Also known as: “How to make our small business of custom plastic enclosures a certified and respected company through an ISO audit.”
After all these years of preparing for it, the day of the final audit has come. The management is ready for it, the whole crew is ready for it, but who knows what to expect when you have worked so hard and spent so much energy on a difficult endeavor. Of course, such does come with numerous questions:
- Are we going to speak the same language as the auditor?
- Will I simply understand him?
- What major findings did I miss?
- Does he understand our process and how the company work?
It is hard for a small business manager to be told what you do wrong, I knew there were a lot of things that were implemented according to the ISO book: processes, quality manual, and quality assurance. But what if I missed the whole point? What if he nailed those details that I omitted or did not understand of that standard?
One of our employees described it as the following:
“It’s like when you’re driving down the road, minding your own business, doing nothing wrong. When suddenly you pass a cop, who whips around and pulls you over. You start to panic. Thinking ‘what did I do wrong? Was I speeding? Did I miss a stop sign? Is my taillight out?’ The longer you sit in the car your brain starts spinning out of control: ‘Is my license expired? Does my car match the description of a wanted vehicle?’ Slowly convincing myself I am going to be arrested. Even though rationally thinking I know I am fine. I know I wasn’t speeding, I know I just put new tabs on the car, and I definitely came to a complete stop at the stop sign (mostly). The officer walks to your car and notifies you that your headlight is burnt out and you need to get it fixed. It is so simple. It is so easy. The five minutes you panicked now seem silly—nonetheless I’m drenched in sweat and have a headlight to fix.”
That is how the ISO audit went down. The head spins out of control thinking of all the ways and all the things that could go wrong and will go wrong. Overthinking that when put on the spot the words that are so eloquent in your head will fumble out of your mouth and not make sense—or worse: Be wrong! The journey down the rabbit hole was much more elaborate than the actual events on the day of.
More than 10 years ago, I started with the basics of management, putting some work instructions in every single operation of the workshop. After many iterations, most of them were done a few years later, giving some specific instruction to operators and a clear direction to the shop. For many different reasons, I had to change our priorities and focus my energy on sales: we needed more customers and more revenue. Along the way, I discovered that in fact, priorities change but the main foundations rely on ISO. ISO does not teach you how to do your job, it simply helps you comply with the standard. In other words, you are not doing anything right or wrong, it is the way your work is interpreted and explained that matters.
This was useful and became natural then to implement the other processes as we were working on increasing our sales. The sales process came first, it just consisted of describing what Dan and my everyday tasks were and compare them with the standard. Luckily, our sales numbers went up and I could get back to the ISO standard. After a while, I was determined that my skill and knowledge were not necessarily in line with the quality requirements, so I asked Scott–our CAD Designer–if he was interested in pursuing the journey. Scott, a retired air traffic control system evaluator, was more qualified to achieve that task and he took over the mission I made myself allocated to. As of January 2019, Scott started the mission of getting ISO certified. It has been a long journey, a lot of discussions, negotiation, and hard work to get to the final draft of our QMS.
On the day of the ISO audit, we paid special attention to cleaning the shop and reinforced 5S measures to make sure nothing could go wrong on the auditor walkabout. It goes without saying that it would be a miracle if no findings were discovered on that walkabout, but we were confident that things were in order.
Management is mainly targeted by ISO standards, finance and business strategy are investigated thoroughly. Toolless has made consistent profits for the last 5 years and made it through 2 economic crashes and the COVID pandemic. That really made us confident that somehow our management strategy worked, and our finance. Nonetheless, things can happen, but the auditor told us we were doing a good job there.
Fabrication, Purchase, and CAD came next. To my surprise, the auditor did not spend much time on these processes, making his priority on management. The design is the main process in our technology, it regroups all the customer’s demands, purchase, fabrication, and release of drawing. This is central, and any mistakes will reflect immediately on the parts. We are still using our old proprietary ERP system, which also works as a PDM, a great tool for us as you can edit and repost any project without saving single parts 1 by 1. It looks like we did a great job in this area and thankfully, no issues were found in the design.
In the end, the ISO audit determined that Toolless had only 4 minor findings, which comes to us as a success and a relief. We were easily able to work through the findings and fix them. We are happy to announce that Toolless is ISO certified!
TOOLLESS, ALWAYS ON STEP AHEAD