Good ol’ ISO 9000 – the beautiful standard everyone looks for in a partner (manufacturing partner, of course). But what exactly is ISO 9000 and why is ISO certification so important in manufacturing? In this two-part article, we first explain the history of the standard and then investigate its importance within electronics manufacturing.
The Origin Story
Every great hero has their origin story, as do great standards. Surprisingly, the birthplace of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards was the war-torn United Kingdom during World War II. While there were quality issues across several industries, none were more life-threatening than the quality issues experienced in munitions factories, where bombs would explode in factories during assembly. A resolution was adopted to address quality issues, requiring factories to document their manufacturing procedures and prove, via diligent record-keeping, that these procedures were being followed.
By instituting these quality standards and certifying companies were following them, the ISO governing body was able to establish a method of monitored continuous improvement, a new lean manufacturing concept. By creating an environment where procedures are created, trained to, and audited, companies would be able to continually identify weaknesses in their procedures and actively improve them through documentation.
Revisiting The Revisions
Welcome to the present day, where these standards are still applied. Similar to the original standards, the latest ISO 9000 variation seeks to improve and expand the system into a more flexible, fluid, and applicable process. Below we see the evolution of the ISO 9000 standard.
The standards are officially published. Prior to this, there were several other international standards. The ISO standards, however, are directly adopted from the UK Standard, BS 5750.
This revision had a singular (and massive) goal: shift the original focus from checking the finished good, to observing the product at every stage of production. Essentially, it established a quality management system (QMS) that would, theoretically, move from a reactive “cure” to a proactive “prevention” methodology.
The purpose for this revision was straightforward – simplify procedures and documentation. If the product wasn’t new to the manufacturer (like a rerun build), this revision reduced the burden of documentation. It also impelled upper management to incorporate quality control processes throughout the company and to increase effectiveness through process performance metrics.
The most minor revision in terms of scope, 2008 was intended to provide further clarification of terminology, as well as consistency across ISO standards. By this time, standards like 14001 and 10006 had been developed, but having been developed independently, there was little consistency. ISO 9000:2008 rectified this issue.
This revision was substantial as it would establish the new QMS model for the next 25 years and, as such, focused heavily on integration efforts with other international management systems. Communication was a key area of change and the ISO committee eliminated the need for a quality representative, which forced companies to involve all departments and staff in the QMS process, rather than a singular representative or department.
The Red Tape
This may sound like a lot of bureaucracy with pretty paperwork, lots of red tape, and more cost to a company (and as a result, the customer). However, the true goal of ISO 9000 is to provide consistency – throughout the product’s manufacturing, throughout the manufacturing processes overall, and throughout a company. A lack of consistency is the death of quality, and the death of quality is the end of profitability.
To sum it all up, ISO 9000 helps ensure consistent quality in the processes, procedures, and organization that manufactures your product. This not only reduces the cost you pay, but improves the longevity of your product as well. So when you see that ISO 9000 certification at the footer of a manufacturer’s website, just know it means they care enough to put in the time, effort, and expense required to give you the best product available.