Three companies share their insights into the ISO 9001 certification process and its benefits.

If you think that becoming ISO certified is about hanging a framed certificate on the wall and hauling in new customers by the dozens, think again. ISO certification is a much more complex process, and its benefits are far-reaching. It affects every aspect of business – from customer service and warehouse operations to engineering and upper management.

“It makes you a better organization,” says Michael Gassler, LEAN/ISO manager and management representative at Creative Pultrusions Inc. “It brings discipline, brings [a quality] culture, involves employees and improves morale. You get your hands around your processes, and you increase customer satisfaction as a result.”

In this article, Composites Manufacturing profiles three companies that have achieved ISO 9001 certification. Their candid stories reveal successes and challenges, as well as recommendations for engaging with the ISO 9001 standard.

Company: Composites One

Headquarters: Arlington Heights, Ill.

Focus: Distributes raw materials, processing supplies and equipment

Employees: 500+ throughout North America

Composites One certified its 38,000-square-foot Monessen, Pa., distribution center to the AS9120A:2009 standard in 2011 after a customer said it was required to continue as a material supplier. The standard, published by the Society of Automotive Engineers for aviation, aerospace and defense distributors, includes ISO9001:2008. Seven years later, Vice President of Operations Don Hairhoger says that standardization, employee engagement, improved customer service and other internal benefits have led to plans to eventually certify all 39 of the company’s distribution centers.

The Monessen distribution center certification process took approximately 18 months. Hairhoger admits there was a steep learning curve and a tremendous amount of heavy lifting on the front end to get through the process.

While Hairhoger and others at Composites One began the certification process internally – at times using “gut instinct” to work through issues – that wasn’t enough. The company hired a consultant, who performed a gap analysis for Composites One to compare existing practices with the standard and identify areas that required attention.

The first area was metrics. ISO requires that companies establish quality assurance objectives. While Composites One previously measured dozens of things, the certification process prompted the company to narrow down to four key quality metrics to keep the ISO process simple. “What gets measured, gets done,” Hairhoger explains, adding that the metrics the company chose to measure are ones that are most important to customers. While he declined to share all four metrics, Hairhoger cited one – fill rates, which track order speed and accuracy.