Based in Tucker, GA., Ecolink produces industrial solvents. The firm, which has fewer than 20 full-time employees, develops the chemical formulations for their products and outsources their production to facilities elsewhere in the United States. The company receives the finished materials at its Tucker warehouse and ships them to its customers, which are primarily in the aerospace, military and power-generation industries. The company also drop-ships finished materials directly from the manufacturing source.
According to Ecolink Quality Manager Kevin Jeffers, prior to spring 2011 the firm had a long-term goal of obtaining ISO 9001 certification. The designation certifies that a company has standardized quality-management systems and formalized business processes in place to ensure that its customers’ needs are met.
“It was always a long-term plan because we deal with a lot of customers in the aerospace industry,” Jeffers said. Those aerospace customers often sent Ecolink surveys that typically asked for product-inspection assurances that Ecolink couldn’t make.
In early 2011, however, the long-term goal became an immediate one. That’s when one of Ecolink’s largest aerospace clients told the firm its future business was at risk without the ISO certification.
To achieve ISO 9001 certification, Ecolink turned to Craig Cochran, a project manager with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech. Cochran specializes in process improvement and ISO-certification projects.
In April 2011, Cochran visited Ecolink to conduct a gap analysis to determine areas where the firm needed to improve to achieve certification. Broadly speaking, Cochran’s analysis showed that the firm had sufficient quality-management systems in place for its office operations but needed to improve its warehouse operations by increasing the inspection of goods, establishing a quarantine area for defective materials and organizing its processes better.
Cochran developed a project plan to help Ecolink work toward certification and continued to talk with the company throughout the summer of 2011 to ensure that progress was being made. He eventually conducted a pre-assessment audit to verify the firm was ready for certification, and in October 2011, the firm achieved certification.
Jeffers said the designation has made an unquestionable impact on the firm. “The customer that requested our ISO certification emailed me shortly after October 2011 and asked for our ISO certificate, which I promptly sent,” Jeffers said. “That same day, they sent us another big order.”
Achieving certification also has affected how Ecolink evaluates potential vendors with which it may do business. “It’s a very good tie-breaker,” Jeffers said. “If I have two vendors that are equal, and one has ISO and one doesn’t, I go with the one that’s ISO [certified]. I also know that the vendor with ISO certification has a quality management system in place.”
The benefits of obtaining ISO certification have been two-fold, Cochran added. “As a sales and marketing tool, it’s something they needed to have,” he said. “They also recognized that it would bolster internal efficiency and management.”
“Craig did a great job,” Jeffers said. “I gave him a recommendation on LinkedIn, and I wholeheartedly meant every word of it. The ISO certification he helped us to achieve has certainly helped us when talking to potential customers about our quality standards and has been great for the culture of the company.”