Generally speaking, whenever you change the rules, there's an adjustment period during which difficult things are—one hopes—resolved. This is certainly the case with the third edition of the QS-9000 quality standard—especially regarding the new calibration requirement for measurement and inspection equipment.
The groups responsible for drafting revisions to the QS-9000 quality system requirements—the Automotive Industry Action Group's (AIAG) Committee for Quality Initiatives and a committee from the (then) Big Three that oversee the QS-9000 requirements—issued the third edition of the QS-9000 standards in March 1998.
In this revision, new measurement and inspection equipment calibration requirements were outlined. Basically, there are two acceptable ways of calibrating the equipment: either do it in-house (section 4.10.6), or contract with an independent lab to do it (section 4.10.7). The third edition became current on January 1, 1999, rendering the second edition obsolete. Fine. Under normal circumstances, nine months (i.e. March to January) is plenty of time to accommodate any changes.
However, there's a hitch here that wasn't anticipated by the parties that penned the revisions. Those suppliers not equipped with an in-house laboratory that meets section 4.10.6 requirements have to get calibration services from an independent—or commercial—lab that meets section 4.10.7 requirements. Section 4.10.7 states that the only acceptable laboratories are those that meet ISO/IEC Guide 25 standards. Such labs are accredited to the American Association of Laboratory Accreditors(A2LA). So far, this seems to make an incredible amount of sense.
But there are only 31 such accredited labs in the whole United States. And out of those 31, about a third are not generally available to do outside work. For example, nine or so are like Delphi Interior & Lighting Systems of General Motors (Anderson, IN), which is committed to calibrating all of Delphi's equipment, which keeps it busy. So for the hundreds of first-, second-, third-, etc.-tier companies who need calibration work done, there are 22 labs. So the supply versus demand quotient here is just a bit out of whack.
The suppliers feel that they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. The auditor/registrar can't register the company to the third edition standard without a viable calibration method or a waiver from the OEMs that require QS-9000 registration. And neither the viable method nor the waiver is fast in coming.
"Our problem as a supplier is that no matter what we're doing to solve the problem on our own, the registrar still has to hold us—in our current state—to the published standard," says Fanuc Robotics' (Rochester Hills, MI) Tara Monarch. "They can't issue any waivers or extensions. Only they [the OEMs] can do that."
But such waivers or extensions aren't coming overnight. After all, the automakers aren't dealing with this issue with just one supplier.
So the registrar leaves, and the supplier still isn't registered to the third edition, and when the customer finally issues the waiver, the supplier has to go through the added expense of having the registrar come back.
"It's not a cooperation issue. Everyone wants to make sure we remain registered," says Monarch. "It's a timing issue, and a resource issue. We can't get what we need fast enough."
This situation isn't hopeless, says the AIAG's director of quality initiatives, Beth Baker. "Chrysler and GM are working to address the issue right now," says Baker. "And Ford doesn't require that companies meet 4.10.6 and 4.10.7, so there's really not as big a problem as people think."
Baker goes on to state that the Big Three have indicated that while the second edition became obsolete at the beginning of 1999, as long as companies prove they're working toward getting registered to the third edition, their products will be accepted. Scheduling an initial audit or a surveillance audit within the first quarter of the year is the course of action to take.
And while you're working toward resolving this issue on your own, DaimlerChrysler and GM are working to offer you some sort of resolution as well. While no official word has been handed down from either organization at the time of publication, some sort of blanket waiver or extension may be offered. The AIAG has also set up a supplier workgroup to address the issue and come up with some alternatives of its own.
The situation is frustrating, sure; but at least all is not lost. Here are some possible interim solutions recommended by the AIAG:
The QS-9000 Book: The Fast Track to Compliance By John T. Rabbitt & Peter A. Bergh (Published by Quality Resources, New York, NY)
Using the example of Texas-based manufacturing company Span Instruments, Rabbitt and Bergh demonstrate the feasibility of going from QS-9000 illiterate to QS-9000 compliant in 5½ months. Especially helpful was the section that detailed the steps Span took (there are 14) to achieve compliance in such a short amount of time. Interspersed throughout the section are tips designed to make things even easier (like including as many visuals as possible in procedure and work instruction manuals). One word of caution, however. As helpful and insightful as the book may be, Span achieved compliance to the second edition of the QS-9000 standard not the third. So the chapters on standard specifics aren't current.
In the course of researching this topic, several suppliers mentioned some confusion over the timing of the release of the second edition of the Tooling & Equipment (TE) Supplement to QS-9000. Intended to ensure that tooling and equipment suppliers meet the same criteria as system and component suppliers, the first TE supplement was issued in March, 1998 along with the third edition of the QS-9000 supplement. Unlike the general QS-9000 supplement, the TE supplement did not require mandatory compliance or registration by January 1, 1998.
Tooling & equipment suppliers actually have until the year 2000 to become compliant or registered. The first edition was merely issued so that such suppliers could start a self-assessment program. When the second edition was issued in August, 1998, it rendered the first edition obsolete immediately so that tooling and equipment suppliers could keep their self-assessment programs current.
As of this date, TE suppliers are not required by Ford or GM to register or comply with the TE supplement. And in December of 1997—when it was still just Chrysler—the company issued a letter stating that only its top 800 or so tooling and equipment suppliers would have to register to the standard, and that they had until the year 2000.
Any registrar/auditor telling tooling and equipment suppliers that they had to be compliant by the August 31, 1998, date stated in the second edition supplement are wrong. They merely have to be on the road toward being compliant/registration-ready by 2000. And all any registrar can do at this time is offer tips and pointers. They cannot audit your progress yet because they are all still training right now. According to Beth Baker at the AIAG, there are no registrars or auditors accredited to do TE supplement evaluations yet.
And that's—as Paul Harvey would say—the rest of the story.