Why We Did It
Over the past couple of years, only a handful of prospects have asked whether we had a quality management system in place. When we said no, they didn’t really consider it a barrier to working with us as we were supplying a service and not a manufactured product.
We found it a little bizarre that prospects and customers felt that the specification, design, coding, test, debug and verification work to realise a product could all happen without a process of ensuring consistent quality. Even more strangely they were happy to accept the design files, binaries and test rigs produced without robust documented process. All as long as the data to manufacture those products was then within a quality management system.
We also had plans to expand our engineering team to meet the product development demand we’d experienced with Industry4.0, Electric Vehicles, IoT etc. In order to grow in a controlled way, I believed it was essential that we had robust systems and processes in place. Growing without these in place was almost guaranteed to lead to problems.
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The Team’s Initial Thoughts
When I initially told the team that we were going to become ISO9001, there were natural concerns of additional admin burden and doing paperwork for its own sake. I was keen to ensure that the processes designed were fit for purpose and helped us be more efficient and accurate in our delivery. ISO9001 was not to get in our way, it was to be used as a framework and tool to ensure consistent quality and continuous improvement.
The system was designed by our electronics and software engineering team in workshop sessions facilitated by a specialist ISO9001 consultant. He guided the workshops and wrote the system to ensure all of the requirements of the ISO9001 standard were met.
The draft systems were put into practise for a few months, during which time they were tweaked and adjusted. A set of internal audits were conducted by our ISO9001 consultant which highlighted the need for a couple of additional changes.
The formal two-stage audit conducted by ACS registrars was then conducted. Firstly that the system itself was evaluated to ensure the full requirements of ISO9001 were met. Following the successful stage 1 audit, the stage 2 audit was conducted. This audit checked to see that we had clear evidence for all of the parts of the process being followed and that the team were all fully aware of its requirements.
Over the 6-7 months of development of systems and processes, we have consistent and continually growing checklists for designs at key stage-gates.This ensures that every project is peer-reviewed in a consistent manner and that the opportunities for errors and omissions are reduced.
A raft of forms and templates were produced which, although initially burdensome, now mean that we don’t have to continually create similar documents each time. Their format is consistent, and this alone has saved us time and ensured the correct information has been recorded.
We achieved a good balance between a minor increase in up-front admin and a reduction of identified risks.The system describes the approach we take to hardware, firmware, software and system design and development projects, but is flexible enough for these to be tailored to our different customer requirements.
The system and processes form a major part of new-starter training.
What this means to us and (more importantly) to you
We aim to be consistent throughout all of our processes. ISO9001 gives us the opportunity to easily ensure that we don’t miss out on the stages or steps of our methodology and process. We care about our customers and the experience they have working with us. ISO9001 allows our consumers to be confident that they will receive the same quality of work from us no matter what engineer or project team they are working with.
As a bonus, we get to use the ISO9001 registration mark on our website and marketing collateral. It helps as a differentiator and highlights the value and consistency we bring. This is especially important when we undertake design work for clients for whom quality is a key concern. You can see our ISO9001 certificate here and our Quality Management Policy here.