Georgia Tech Assistance Boosts Battery Company
Help with ISO (international standards) certification increases sales
Posted October 20, 2006 | Atlanta, GA
When U.S. Battery Manufacturing Co. wanted to enhance its competitiveness by obtaining ISO (International Standards Organization) certification, company officials turned to Georgia Tech for help.
Founded in California in 1926 and later expanded into Evans, Ga., in 1986, and further expanded into south Augusta in 2000, U.S. Battery produces deep-cycle batteries servicing the golf cart industry, sweeper-scrubber market, aerial lifts, commercial marine use and special applications.
Although the company was profitable, management knew there was room for improvement across the board. U.S. Battery's challenge was to figure out how to increase production with a minimal investment of new resources, but without sacrificing quality.
"They knew where they wanted to go, but they didn't know how to get there," says Elliot Price, region manager in the Augusta office of Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute.
That destination for U.S. Battery was the ISO 9001-2000 standard for quality management systems. It mandates a number of requirements an organization must meet to achieve customer satisfaction through consistent products and services that meet customer expectations. Georgia Tech helped the company obtain ISO certification three years ago for its two manufacturing plants in Georgia.
"They had no formal quality management systems or system to look at opportunities to improve their processes," Price explains. "Everything was informal, and because of that there were chronic problems in the facility and a lot of hidden costs to the company."
To get U.S. Battery started in the right direction, Georgia Tech helped the company implement a documented system based on the ISO 9001-2000 standard that addresses inefficiencies in manufacturing by first providing a clear, impartial picture of how processes are actually working, according to Price. "At that point, they can determine whether those were the best ways to do things or not," he explains. "They could get a feel for what processes could be changed to make the overall manufacturing scheme more efficient and more effective."
Georgia Tech also coached company employees on implementing the documentation system so that everyone followed it, he adds.
The objectivity of the ISO process was essential, according to company President Terry Agrelius.
"The certification helped us look at some vital factors that served as focal points for achieving our corporate goals without letting feelings or the touchy-feely stuff get in the way," he says. "We could start measuring and monitoring ourselves through those corporate objectives to increase the output without increasing the burden to the company."
Pursuit of ISO certification is a long process that began in earnest for U.S. Battery in 2002, when a handful of employees attended a Georgia Tech-sponsored workshop on internal quality auditing. Bruce Eaton, U.S. Battery's quality control manager, was among the first group of attendees.
"Our domestic customers were the ones encouraging us to obtain ISO certification," says Eaton, noting that the company also sells batteries all over the world. "And Georgia Tech has been involved with that effort every step of the way since the beginning."
Education and development through classes and workshops are major certification requirements. U.S. Battery employees have taken advantage of Enterprise Innovation Institute education opportunities with instruction - usually conducted in Augusta but occasionally at the Atlanta campus - on numerous substantive topics including the aforementioned internal quality auditing, plus customer satisfaction, continual improvement, root-cause analysis and environmental issues.
Also, Tech helped the company conduct a pre-assessment - a dry-run of its quality management procedures to ensure compliance with the ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q9001-2000 international standard before the system is opened up to the ISO registration auditor.
"We walked right though it," grins Eaton.
One of the hidden resources uncovered by the work was employee involvement through their valuable ideas, solutions and approaches, according to Eaton.
"We thought we had - quote - employee involvement," he says, "but it wasn't to the degree required by the ISO standard. But employee involvement has played a major role in reducing our costs."
Employee buy-in was also important, Agrelius says, in part because it empowered everyone to look deeper into the process.
"From the points of view of management and labor, we had a central focus and central goals that we used as the methodology to come to a lot of resolutions," he says.
Lessons learned and applied from the ISO certification process have proven their worth by helping keep the company upright in stormy times.
"We were really hurting at the beginning of 2006," Eaton notes. "The price of lead had gone so high that we were almost giving batteries away. The profit margin had been squeezed right out of them." But U.S. Battery weathered the market far better than it would have pre-ISO, Eaton says.
Process improvements along with falling lead prices have also made good times better, Eaton adds. "Our quality system is recognized across the world and it has tremendous dollar value for the company. Sales have gone up each year since we've been certified."
Agrelius credits the company's improved performance and increased stability on U.S. Battery's management team, its labor force - and Georgia Tech.
"We had a great facilitator in Elliot, whose understanding of the ISO program brought many things to light for us," he says. "The ISO program was like opening a door to a whole new arena of high-caliber events that we would have been unable to touch without the assistance of Georgia Tech."
For more information about Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute assistance with quality and international standards, please contact Elliot Price (706-737-1415); E-mail: (email@example.com) or Tim Israel (404-894-2272); E-mail: (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact your nearest Georgia Tech Regional Office.
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Writer: Gary Goettling