When managers at Mastercraft Mold, a custom injection molder and mold maker in Phoenix, decided to become ISO certified, they decided to go for ``the whole enchilada'' and get 9001, said sales director Robert K. Larson. The certification, which encompasses design engineering services, ``reflects more of what we as a company do,'' Larson said. The company became certified in April.
In the past three years, ISO 9002 certification among U.S. plastics processors has become common. However, only 22 custom processors in the United States have achieved the more difficult and comprehensive 9001 designation, ac-cording to information obtained from Irwin Professional Publishing in Fairfax, Va., which publishes the ``ISO 9000 Registered Company Database.''
Only one company that is strictly an injection mold maker, Catalina Tool & Mold Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., has 9001 certification. Another 10 companies representing proprietary processors, and machinery and equipment manufacturers for the plastics industry have earned 9001.
Because 9001 is all-encompassing, it is also more time consuming and costly to maintain, as audits are required every six months instead of once a year for ISO 9002.
Becoming ISO 9001 certified isn't a cheap proposition, nor is it a quick fix for what might be ailing a company. All the company officials interviewed for this story said they got the certification not because they had to, or because they thought it would bring them a lot of new business, but because they wanted to improve their organizations.
In fact, most managers said the real benefits have been greater efficiency and faster problem solving.
``If there's a problem on the shop floor, we can get right to the root of it,'' said Michael Kelly, Catalina vice president of engineering and marketing. ``People find their own mistakes and fix their own problems because ISO is about making everyone responsible for the process and the quality. There's no finger pointing.''
It takes an average of 18 months to get certified under ISO 9001. Catalina worked two years for its certification, which it received in March; it took Alliance Precision Plas-tics Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., only nine months.
Donaven James, Alliance manager of quality and training, said his company chose ISO 9001 to make itself more marketable in product development and design engineering. He said Alliance already had many of the procedures and policies in place before starting the certification program.
When Inland Technologies Inc. opened the doors to its custom injection molding plant in Fon-tana, Calif., in 1993, it too, already had ISO quality standards in place.
The following year, the company was certified.
Sales manager Larry Espinosa said Inland achieved a two-fold benefit in going for ISO 9001 right out of the chute.
``First, all the [employees] are well-versed in our standards from day one,'' he said. ``There were no old corporate cultures to change or bad habits to break.''
Second, training time was shortened because no one had to be retrained in the company's policies and procedures.
Given the costs associated with becoming ISO certified, most companies want to know what return on investment they will get, and whether it will mean more business for them.
James said Alliance has seen a ``tremendous surge'' in business in the eight months since it received certification.
``Companies recognize what it takes to get ISO certified and we're given a shot at jobs that we might not otherwise have been allowed to quote,'' he said.
Alliance operates 21 presses with 125 employees, and recently broke ground for a new building, which will be ready during the first quarter of 1997, to accommodate expansion. The company serves the business equipment, medical and photographic industries.
Mastercraft's Larson said it cost his company, which has 19 presses and 115 employees, about $40,000 to become certified, and that didn't include employee training time.
Mastercraft Vice President David Larson said, ``We haven't yet gotten one job because we have ISO 9001 certification. The benefits of ISO for us is more a reduction of expenses rather than an increase in sales, but it all affects the bottom line positively.''
Bill DeMars, executive vice president of Century Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., agreed that getting ISO certified is expensive, but well worth it. He estimates Century spent about $100,000 on certification, which it received last August.
``The significant monetary investment probably deters many companies from trying,'' DeMars said. ``But, the improvement in internal controls, avoiding doing things more than once, being on time - it's worth its weight in gold. ISO certification is a necessity, not a luxury. ... ISO allowed us to take on 60 percent more work than the previous year.''
In addition to mold building, Century operates 38 injection presses, offers secondary operations including assembly, and employs 290.
Inland's Espinosa said being ISO 9001 certified gives the young company more credibility.
``People know full well that just having an ISO 9001 certification doesn't automatically guarantee a quality product,'' Espinosa said. ``But, it gives you the opportunity to be successful through the documentation and processes that, when put in place, allow you to run a quality organization every step of the way.''
Those who have their ISO 9001 certification said customers often hold them to a higher quality standard and are less tolerant when there is a problem.
``When they come to us, they know they're not getting cheap molds, so they have every right to expect more from us,'' said Catalina's Kelly. ``They're the customer. 3M was ecstatic when they found out we became 9001 certified, because they're 9002 certified.''
Earning ISO 9001 takes a lot of work, and so does maintaining the certification. Mastercraft employs two full-time people who oversee the system permanently. David Larson said the company had focused so intently for so long on getting the certification, that the inclination is to breathe a big sigh of relief.
``But now, the work is just beginning and we have to maintain that same focus constantly,'' he said.