Beware when seeking registrar

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Caveat emptor is an adage most   of us have grown up with since childhood. (Those high school and college Latin classes have really come in handy.) Seriously, we check Consumer’s Report to determine what stove, refrigerator, camera, or car to purchase, but when it comes to a company looking for an ISO 9000 registrar many fail to investigate and do their homework before signing a contract. Worse yet, many companies are only concerned with price and sign up with unaccredited registrars, which end up taking them to the cleaners.

So what difference does it make? Plenty. While it is true that there is no mandate or ISO document from the international standardization committee that a registrar must be accredited, there is a vast difference between the two. An accredited registrar must follow the mandates and directives of the ISO committee. Each country also possesses its own accreditation board to oversee these directives, and they may also issue their own requirements. In the United States the organization is called ANAB. Great Britain’s board is UKAS. Check your ISO certificate, because any of these logos must be printed on the bottom of the certificate to indicate an accredited registrar. These accreditation bodies also audit the accredited registrars to ensure standardization around the world.   An unaccredited registrar does not have to follow the rules, and surprise, they usually don’t.

Here are some points to keep in mind when selecting a registrar:

* Accredited registrars require a stage-one and stage-two audit. Stage one consists of a document review of the quality and procedures manuals, plus other documentation within the quality-management system to ensure the documents meet the requirements of the standard. Stage two requires a competent, trained auditor to be on the client site for a specified period of time to document that a quality-management system has been implemented. If the company passes the registration audit, a certificate is issued that is valid for three years. Two other surveillance audits are required within the three-year cycle.

An unaccredited registrar does not require stage-one and stage-two audits. Typically, they may arrive at the client site and quickly review the documentation and not spend much time on the manufacturing floor interviewing employees and observing the proc­esses. They issue certificates that are only valid for one year. The audit process only takes one day.

There are even some unaccredited registrars who let the clients do their own audits, send the registrar their results, and then issue a certificate. This is akin to a person needing heart surgery, and telling the patient to operate on himself!

* An accredited registrar requires an auditor to be auditing on-site for eight hours. An unaccredited registrar has no requirement, and the auditor may only be there two hours, yet the client may be paying anywhere from $1,200-$2,000 for the privilege.

c An accredited registrar may not have (or advertise that they have) a consultant agency write the manuals or conduct internal audits, because this is a conflict of interest.

An unaccredited registrar may offer one-stop shopping. They provide standard “canned” procedures where one size fits all. They may also provide an internal audit training program — written or video — for the clients to train themselves in the span of a couple of hours. Then an auditor is sent out to review the quality-management system and issue a certificate.

* Most accredited registrars do not issue compliance letters to the more demanding ISO standards — AS 9100, ISO 13485, TS 16949, ISO 17025, etc. 

Unaccredited registrars issue compliance letters to these more demanding standards. The problem is most of these letters are not worth the paper they are printed on, because their manuals and implementation of the system do not meet the requirements of these specific standards. If you are in possession of one of these “compliance letters,” please be aware that an accredited registrar will never accept these letters if and when you choose to become certified to one of these more specific industry ISO standards. The client may then have to hire another consultant or qualified person to rewrite manuals and implement the quality management system to meet the guidelines. More money down the drain.

* Finally, if you have a certificate from an unaccredited registrar, be aware that if you are a supplier to an OEM, those certificates may not be accepted by the OEM. Most large OEMs know the difference between the accredited and unaccredited registrars, and have lists of those registrars and may direct you to become certified to an accredited registrar before/after you are given the opportunity to quote for that company. Many firms have been forced to pay twice to become certified. Save yourself the headache. Check the website to ensure you possess a certificate from an accredited registrar.

Pascoe is owner of Lake Orion, Mich.-based consultant agency Progressive Integrated Systems Inc.