Small Manufacturers Need Reliable Quality System to Compete

Posted by Brian Gilmore on Aug 10, 2012 10:59:00 AM

Manufacturing often calls to mind global companies like Raytheon, General Electric and EMC.

ManufacturingBut 98.5 percent of Massachusetts manufacturers are classified by the Federal government as Small Manufacturing Enterprises (SMEs). About 7,000 of the almost 8,000 manufacturers in the Bay State employ fewer than 100 people. Some 5,200 manufacturers (69 percent) employ fewer than 20, and 2,590 (34 percent) have no more than five employees.

These smaller companies, like the giants, survive and thrive in a national and global marketplace.  Their success, measured by indicators such as the high volume of Massachusetts products exported to international markets, reflects great credit on the thousands of small manufacturers operating in the commonwealth and on their ability to maintain a competitive edge.

Remaining competitive is, however, becoming more challenging. In a survey of small manufacturers by the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University about changes in customer expectations over the past 10 years, 62 percent of employers cited increased pressure for lower prices, 60 percent saw demand for improved service and timely deliveries, and 55 percent said customers are seeking better product quality. 

Price, service and quality are simultaneously the top three requirements and the top three challenges across all manufacturing sectors. Manufacturers both large and small still find quality problems at the shipping docks. As to price, there are still too many small manufacturers that understate their cost of quality, writing down off-spec products at material costs and not at value added costs. Indeed, there are still companies that throw away more value than they make.

Proper quality management leads to lower costs, increased productivity and a better competitive position. Large companies are developing systems to manage this important aspect of their operations and pushing responsibility down the supply chain. Demand by large manufacturers that their suppliers have a certified quality management system in place is nothing new. What is new are the demands for the suppliers to take on more responsibility and accountability in the design of the products they are supplying in addition to establishing systems for traceability of their products or components. As a result, today’s small manufacturers are finding it difficult to have the arm’s-length transactions of the past, where they just made a part to print and ship.

ISO 9001 certification provides the framework of methods that allow any organization, regardless of size, to fulfill the requirements of today’s manufacturing environment. Not only does an established ISO 9001 system provide a framework for Quality Management, but its “Plan-Do-Check-Act” process provides the user with a built-in continuous improvement process that is often absent in the average operations of a small manufacturing enterprise.

AIM and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) have teamed up to create a training collaborative that will help companies to become “one in a million” by obtaining ISO 9001 training at fraction of the usual cost and in a minimum amount of time. The AIM/MassMEP ISO Collaborative is a workshop-based program that focuses on providing systems, documentation and training in a classroom as well as on-site consultation for companies wanting or needing to comply with the ISO 9001:2008 Standard.

Four to eight companies work together to establish and/or upgrade their quality management systems via seven off-site, one-day training workshops held over a period of seven months – one workshop per month – and five to seven on-site consulting days (based on company size). In addition, a Gap Assessment of each participating company is provided to set the benchmark criteria for ISO 9001: 2008 certification.

The fee to participate in the AIM/MassMEP ISO Collaborative is based on the firm’s size and ranges from $11,000-$22,000. AIM members, thanks to a grant from MassDevelopment, are eligible to receive a 10 percent discount on the fee from MassMEP. Participants in the collaborative may also be eligible to receive partial funding from the state’s Workforce Training Fund.

For more information, contact MassMEP at 508-831-7215 or AIM at 617-262-1180 ext. 322 

Topics: Business Center, Massachusetts Manufacturing, Training

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