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Empowered employees make the QS/ISO quest moremanageable

The team approach at Loranger Manufacturing Corp., a Tier One and Two automotive suplier in Pennsylvania, allowed the molder to achieve QS9000 and ISO 9002 certification - simultaneously.
Loranger Manufacturing Corp.'s management structure was instrumental in helping one of its two plants in Warren, PA to achieve QS 9000 and ISO 9002 certification in June - that's certification on its first try, with no internal restructuring, and with no expensive outside consulting help. "Achieving this goal confirms our impressions of the systems and personnel we have in place," says John Loranger, president and CEO. His company was ready for QS and ISO before it even registered.

Six years ago, Loranger Manufacturing, a Tier One and Tier Two automotive supplier, began investigating new approaches to management as part of a continuous improvement program. For almost five years now, Loranger Manufacturing's revised management structure has been in place. Basically, it consists of decentralized quality assurance; fully empowered, self-directed work teams throughout the company; and what company officials call "inverted management" - top management is at the "bottom," supporting levels of employees "above."

Loranger Manufacturing has about 450 employees in its two plants in Warren. Its Clark Street plant was certified in June. Certification for its second plant is expected in November. The company also operates a facility in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. According to George P. Loranger, Loranger Manufacturing's board chairman and president and CEO of the European operations, QS and ISO certifications for the Hungarian facility are slated for December 1997.

Rick Carlson, Loranger Manufacturing's quality and continuous improvement manager, compares the company's old and new approach: "We had a quality department - a core group responsible for activities like products and materials inspection - before we put ownership of processes and products into the hands of our work teams." Loranger Manufacturing still has a quality support team in place today, but it is involved in activities like PPAP (production part approval process) inspections, and managing the internal auditing of the company's quality system. "Basically, we've moved it from measuring the quality of parts to measuring the quality of the entire organization," adds Carlson.

The self-directed teams are bound by measurables and continuous improvement activities while being supported by business units, technical teams, and skilled maintenance personnel. Team members are empowered. For example, operators can shut a line down if they spot a problem. "This frees up management to look at other things, like QS and ISO," Loranger says. And it did. "We went up to Detroit to a seminar on QS about two years ago, sat through it, examined the elements, and came away saying there's a lot to it. But we saw nothing in it as being something that would not be of benefit to the company, so we decided to go after it."

Both Loranger and Carlson agree that they got some good advice at the outset of their in-house QS/ISO quest. These words of wisdom came from an ISO trainer from Penn State, Behrend, PA, whose services were partly reimbursed by the state-funded Industrial Resource Center of Pennsylvania: "She said that if we could answer 'yes' to three questions, chances were that we were already fulfilling the intent of the QS standards," Carlson recalls. "The questions were, Are you still in business? Are you doing well? And, Is your quality good?" Fortunately Loranger Manufacturing could answer "yes" to all three. So the company decided to go it alone.

Loranger jokes that he doesn't know how much money was saved by not hiring a consultant, because consulting fees were never quoted. The company was already Q1 certified. And management was confident that the procedures and practices resulting from its continuous improvement program that was already in place were QS/ISO-friendly.

The family-owned company has been in business since 1950 starting out in insert molding, and it specializes in high-quality thermoset and thermoplastic precision molded parts and metal laminations in a number of demanding markets, including automotive. Loranger says business is good.

A management team with members from manufacturing, materials management, productivity, continuous improvement, quality, new programs, sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting began taking stock of the company. "We looked at what we were doing and documenting, what we were doing and not completely documenting, and what we were not doing and not documenting," Carlson says. The management team also benchmarked the company against the best practices of its QS/ISO-certified customers, among other things. "Then we compared what we were doing against the standards. We had to fine-tune only those areas that needed it. We didn't have to reinvent ourselves."

Then the employees of Loranger Manufacturing took ownership of the QS/ISO project. "They were our consultants," Loranger says. "We assigned different projects to different teams, and our people worked through all the issues. It was a lot of hard work. We had a commitment to our employees to update all of them each day of the audit," says Carlson. "On the third day, I walked by the board where the update was posted and, lo and behold, there was a flock of people there. They all wanted to know how we were doing. It was at that point that I knew we were going to pass. We had created the right climate for this to happen." Achieving certification on the first try confirmed management's faith in the systems it already had in place, while renewing faith in the plant's personnel.

The management staff members learned a lot, too. They learned that QS and ISO involve a lot more than manufacturing and quality procedures, like Q1. Carlson says QS and ISO involve the entire organization, "making it more of an all-encompassing business system."

It also gave the company an opportunity to take a good hard look at itself, reexamining its practices, and identifying areas of waste. Today, Carlson and Loranger are confident that QS/ISO certification, coupled with management's continuing support of self-directed work teams, will lead to nothing less than a better company. "A lot of people are making QS and ISO out to be a big monster," Loranger says, "but if you're doing your business right, it's not a big deal."

In closing, Loranger and Carlson have some words of wisdom for those of you yet to embark on the QS/ISO quest:

  • Keep it simple. Don't over-complicate your whole quality system, and select a registrar whose interpretation of the standards is similar to yours.
  • Ask yourself if you are really serious about being a better company. Ask yourself if you are really willing to examine your own business philosophy.
  • Gain a 100 percent commitment from everyone in the plant. With a 90 percent commitment, you will fail.
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