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Plastics industry executives widely view ISO 9000 registration as part of the quality-control status quo. They feel ISO 9000 registration by a third party is one of the few assurances they have that a customer or supplier has its quality program under control.

Like any status quo, this one is being challenged. P&Y Associates Inc., a plastics industry consultant in Kallspell, Mont., maintains it can help plastics firms ``comply'' with ISO 9000 procedures at a fraction of the cost of actual ISO 9000 registration. And P&Y assures its customers that they readily can pass an ISO 9000 registration by a third-party registrar if they choose to go that extra step.

``There is too much emphasis on registration,'' said Lewis Yasenchak, P&Y president. ``I'm more interested in improving a company's internal systems.''

Yasenchak claims his clients reduced costs by as much as 20 percent when they adopted P&Y's ISO 9000 compliance program. His firm also helps companies develop and implement quality programs based on QS-9000, ISO 14000 and Malcolm Baldrige guidelines.

Yasenchak maintains some ISO 9000 registrars have little or no practical experience in plastics. They can verify a firm's procedures are controlled, but they cannot show a firm how to improve its operations, he said. They might miss a peripheral but important issue, such as whether an operator wears safety glasses.

More than 40 ISO 9000 registrars ``have popped up'' in North America to take advantage of the lucrative registration business, Yasenchak said. His firm's compliance program cuts out the expensive audit that third-party registrars do before they recommend an operation be ISO 9000 registered.

Not surprisingly, P&Y's approach has its detractors in the ISO 9000 community.

``Anyone can say they are [ISO 9000] compliant,'' said Arlen Chapman, quality systems director of National Quality Assurance Ltd., an Acton, Mass., registrar.

A company should discern whether its supplier is ISO 9000 registered, or has engaged in a compliance or training program, said Chapman.

One firm satisfied with P&Y's approach is DP Polymers Inc., a thermoplastics distributor in St. Louis. DP President David Price said his firm grew rapidly and wanted to bring its procedures and processes under strict control, so that growth would not interfere with customer service. It enlisted P&Y for its ISO 9002 compliance program

After 14 months of work, DP's internal systems reached the point where they could pass third-party registration, said Price. He said DP's compliance requires semi-annual audits and weekly meetings to keep the program focused.

DP has been using P&Y's ISO 9002 Quality System logo on its marketing materials and letterhead. Officials stressed the logo shows DP is in compliance with ISO 9002 and is not meant to be misleading.

One custom molder said he saw DP's marketing materials and thought the logo could imply ISO 9002 registration ``to a novice or someone who hasn't scrutinized it.'' His firm is thinking of getting ISO 9002 registration, so it looked closely at DP's logo.

A DP competitor was more forceful in its opinion. Its officials alleged DP is trying to mislead customers. This competitor has ISO 9002 registration and, after putting a lot of effort into getting it, resents how DP uses the P&Y logo and certificate.

But Chapman said a quality certificate is not a problem.

What would bother him is if a company tried ``to mislead what occurred for them to receive that certificate.'' He said it is up to customers to understand what suppliers mean when they make claims about quality programs.

An ISO 9000 observer said most problems with ISO 9000 advertising stem from misunderstanding how the logo is used. Paul Scicchatano, managing editor of Quality Systems Update, said the most common mistake is to say a product is ISO 9000 registered when, in fact, registration applies to a particular operation.

Scicchatano said the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva publishes guidelines on how to advertise ISO registration.

The organization probably would not take legal action when someone contravenes its guidelines, he said. If there were any conflict, the companies involved would have to sort it out among themselves.

Many firms have resisted ISO registration because of the time and money it takes. For them, a compliance program could be a lower-cost alternative that yields good results. The market ultimately will determine the value of such programs.