International Quality Standards Set
Holusha, John, THE JOURNAL RECORD
N.Y. Times News Service
American companies got religion on quality during the 1980s, studying the teachings of such gurus as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran and introducing programs that usually had the words "total," "quality" and "management" in their name. The problem: Everybody seemed to have a slightly different definition of what quality was.
But now, any American company hoping to sell its products in Europe is being forced to come to grips with a series of internationally agreed-upon quality standards. Formulated by the International Standards Organization in Geneva, the guidelines have been adopted by the countries in the European Community as the yardstick for measuring quality.
The standards cover the manufacturing and pre-sale inspection of products, as well as installation and postsale servicing. Arcane, but crucial, the guidelines will largely determine whose products may be sold to and within Europe's unified market.
Although there is no legal requirement that companies adopt the standards, which are grouped under the rubric ISO 9000, many European companies are pushing their suppliers to become registered under the ISO guidelines as a way of ensuring that the products they buy will be of acceptable quality. A company without an ISO 9000 registration risks being effectively barred from bidding on new business.
"This is the ticket to doing business globally," said Kymberly K. Hockman, a quality consultant at E.I. Du Pont de Nemours Co. "It tells customers that they do not have to send in teams of auditors; they use ISO 9000 as the quality standard."
The International Standards Organization agreed upon the ISO 9000 criteria in 1987. Besides the European Community, more than three dozen countries have adopted the guidelines for national use.
American counterparts have been issued by the American National Standards Institute, a private industry group, and the American Society for Quality Control, an association of corporate quality-control executives. These guidelines are technically equivalent to the ISO's standards, but incorporate American language usages and spelling. As with the ISO guides, compliance is voluntary.
The ISO 9000 is actually five separate standards, ISO 9000 through ISO 9004. The first and last of these, 9000 and 9004, are primarily concerned with definitions and advice on ways companies can improve their internal operations. For American companies intent on doing business in Europe, the more significant standards are 9001, 9002 and 9003.
ISO 9003 covers requirements for the detection and management of problems uncovered in final inspection and testing. ISO 9002 covers production and installations, as well as inspection. ISO 9001 adds standards for post-sale servicing.
Like most ISO standards, the rules specify what is required, but not how to do it. For instance: "Where servicing is specified in the contract, the supplier shall establish and maintain procedures for performing and verifying that servicing meets the specified requirements."
The legalistic language of the standards is not intended to make the pulse race, nor does it. A typical requirement: "The supplier shall establish and maintain procedures to control all documents and data that relate to the requirements of this standard. …