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ISO Implementation Leads to Improved Product Quality, Increased
Employee Motivation, and Company Growth for O'Hare Spring

By John W. Schneider


 

Every company wants to improve the quality of its products, but getting employees to support these efforts can sometimes be difficult.  The O’Hare Spring Co. Inc. received ISO 9002 certification with an incredible level of employee participation.  Not only has product quality improved, but also employees of the Des Plaines, IL, manufacturer are more motivated and excited about their jobs.

O’Hare Spring is a successful and growing company founded in 1964.  The company moved to an upgraded 28,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in 1995.  Though successful, O’Hare had never received ISO Certification.  This changed in late 1995 when Wes Gardocki, quality assurance manager, received a letter from one of O’Hare’s largest customers.  The letter stated that all vendors must conform to QS-9000.  This began the process that led to ISO 9002 certification.

ISO 9002 is an internationally recognized quality standard awarded to manufacturers and is the foundation for QS-9000 compliance.

The owners of O’Hare Spring, Bill and Jim Schneider, contacted Peter Mauch, a quality consultant with Peter Mauch and Associates, located in La Grange, IL.  Mauch and Associates has helped many companies achieve ISO Certification.

"Peter Mauch made the process really easy.  We thought achieving ISO would be more difficult," says Bill.

After arriving at O’Hare in the Spring of 1996, Mauch helped O’Hare employees and management rewrite the company quality policy and establish departmental goals.  The purpose was to ensure that O’Hare pass an ISO certification audit.  Goals included 100-percent performance levels in the following areas:

  • On-time customer delivery

  • Final-approved products (no defective parts may reach a customer)

  • Approved documents (all documents, work instructions and policies must be current)

  • Qualified vendors (each vendor would now be required to complete a quality survey)

  • Correct purchase orders

  • Acceptable raw materials

  • Identification of non-conforming material

  • Completion by due date of corrective and preventive action

  • Employee training

Of these, one of the most important is 100-percent acceptable product.  Says Gardocki, "Before [ISO 9002], employees often did not think of the final product.  ISO made employees realize each product goes through a step-by-step process."

As departmental goals became effective, employees wanted continuous updates on the progress of certification, according to Gardocki.  "Employees were also encouraged to ask questions and suggest ideas throughout the process, so problems would be resolved and not put off.   Once employees saw their ideas being implemented, they began to provide more input."

Bill said that management supported every employee idea presented during the process.

Employees began working in teams to accomplish goals, says Jim.  "The best accomplishment of going through the certification process was that employees began working together to reach common goals."

In addition to helping set department goals, Mauch provides a series of workshops in Custom Quality Control Training for its customers.  Gardocki took several of these courses in areas such as gage R&R studies, quality improvement, calibration programs, control of quality records, post-production operations, and internal auditing.  These courses helped Gardocki train O’Hare employees in ISO procedures.

While the Schneiders realized that it was crucial for employees to thoroughly understand the policies and forms required for ISO to be implemented, they knew this was going to be a challenge.  Many of the O’Hare employees were immigrants with marginal English skills.   Therefore, Oakton Community College, which is located near the O’Hare facility, was contacted to assist with this training.  Oakton conducted an employee skills assessment to determine which employees needed language and/or literacy instruction.  The college offered ESL (English as a Second Language) and literacy classes.  Each class was held at the O’Hare facility for those employees who needed to improve their English skills.

The actual auditing process began on February 4, 1997, with the first of two audits that would lead to ISO certification.  The audits were performed by Entela Inc., an RAB/RVA accredited quality registrar located in Grand Rapids, MI.  "The first audit was an assessment that let O’Hare Spring know what areas needed improvement," says Gardocki.  It served as a "test" to prepare O’Hare for the upcoming certification audit.

Employees and management were asked questions that would possibly be on the actual certification audit. Only five minor findings were observed during the assessment audit.

The actual certification audit was on March 13, 1997.  Auditors spent the entire day interviewing employees and managers.  Gardocki says employees were both "excited and nervous" after having prepared months for this day.

After several hours had passed, Jim gathered the employees together to announce that O’Hare Spring received certification.

Employees clapped and cheered.  "It showed how much the employees worked as a team," says Gardocki.

To make sure that the company's quality efforts and ISO compliance continue, surveillance audits will be performed internally and by Entela.

Bill admits he was surprised at how well the employees of O’Hare adjusted to the ISO certification.   "We have employees with over 30 years of experience in our industry," he explains.  "We thought they would never accept the changes.  The adjustment has been amazing, and the certification process has changed attitudes."

According to Gardocki, the most challenging change was getting employees to think about the customer in every step of the manufacturing process.  Before ISO, many employees’ attitudes were, "Make it and ship it," he says.

Roman Karpierz, a foreman at O’Hare, says that quality is now a continuous process.  He monitors production every half-hour, which makes product nonconformance easier to find.   Karpierz says the new ISO process was easy to learn, and he can see improvements in product quality since ISO has been implemented.

Another end result of certification has been an increase in sales.  Jim says several potential customers are considering O’Hare Spring for the first time because of the certification.   Companies from various industries, such as second-tier automotive and power tools, are now considering O’Hare Spring as their sole spring and wire form supplier.

For instance, a purchasing agent from a potential customer told Jim on a recent plant visit that O’Hare would have to fill out a 14-page survey to be considered as a vendor.   The first question the customer asked Jim was, "Are you ISO Certified?"   When Jim responded, "Yes," the potential customer said, "I don’t need to ask anymore questions."

Receiving ISO Certification was not the end of the quality process for O’Hare Spring, however.   In fall of 1996, O’Hare Spring had an open house at its new facility.   Attended by longtime and potential customers, the mayor of Des Plaines, and other community leaders, this event gave employees and management the opportunity to listen to customers’ concerns.  In addition, this exciting event was also used to communicate O’Hare’s ISO certification goals.

Another part of O'Hare's quality improvement process was hiring an outside consultant to conduct a series of Team Building and Conflict Resolution Workshops for its employees.  These education programs have encouraged employees to work as teams to accomplish goals.

The next part of the process is to become QS-9000 certified.  QS-9000 is a quality system used by suppliers to the automotive industry.  O’Hare plans to have this certification by the end of 1998.

It is expected that O’Hare Spring's quality efforts will lead to continued growth, and the company plans to expand sales to new industries in the future.  These industries include: automotive, home appliance, personal computers and toys.  O’Hare recently hired its first international sales representative in Mexico, a move which is expected to open new markets.

In short, the ISO certification process was a learning experience that not only improved product quality but also created excitement and enthusiasm among employees.  In turn, this has led to sales growth and expansion for O'Hare Spring Company.


About the Author
John Schneider has been with O'Hare Spring Co. since 1992 and has worked closely with his father, William Schneider, to learn the many facets of the spring industry.  John took an interest in his family's business at a young age and has spent his time learning the intricacies of each department, including quality assurance, inventory control, machine setup, engineering, and sales.   Recently, he has focused his interests on spring design and engineering, and job costing.  He says he looks forward to learning all he can from the veteran springmakers in the industry.  He earned his bachelor's degree from Aurora University in 1995.
 

     This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring Manufacturers Institute. 
    Send comments about this or other SPRINGS articles to
    Rita Schauer, Editor of SPRINGS, e-mail:  smieditor@aol.com

For more information:

John Schneider
President,
O'Hare Spring Company Inc.

(847) 298-1360
springs@oharespring.com

O'Hare Spring Company Inc.
Tel: (847) 298-1360 | Fax: (847) 298-6765 | Email: springs@oharespring.com

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