What is ISO 9000?
"ISO 9000" is an umbrella term for a whole series of quality system standards. The most widely used is ISO 9001. ISO 9001 is a quality system standard covering manufacturing activities relating to design and development of new products.
These standards are sponsored by the International Standards Organization, a federation of groups from 100+ countries.
ISO 9000 in the United States
Compared to most industrialized nations, the U.S. has been late to adopt ISO 9000. The slowness of the U.S. may be explained by the relative insularity of our economy compared to other world economies. Perhaps our slowness was also helped by an American feeling that Europeans tend to over engineer and over formalize. Even if we believe this prejudice is true on occasion, we need to get past it and consider ISO seriously. The ISO concept has a lot to offer American industry.
The U.S. auto and chemical industries, both very internationalized, have led in adopting ISO 9000. The auto industry's version, QS 9000, has a set of requirements tailored to their own needs.
Why should engineers and architects be interested in ISO 9000?
The European Community has chosen to regulate certain product groups. These include medical devices, telecommunications equipment...and construction materials. For construction materials, approval of a supplier's quality system is a legal requirement. ISO certification, while not specifically required, is the method of choice to meet EC requirements.
Since most U.S. manufacturers of engineering and construction materials operate in highly competitive markets, there is constant pressure to take cost out of the product. Cost reduction does not have to mean quality reduction, but it can, especially for manufacturers without adequate quality systems. ISO certification forces manufacturers to spend more time and effort on quality. As one executive of a large building components manufacturer said recently, "It used to be, when we had a quality problem, that we could ignore it. Now, with ISO 9000, our system won't allow us to ignore it".
It is difficult for materials specifiers to find the balance between a highly restrictive specification and a completely open specification. A restrictive specification often increases the predictability of quality, but generally results in higher cost. Wide-open specifications, conversely, decrease predictability of quality and generally lower cost. Therefore, Polyguard recommends that the following clause be added to all open specifications: "Manufacturers shall submit proof of current certification of its quality system to the ISO 9001 quality system standards."
There are not many reliable methods for specifiers to screen suppliers and reach a balanced tradeoff, where the specification is opened up with minimal loss of quality predictability. We at Polyguard believe that ISO 9000 is one of these methods, and that ISO 9000 will come to be seen as a valuable screening tool in the specification process for engineering materials.
ISO 9000 has its faults. But, in the end, those manufacturers with ISO 9000 certification are likely to product higher quality products.
Polyguard Products and ISO 9000
Polyguard Products was the first American competitor in any of our markets to obtain, in 1996, ISO 9001 certification. The background of the first certification can be seen at http://dallas.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/1997/08/18/smallb1.html
Polyguard Products quality system is certified to the American, and UK standards.
American Certification (PDF; 148KB)
UK Certification (PDF; 150KB)
BVQI Registrar's Report (PDF; 346KB)