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The trials and tribulations of a quality system

December 5, 2011

I had very little knowledge about quality systems, until I was dumb enough, ummmm . . . I mean very, very smart enough, to volunteer to take over for our previous quality manager.  At that time we were ISO 9001:2000, making our way to the 2008 version, and contemplating ISO 17025. And so I muddled my way through audits, and SOPs, and customer surveys, not really having the best picture I could have regarding the marriage of quality and testing.

It seems simple enough. A quality test means you get a sample, it is perfect, you test the sample, the sample runs perfectly, you get results, the results are perfect, and everyone is happy . . . right? WRONG! When was the last time you had a perfect anything in a real-world situation? I can tell you right now after 5 years in the labs and 5 years as an engineer working with the labs, I have never had a customer receive ‘perfect’ results (i.e. all charpy values in a set were the same number and well above the necessary specification threshold). And so, I slowly started to learn that a ‘quality test’ meant finding holes and identifying mistakes in the system in order to correct/improve the system.

One of my greatest acheivments was holding a contest to come up with a one-sentence quality policy, pairing it down from 2 paragraphs. After accomplishing that, I felt that I was a real pro! Boy was I wrong. When it became too difficult to manage my engineering and quality, we hired a full-time quality manager, Chuck Rieser. Thanks to Chuck, I really improved my grasp of the higher purpose of having a quality system in a testing lab. While ISO 9001:2008 was a great system for our testing labs, ISO 17025 is even better as it assures we follow the standards, not just our SOPs. We also began to realize what accreditations/certifications would make sense for us, and what wouldn’t. For example, we have had folks ask if we are ASME certified, but, through some research, found that there is not any such thing for testing labs.

Quality and I have been through a lot over the years, but it will always be a big part of testing at EWI.