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Automotive suppliers seeking QS-9000 certification soon may be able to reduce their costs by using volunteer auditors on loan from carmakers and fellow suppliers.

That would depart from the current practice of using only third-party, independent registrars. A registrar's audit team evaluates plant sites to determine whether the company has met all the QS-9000 guidelines, which dictate how suppliers ensure product quality.

Many companies are willing to donate time for auditing purposes, said Mike House, an automotive research director at Maritz Marketing Research Inc. in Toledo, Ohio.

In a recent survey, 300 firms said they are willing to loan their own auditors to help with QS-9000 registration. Another 240 companies expressed no interest in providing volunteer auditors.

The survey was conducted by the Automotive Industry Action Group and American Society for Quality Control. Mailed to 5,700 companies, there were 613 returns. The vast majority are Tier 1 suppliers.

Chrysler Corp. wants each of its Tier 1 suppliers to be QS-9000 certified by July 31. General Motors Corp.'s deadline is December. Ford Motor Co. has not set a deadline.

Despite the approaching deadlines, there is no shortage of QS-9000 registrars, said David Lalain, AIAG associate director and quality systems manager at PPG Industries Inc. in Cleveland.

Using auditors on loan from suppliers and automakers would reduce the cost of the registrar's audit, Lalain said. In addition, an auditor on loan could take the best practices of the company being audited back to his own company, he said.

The use of volunteer auditors is being considered by a Big 3 task force. The volunteer auditors would not be sent to audit a rival company, Lalain said.

Robert Djurovic, business manager with ABS Quality Evaluations Inc., a registrar in Troy, Mich., said he would not want to place a volunteer auditor on his audit team unless that person first met all the criteria that ABS Quality Evaluations requires of an auditor.

``Each and every registrar has its own set of criteria that an auditor must meet,'' Djurovic said. ``I would be concerned with their level of training. We do not want to sacrifice the quality of the audit process. I think competitiveness also will be an issue.''

Suppliers who have achieved certification say the process has cost them an average of $118,100, according to the survey. Of that total, registrar costs were about $18,300.

Of the 613 companies returning the survey, 272 volunteered a total of 3,724 audit days at $1,500 per day. That alone represents a potential savings of $5.6 million in registrar fees.

The benefits of being QS-9000 certified outweigh the costs by a substantial margin, House said. Those companies that already are certified estimate the benefit to them in dollars at $304,300. The savings are derived in part from reduced defects, returns, scrap and warranty costs.