Learn How Composites One’s Commitment to Quality Helps Them Better Serve Its Customers

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.

Composites Manufacturing Magazine recently profiled three companies, including Composites One, that have achieved ISO 9001 certification. Read Composites One’s candid story below about the successes and challenges, as well as recommendations for engaging with the ISO 9001 standard.

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.

Once metrics were streamlined, the company began putting processes and procedures in place to meet goals related to those four areas. Staff training was key. Executive management in the company’s Arlington Heights, Ill., corporate office and every employee in Monessen from sales staff and customer service to truck drivers and warehouse workers received training. “I think that is really key,” says Hairhoger. “Get your key stakeholders around a table and give them a general overview, then go department by department or person by person and explain their role to them – because everybody plays a role.”

Composites One also instituted “opportunities for improvement” (OFIs), which encourage employees to ask, “What are we doing today that can be more effective in taking care of our customers?” One identified OFI was damaged stock drums. The company conducted a root cause analysis to determine why an unacceptably high number of drums were being dented or otherwise damaged. The analysis revealed that most damage occurred because transportation carriers were moving drums with forklifts rather than drum handlers. To fix this, the company’s sales and logistics teams arranged for stock drums to be transported on pallets, which has reduced damage. This is what ISO 9001 certification is all about, emphasizes Hairhoger – continual improvement to better serve customers.

“Improvements don’t have to be big leaps and gains,” he says. “I think a lot of companies that go into ISO think that right off the bat they are going to find a million dollars of business or savings somewhere out there that they didn’t know about. There are small, incremental gains, but each one of those are building blocks toward driving your company ahead and continuing to improve.”

Composites One also formalized incidence reporting. Previously, if someone in the warehouse made a shipping error, the distribution center manager might ask what happened and tell the employee not to do it again. “There was no follow-up, no root cause investigation, no how did it happen,” says Hairhoger. “There are 20 different reasons that could have caused it, so we were just putting a Band-Aid® on things.”

When errors occur today, the manager and employees conduct a root cause investigation, establish a corrective action plan and review it in 60 to 90 days. Hairhoger notes that the incident reporting system has engaged both management and employees, while enabling the sales team to provide better answers to customers when things go awry.

The benefits of certifying the Monessen facility have carried over to the entire company. “We have applied a lot of the things that we learned during the certification process to how we do business everywhere,” says Director of Marketing Communications Marcy Offner.

For example, the receiving process utilized in Monessen, which includes a three-way match of purchase orders, packing slips and product labels to prevent errors, is now used in all distribution centers. Composites One also uses the work management and automation platform first implemented at Monessen at 14 other large distribution centers and the corporate office. Hairhoger says the database allows the company to monitor trends, then use them to eliminate waste and serve customers more efficiently.

Composites One plans to certify four other distribution centers in July and will migrate two facilities to the new ISO 9001:2015 standard, along with AS9120B:2016 – the Monessen facility and BMB Solutions Composites in Montreal.

Ironically, the customer that first led the company to ISO certification is no longer in business. “How about that?” Hairhoger laughs. “But that’s OK, because it put us on a path to where we are today and where we want to be in the future.”

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