MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Three years ago, functional experts from Marine Corps Logistics Bases Albany and Barstow came together to make up an Integrated Project Team to actively pursue a policy of quality awareness, defect prevention and continuous improvement in the quality of the command's operations, products and services.
LogBases began several corporate initiatives to improve business practices throughout the command. This occurred due to several factors.
Maintenance and repair business was no longer a monopoly for the Marine Corps, and the commands' financial position became a major concern.
Product defects were a regular occurrence, leading to rework, increased costs and less than satisfied customers. A means of re-establishing a viable quality system and finding where problems were occurring was needed.
After extensive research, the LogBases' Executive Steering Committee decided to comply with the International Organization for Standardization criteria and achieve ISO 9000 qualification by the Defense Contract Management Agency, according to a business case analysis issued in July 2000.
"LogBases command and our customers, specifically program managers for the Assault Amphibious Vehicles, agreed with the ESC's decision for a new quality system," said Lee Penrose, command quality officer for LogBases.
Functional experts from the Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Fla., and certification/compliance technical support representatives from the DCMA later joined the IPT.
"Primarily, LogBases sought to keep and add to their current customer base," Penrose said. "We also desired to grow and compete [for business] in the open market. There are two main reasons we wanted to be ISO qualified," Penrose continued.
"If we want to bring in additional business to support our maintenance centers, ISO certification may be a requirement. Secondly, it's just good to have! It really benefits the business and management aspects of how we operate," he said.
ISO is not an acronym, according to Johnny Barthlein, Maintenance Center Albany quality manager. It is a name derived from the Greek word 'iso,' meaning 'equal.'
"The ISO 9000 series is actually a set of five standards," Barthlein pointed out. "ISO 9000 and 9004 are informational documents, while ISO 9001, 9002 and 9003 are detailed conformance guidelines."
ISO standard is a compilation of national standards from small and large industrialized countries and developing countries from all over the world.
Although ISO registration is not mandatory in the United States, it is a requirement for organizations doing business in the European community, according to the LogBases quality officer.
"Registration is voluntary within the U.S. government. However, to compete in the global marketplace, even U.S. organizations need to be ISO registered," Penrose said.
The International Organization of Standardization currently has a membership body of 130-plus countries. ISO develops standards that add value to business operations by making development, manufacturing and delivery of services more efficient and safer. ISO only develops standards that are required by the world market.
"When an organization is certified to the ISO 9000 standard, it signifies that an independent auditor has checked that the processes influencing quality conform to the requirements of the relevant standard," Barthlein said.
"This gives the organization's management and its customers confidence that the organization is in control of the way it does business," he continued.
"Once institionalized, ISO is less of a quality system and more of the way business is done'" Penrose added.
Penrose stressed that there are differences in being ISO 'qualified' and ISO 'certified.'
"LogBases hired DCMA as a second-party auditing activity," Penrose said. "Although we both work for the Department of Defense, they are considered a second party.
"Being qualified does not provide for registration by the Registration Accrediting Board, and we cannot compete for contracts that stipulate the company must be 'Registered as ISO 9000 Compliant.'
"However, we can compete for contracts that state, 'the company must have a system that complies to ISO 9000.' Subtle difference, but a big one in the commercial world. Certification is the highest level of compliance," Penrose said.
The IPT was tasked to implement and maintain compliance with the ISO 9000 standards for quality systems in the two maintenance centers, the BICmd, and based on lessons learned, other elements of the command. DCMA performed a 'gap analysis' at the three locations to determine which processes were in place and determine the course of action to become compliant in all areas. Quality Manuals, Procedures and Work Instructions were developed as a result of the gap analysis.
"ISO 9000 compliance does not guarantee a quality produce. We [LogBases' commands] should know how to build a quality product, that's what we're in business for.
ISO builds an efficient management system for us to look at process improvement and customer needs and eliminate variability," the quality officer said.
Advanced quality and ISO audit training was completed at both maintenance centers and at Blount Island.
By July 1999, Blount Island, being the smallest of the three commands, had received its qualification certificate from DCMA as ISO 9002 compliant. Following pre-qualification audits during August and September 1999, Maintenance Centers Barstow and Albany, respectively, began corrective and preventive actions to resolve all their non-compliance findings issues.
"Anytime you conduct an audit, there's always something you're going to find," Penrose said.
"DCMA auditors spent a total of five days in the Maintenance Centers conducting the audits. Those five days from Oct. 16 through Oct. 20, 2000, for Barstow, and Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, 2000, for Albany, were long and hard. "They were there first thing Monday morning and left last thing Friday afternoon. There were seven audit members on each team, and they went through a thorough and detailed audit.
"Both major and minor areas were found that needed corrective action. DCMA gave us a certain amount of time to work out those problems and we have been doing that since October," Penrose said.
Although Naval Air Depot Cherry Point, N.C., has about five ISO registration numbers, and other DoD activities are compliant with ISO 9000, Maintenance Centers Albany and Barstow are the first DoD ground-weapon system maintenance depots to be ISO qualified in their entirety, Penrose said.
"Additionally," he added, "we did both of our maintenance centers at the same time, in the same way. I'd say that our methodology is more standard than any other depots DoD-wide.
"But an important thing to remember," Penrose stressed, "is that ISO doesn't end at qualification.
"Every six months to a year, a qualifying agency has to come back and conduct a random audit to see if the system is being maintained.
"Our qualification will be to the ANSI/ISO/ASQC 9002: 1994 Standard. ANSI is the American National Standards Institute; it is the U.S. representative to the International Organization of Standards body. The American Society for Quality is ANSI's quality arm.
"In some respects, being found qualified has led us through a more thorough process than being certified since DCMA has gone more in-depth in reviewing our processes than a third party would. So I think it has actually been more beneficial," he said.
This means the maintenance centers are now eligible to compete for contracts that state the bidder must have a system that complies with the ISO 9000 standard, according to Col. Ervin Rivers, Maintenance Center Barstow commander.
"Quality is one of our competitive priorities," Rivers said. "Achieving this qualification means that our customers can continue to rely on us for high quality products and services. The qualification makes us that more competitive."
Achieving qualification is no easy task. Many additional work hours were used to develop the quality assurance system.
"We started working on the program back in June 1998," said Fred Alley, Barstow Quality Manager. "Some of the main obstacles to overcome were cultural change, providing training to personnel and resisting the temptation to return to the old way of doing things," Alley continued.
"Although it took many people in the Maintenance Center to put the ISO program in place," Alley added, "the main catalyst for bringing the program together was the nine-member IPT.
"The group consisted of representatives from each department and business center," Alley said.
According to the quality manager, their primary task was to ensure the requirements of the ISO system were in place for each of their areas and they wrote all the ISO procedures.
"We met to ensure the ISO standard was met," Alley continued. "Sometimes we called in subject matter experts to present their views on particular topics." The Barstow commander, Col. Ervin Rivers, expanded on Alley's remarks.
"Each employee was instrumental in the overall success of the audit and the implementation of our new ISO Quality Management System," Rivers said.
"It also took the cooperation of all employees to work together during this time to ensure production was met, costs were kept within budget and the quality system was implemented at the same time.
"Adding ISO 9000 to MCB's Better Business Practices toolbox took a lot of extra time and work," Rivers said. "But most agree receiving the qualification is well worth the additional hours."
Col. Robert Cerney, commander at Maintenance Center Albany added, "Maintenance Center Albany's ISO 9002 compliance was a grass-roots effort. We began by training all our employees and it has involved every one of them, every day since.
"Receiving our ISO certificate completes a major effort that will have a continuous major effect on our future," Cerney continued.
"We have broken the 'flavor-of-the-month' cycle, and we must continue to build on our ISO success to ensure a fruitful competitive commercial future."
Maintenance Center Barstow will receive its ISO 9002 qualification certificate during a special ceremony Wednesday, which will include the grand opening of a new test track and a celebration of the depot's 40th anniversary.
Maintenance Center Albany is scheduled to receive their ISO 9002 qualification certificate April 5 during a special ceremony here.