Revenues Grow, Quality Increases for General Metalworks With ISO 9001

“WMEP manufacturing specialists are in it for the long haul. They care about my business, know us and our processes. They really care that this works and about making us successful. I feel like they’re part of my team.”

Like many metal fab shops, General MetalWorks, a Mequon sheet metal fabricator that employs 81 and manufactures shelves, tanks, cabinets and other parts for various industries, had not documented its processes.

“There was ‘the way we always did things,'” said Mary Isbister, General MetalWorks president. “Some of those ways were good, but none of it was documented.” Isbister, along with her husband, Eric, the company’s CEO, both worked in heavily regulated industries prior to purchasing General MetalWorks in 1999. “We realized the organization would benefit from having standard procedures in place,” she said.

So they turned to ISO 9001:2000 to create their quality system. “It didn’t have anything to do with a customer mandate,” she said. “We felt it would be a way to improve our business.”

Many people incorrectly assume that ISO 9001 focuses on paperwork and quality. “It’s actually a powerful continuous improvement method that produces measurable results for your entire enterprise. ISO 9001 is a management system that defines the minimum requirements for a business,” said Rick Goodson, WMEP portfolio/project manager for General MetalWorks. “Most viable businesses already meet 70 to 75% of what’s in the standard.” The newest revision level (2000) relies less on documentation and instead emphasizes “your business’s processes as your customers see them and as you see them,” he said. “It leaves it up to you to decide how much documentation you need in order to define your processes.”

They began by working on procedures, which in many cases didn’t exist. “We identified the processes we needed to document and identified people to own those processes, which created our ISO implementation team,” said Isbister.

“We use the term ‘procedure’ loosely,” said Goodson. “We actually created flow charts of how things should be done. Where more detail was necessary, we created a document.”

They also established metrics to track the efficiency of the processes. “Metrics are a key aspect of ISO,” said Isbister. “It was daunting at first, because people think, ‘What if it showsI’m doing a bad job?’ Rick removed the fear of what these measurements are meant to do.”

“We asked the process owners to come up with appropriate metrics to let them know if the process is running right or not,” said Goodson. With their order entry process, they began measuring how long it took to enter orders, since sometimes orders arriving late in the day were not entered until the next day, costing them a day of lead time. They established a maximum time of one day to get orders into the system. They are now in the process of shortening that metric, since all orders are now being entered within a day.

They also examined their subcontractor purchasing process. Before, when they sent parts to vendors for work, “they just sent the parts out and they eventually came back, but they weren’t tracking if the parts came back in the promised time frame,” said Goodson. They began tracking vendor delivery performance to improve lead times.

The work to define the processes and their metrics had the effect of increasing ownership of the processes. “Part of the issue was that managers didn’t feel responsible for their individual area. They felt they were overseeing something someone else had done,” said Goodson. Previous work to establish procedures was done by a consultant, but the procedures were not implemented by the company because employees were not involved in their development.

By establishing both procedures and metrics, people began to see that they could have a direct effect on the change occurring. In fact, one manager went “from being a naysayer to someone who is now an evangelist (for the ISO work),” said Isbister.

The ISO work also broke down the barrier that often exists between production and the administrative side. “It’s typical of this dynamic that the production side wonders what the administrative side even does,” said Isbister. “By having metrics and demonstrating continuous improvement on both sides, people understand that this whole company is only as strong as our weakest link. The work has resulted in an unexpected side effect – a team culture where people can see how all the processes are linked.”

General MetalWorks has also done Lean work, including a Value Stream Map for a family of parts that helped them greatly reduce the number of steps their work instructions were traveling. Today, their routing system is paperless. They also realized they needed to reduce their raw stock and finished goods inventories.

The results of their ISO 9001 work include:

  • Increased sales of $2 million within the past year
  • Met/exceeded 99% defect free parts for the past year
  • Decreased shipping errors by 67% within the past year
  • Increased business 25% since ISO certification

They will continue their improvement work with more Value Stream Mapping and by working with their suppliers to improve their lead times. They also plan to do 5S/Visual Workplace to open up shop floor space and will re-design their scheduling system to increase level-loading and improve their on-time delivery.

Beyond improving quality and standardizing work, the ISO implementation has established a culture of continuous improvement for General MetalWorks. “One employee coined the phrase, ‘One team, one goal,'” said Isbister. “In that sense, things are demonstrably different in our organization. The difference is the team focus.”