMS and EMS implementation. 1. Hands-on consulting services, including GAP analysis, internal audits, etc. 2. Employee training, for total knowledge transfer of crucial information. 3. Web-based, on-demand project hub for collaborative document and project management and communications.

One service offering from Prism eSolutions is built on a Web-based communications-centric platform designed to support ISO-based SPI through integrated project, document, training, and communications management. It’s an application service platform that provides a customizable, configurable environment for mapping and managing “who does what, when, where and how.” An advanced document control, communications layer, and “point-of-need” delivery mechanism saves companies time and money. Plus, the ASP allows for live conferencing, collaborative forums, instantaneous alerts, and e-mail communications to keep project teams informed and “in-sync.” A customized, personal project workspace provides the tools, consulting solutions, training content, and instructional materials where and how the process team member needs them.

As time moves on and industry standards progress, it is clear that ISO 9000 is here to stay, and ISO 14000 is fast approaching. The cost of implementing quality management and environmental management systems is declining, quality-based competition is rising, and the need to free up strategically innovative resources abounds. Therefore, the profit potential is huge for companies who adopt ISO 9000 and/or ISO 14000 standards. The future is uncertain for those who don’t.

For more information on ISO 9000 standard, contact Prism eSolutions LLC, 512 Township Line Road, Three Valley Square, Suite 362, Blue Bell, PA 19422; phone 888/386.2330; fax 267/468.0199; visit www.prismesolutions.com.