Case study for implementing ISO 9001 in furniture production

This simple example will help you understand the challenges of implementing ISO 9001 in a small or midsize furniture production company and give some inspiration in your implementation project.

Case study

The company started as a small workshop 10 years ago, and since then has grown to 200 employees and has managed to export 90% of its products to foreign markets, especially Japan and Sweden. Having such substantial growth created numerous problems in managing the company, and an increase of nonconforming products and customer complaints. Facing a threat of losing its customers abroad and increasing costs of removing nonconformities led them to implementation of ISO 9001.

Planning phase

Determining context of the organization – The growing demand from its foreign customers led to an increase of production and hiring new employees every year, but as the CEO once stated, he sees “no benefit in administrative workers; all I need are the people working on the machines and producing furniture.” Bad hiring policies led to a lack of qualified personnel and the middle management in the company, so the company had a simple and ineffective company structure with a lack of human resources in mid management.

Identifying interested parties and their requirements – As previously mentioned, the company mainly exports to Sweden and Japan. The Swedish customer had simple requirements and they were mostly regarding quality of the surfaces and the type of wood used in the production. However, the Japanese customer required chairs and tables for kindergartens, so he had more strict requirements for type of materials used in the production (e.g., rubber is sent from Japan and bolts are demanded to be imported from Denmark). All these requirements, along with local legislations regarding occupational health and safety and disposal of chemicals, are taken into account when determining interested parties and their requirements. For each requirement, a set of controls is implemented throughout the entire production process.

Leadership – In order to address the lack of mid management, the company hired two production managers with previous experience in the furniture industry and with ISO 9001; they helped with defining the production process along with defining roles and responsibilities within the process. The employees working in the process were relieved, because now they knew exactly what was expected from them.

Do phase

Requirements for products – One of the biggest problems in the company was the complete lack of any kind of documentation and documentation management. Instead of using drawings and the product specifications, they had a sample of each product and took measurements from them in order to produce new products. The company even purchased the cutting-edge CNC machine, but without digital drawings of the products they couldn’t use it properly. The engineer who was hired previously understood the need for systematization of the documentation and digitalization of the drawings, but being the only person in the mid management he never found the time to complete it.

Production process – People working in the production were highly skilled, but poorly managed. Without precise procedures and work instructions, they were never sure what they needed to do and often relied on the CEO’s wishes rather than job descriptions. Creating a documented procedure for production helped to define all activities in the process and get the process under control. Handling of customer property was one of the biggest weaknesses, especially in the case of the Japanese customer. The rubber and the bolts required to be used in the products were often misplaced and the wrong parts were incorporated into the product, which led to a lot of nonconformities and complaints. This issue was also addressed with the production procedure.

Check and Act phases

Monitoring, measuring, analysis, and evaluation – When asked what was measured and when, the answer was usually “when needed.” There were no strict and precise instructions on what should be monitored and measured, and when, and the employees were relying mostly on their experience. After examination of the product drawings, the engineer defined values of the pressure in the press and the pressure and time applied for gluing different parts of products. All this information was also added to the production procedure and work instructions. At the end of the production process, they had a simple quality check where one employee looked at the products to identify flaws and mistakes, but very often he didn’t know where to look and what requirements the product needed to meet. So, a checklist for inspection was created for every type of product, which was particularly important to meet the requirements of the Japanese customer.

Handling nonconformities and customer complaints – Nonconformities identified were never analyzed and instead of removing the cause, they simply created a new product. The worst was with customer complaints, because the products were shipped far away and they couldn’t be repaired, only replaced, so every complaint meant a huge loss to the company. Implementing a process for managing nonconformities and corrective actions was very beneficial to the company, because they later discovered the flaws of the gluing process and managed to prevent further nonconformities.

Awareness is the key

The company mentioned here was struggling with its problems for a long time and although it looked successful from the outside, it was on the brink of collapse. Great human resource deficiencies with a lack of process control could turn this nice story into tragedy. However, the top management realized that these things needed to change, and they embraced ISO 9001 as a tool for overcoming their challenges. Most of the companies that implement ISO 9001 lack this little detail, awareness of the top management. Without it, no profound change and no improvements can be made in the company regardless of its success and current state.

Download this free Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 9001:2015 to learn about the structure of documents needed for QMS implementation.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.