Molders and mold makers across the United States feel the pressure, not only from their original equipment manufacturer customers but from their competitors, to become ISO 9000 certified. And most would do it tomorrow if it weren't so cost- prohibitive for small businesses, a category into which most molders and mold makers fall. One custom fabricator that does business for AT&T's Lucent Technologies division and Lockheed Martin Corp. said she is getting ISO 9000 certified ``slowly and in a controlled manner'' to keep costs from overwhelming her small, 43-person business.
Small suppliers, she said, are held to the same quality standards that large OEMs such as AT&T and Lockheed have established for themselves.
Much of the cost, which runs from $20,000-$40,000 or more, goes to pay a consultant, someone to come in and assess your company and assist in putting your house in ISO 9000 order.
Some in the standards industry feel that consultants take advantage of the fact that ISO 9000 is becoming mandatory for some suppliers.
Help is on the way. Sensing a growing need for small businesses to become as qualified as large ones, many consultants and ISO registrars have created programs to streamline ISO processes and audits for businesses with fewer than 30 employees.
DNV Certification Inc. of Houston has a Small Business Scheme in which a small firm can become ISO 9000 certified for $4,950 for a three-year period plus $4,800 for two, annual audits.
This is about half the cost of the normal certification and audit process.
Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance in Hoboken, N.J., also has developed a small-business program, allowing small firms to be assessed at reduced costs.
Dave Holbert oversees a federal program at the Trade Adjustment Assistance Center in Los Angeles that provides help for small businesses hurt by imports. Companies can receive help to implement ISO 9000 standards.
Holbert believes firms that need or want ISO 9000 certification should be able to get it.
The cost of the consultant should never be more than the cost of the registration itself,'' he said.
It's good to see consultants and registrars working together to help small business, but I believe that more help is needed. For purposes of ISO certification, small business should be classified as any company with fewer than 50 employees-the same as for many federal guidelines-to include more companies.
No small business should have to put its fiscal health on the line to keep its customer base.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.