If you poke around a few industrial websites, you’ll begin to notice plenty of references to ISO 9001 certification. If you happen to be on an automotive supplier website, you may notice a reference to being IATF certified. Finally, if the company website you are perusing has an internal lab, you might see a mention of ISO 17025 conformance. In fact, if you visit our homepage, you’ll see mentions of all three. So why do these certifications matter, and what is the difference between the three? Let’s find out.
ISO stands for The International Organization for Standardization. They are, as the name implies, an international organization that creates and publishes standards. ISO 9001 is their Quality Management standard. It is easily the most well known and accepted Quality Management standard in the world. The standard itself is a 30 or so page book that contains requirements for a company’s Quality Management System (QMS). A QMS is basically all the policies and procedures put in place by a company to ensure that its products and services meet customer requirements. The requirements in the ISO 9001 standard cover everything from product planning and development to customer satisfaction, and everything in between. It it meant to provide the structure to create a holistic QMS that covers every aspect of quality.
By becoming ISO 9001 certified, a company is dedicating itself to follow all the requirements set forth in the ISO 9001 standard. As part of the process of becoming certified, a company submits to an audit by an accredited 3rd party. The 3rd party auditor checks to ensure the company is following all of the requirements of the 9001 standard. After any necessary corrective actions are completed, the 3rd party issues a certificate of compliance. Hooray! The company can now claim ISO 9001 certification.
One final note: the “2015” in ISO 9001:2015 refers to the year that particular revision was released. In this case, 2015 is the most recent revision, replacing the previous version released in 2008. The other two standards we’re examining, IATF 16949:2016 and ISO 17025:2017, also follow this formula.
IATF, The International Automotive Task Force, is an organization of automotive manufacturers and their trade associations. Their purpose is to provide a consistency of QMS requirements for automotive suppliers that can be applied worldwide. Basically, the leading auto companies in the US and Europe put together a task force and created a Quality Management standard of their own. Any company who supplies parts that are mechanically or electronically attached to a vehicle is eligible to become IATF 16949 certified. IATF 16949 is built to exist on top of ISO 9001. Both standards have the same structure, with ISO 9001 providing the foundation. Essentially, IATF 16949 is simply a list of extra requirements that automotive suppliers must adhere to over and above the requirements of ISO 9001. IATF 16949 also requires 3rd party certification, and, since the standards are intertwined, most certification bodies will certify both at the same time.
ISO 17025 is a bit of a different animal from the previous two standards we discussed. Whereas ISO 9001 and IATF 16949 are Quality Management standards, ISO 17025 is a testing and calibration standard. It is designed for laboratories who perform testing, sampling, or calibration. Laboratories can be either internal, testing only their own products, or external, testing outside clients’ parts. Labs receive ISO 17025 certification for only the tests, sampling, or calibration they perform. The accredited tests, sampling, and calibration are listed in the Scope of Accreditation, which is usually attached to the Certificate. Since it is common for a manufacturer to have their own internal lab, it is possible, and pretty common, for the same company to have ISO 9001, IATF 16949, and ISO 17025 accreditation.
Why Anyone Cares
Certification to any of these standards requires considerable effort and commitment on the part of the company. So what is the benefit, and why does anyone care? The answer is twofold. First, the process of becoming certified to a quality or lab standard adds value to the organization. Having a template to build your QMS or lab upon is helpful, and the process of conforming to the standard most likely requires the company to improve upon current methods. In other words, if you’re going to put in the work to conform to an international standard, you might as well do it right and use it as an opportunity to improve.
Secondly, potential and current customers see certification to ISO or IATF as a shorthand assurance of quality. In fact, many customers have ISO or IATF certification as a requirement to doing business. For example, most automotive OEMs require IATF certification for their suppliers, and the Department of Defense requires ISO 9001 certification. In particular, because of its global reach and acceptance, ISO 9001 certification is viewed by many across industries as strong evidence of a robust and effective QMS. In short, ISO 9001 certification is a very effective way to show potential customers that quality is of paramount importance to your company.
Thanks for reading. We should note that there are many other industry-specific standards, such as AS9100 for aerospace or API Q1 for the oil and gas industry. But, since Wilson-Garner is not certified to any of these, we’re not talking about them. Give them a Google for more information.