Interest in ISO certification growing

South Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

To help South Dakota companies compete globally, the Lake Area Vocational Technical Institute in Watertown is offering special training in October on international standards in manufacturing.

Known as ISO 9000, the standards were established in Geneva, Switzerland, to eliminate confusion and facilitate international trade. Since 1987, the ISO standards have been adopted by 55 nations, including the United States and the 12 European Community countries.

ISO 9000 creates a quality control system for manufacturers, from establishing how an order translates information to the shop, to following guidelines when a problem arises between design and engineering, to final product packaging procedures.

The Watertown training is part of a pilot program run by the state's post-secondary vo-tech institutions and coordinated by Tri-State Manufacturers' Association in Elbow Lake, Minn.

Tri-State began offering ISO training programs in its three-state region (South and North Dakota and Minnesota) in January 1992. "ISO means management of quality from order entry to shipping the product out the door," says Howard Norberg, Tri-State's chief executive officer. "It's a standard regardless of where the company is located."

The ISO program is similar to preparing for a financial auditor, except that ISO is a performance audit. Once a manufacturer completes the training program, a third-party registrar can be hired to perform the audit and issue ISO certification.

It is common for a company not to pass all the 400-plus checkpoints in the examination, according to Norberg. But if a company fails the test, it can reapply. However, because the manufacturer is responsible for the costs incurred by the certification team, it can become a pricey process.

It's not unusual for a small manufacturer to spend nearly $100,000 for training and implementation, not to mention certification costs, which can run from $20,000 to $30,000.

Although many small companies don't have the resources to spend on certification, Norberg says the training alone gives a company credibility. "It's a terribly important upgrade of a manufacturing firm to make that claim." Norberg adds, "Besides, it's just good management practice."

Some of the benefits of ISO training include adding value to the product, benefiting internal operations, positioning a company to continue doing business with an ISO-certified customer, reducing risk for product liability, marketing a company's commitment to quality and providing a clear direction for workers and management.

"From suppliers to exporters the ISO program is equally important," says Gordon Osthus, business and industry coordinator at Lake Area Vo Tech. "In order to do business with European markets, ISO certification of a company will eventually be required," Osthus predicts.

Kathy Cobb