July 2012 / published in GTS-Strahl 27  

Quality – Environment – Safety
An excerpt from the work of the Quality Committee
or “quality reloaded”

Jens Putzier, Head of the GTS Quality Committee

Jens Putzier

1991. In the thermal spray calendar, year 1 before GTS. Even if everyone on the thermal spray scene knows and respects each other and has the chance to exchange ideas and work together on different committees, when it comes to business, we are adversaries rather than fellow contenders. If we meet someone on the street whom we consider to be a competitor, we are more likely to cross the street than to go and drink a beer together.

1991. In the quality assurance calendar, year 4 after ISO 9001 was first published. Large businesses require their suppliers to introduce an appropriate quality management system. Small businesses are faced with the challenge of understanding, implementing and living out these systems.

For medium-sized thermal spray companies, it is the same as in other sectors: suppliers are not demanding ISO 9001 yet; it is more like the sword of Damocles, i.e. the expectation that quality management measures in the automotive industry will sooner or later spill over into the depths of engineering. A gut feeling that what is about to come will be difficult, will cost money, and with the awareness that we have always delivered the best quality anyway, that everything is totally superfluous. And what’s more, in a certified company, not one single coating will be any better than before!

At this time, there is hardly an owner or director of a small thermal spray business who recognizes the opportunities offered, let alone that long-term investment will save a lot of expense and that money can even be earned by enhancing corporate workflow.

1991. But one thing is clear to the “good” thermal sprayer: the thermal spray market is full of charlatans, alchemists – in short “backyard businesses” which deliver poor quality, ruin the market and the good reputation of thermal spraying for sure.

1992. A handful of farsighted thermal sprayers recognizes the chance to take control by way of a quality management system designed for thermal spraying. The necessity to introduce ISO 9001 combined with a unique QM system tailored to thermal spraying, along with a handbook and operating instructions par excellence, and then to offer this commercially appealing package as a unique selling proposition – what an ingenious idea. And so by concentrating on the core elements of ISO 9001 combined with mechanisms which promise a truly better product – all within a strong community of friends instead of rivals – a vision becomes the driving force which leads to the foundation of GTS.

2012. In the thermal spray calendar, year 20 after GTS was born. An ingenious idea has become self-evident. The GTS QM system has become the unique quality standard for thermal spraying worldwide. The greater majority of GTS members “lives out” its QM system and has advanced its company and the community of GTS members, too – not only in terms of quality. Many have expanded their GTS QM system by including the additional building blocks of ISO 9001 in its entirety. A “we” feeling has emerged and the conviction that we are a community which has made thermal spraying known on the market and established and secured it as a high-grade manufacturing process.

2012. In the quality assurance calendar, year 25 after the introduction of ISO 9001. Practically every company now has a QM system in accordance with ISO 9001, whether certified or not. It would be strange if quality assurance had not progressed. From systems strictly focused on quality assurance, integrated systems have now developed which go far beyond mere quality. The environment and safety are issues which are statutorily regulated on the one hand and have a recognized influence on quality on the other hand. Here, standards and systems have also been created which illustrate these issues – ISO 14001 for the environment, BS OHSAS 18001 for occupational health and safety.

2012. There’s a compelling news program on TV. Things which shape and influence our daily lives are made in Bangladesh, and in front of production facilities which could definitely do with an inspection team and where the state of industrial health and safety, environmental protection and the treatment of staff are clearly not above board, reporters are asking about “CSR”. You shudder, vow and declare you will never buy a cheap T-shirt again and are decidedly uneasy when the question comes up: How can I distinguish between a T-shirt from a good or an evil manufacturer. CSR, what was that again? A quality seal for the goodies? You read up: CSR means Corporate Social Responsibility, i.e. a company’s impact on its employees, stakeholders, etc.

You are probably thinking: in view of globalization, it’s good that large enterprises ensure that people in faraway countries do not have to suffer because of the things we buy. But obviously some manufacturers do not really care about what you think is fair.

2012. One of your most important customers, a global player in engineering, sends you a link to a supplier questionnaire. Not again, you think. The same questions over and over: how do you control documents and who is responsible for procurement; you can’t stand it. It’s good that you can simply fill in: certified in accordance with GTS and ISO 9001. That already makes the effort worthwhile. But then there are more questions: how do you handle hazardous substances, how can you guarantee safety at work, how is co-determination (of employees) regulated in your company, whether you have taken measures to save energy. Why do they suddenly want to know all of this? And whether by chance you are certified according to ISO 14001. This all leaves you with a strange aftertaste.

Systems for environmental management and industrial health and safety are expensive, we have no time, no customer demands certification, it goes without saying that we work in a safe and environmentally friendly manner and that an expensive certificate doesn’t make the thermal spray coating any better. And of course you are popular as a boss. Does something twig? You remember the questionnaire which you naturally didn’t fill in because of all the strange questions and you call your customer’s contact person. No, of course you don’t need to fulfil all of the points today, but the company’s Board has decided that, due to environmental activities and its responsibility towards society, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) takes extremely high priority. We have established a global network of production facilities and sales offices, and purchased materials internationally. Now we need standards that are valid worldwide. In five years from now, fulfilling requirements concerning occupational health and safety, environmental protection, etc. will be an important criterion for choosing a supplier. So, are you one of the good suppliers worldwide?

2017. What was your decision? Did you wait and see? Or did you recognize the opportunity and learn something from GTS history?

The GTS Executive Board has realized that dealing with the fundamental issues of environmental protection and industrial health and safety offers the Association of Thermal Sprayers a tremendous opportunity. Due to their statutory regulations, Germany and Europe are already among the front runners in these fields in international comparisons.

Why not sell what we are already “living out” now as a benefit? A business already fulfils most aspects of ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001 by observing the statutory regulations. Complete certification according to both sets of rules is, of course, expensive and time-consuming and not yet necessary for most GTS member companies at the moment.

But if we have learnt something from the history of GTS, we know that all we have to do is the same as in 1992: to integrate the important core elements of the new set of rules into GTS certification so that a real benefit for members results which can be expanded, at any time, to a completely certified integrated QM system, quickly and without loss of resources.

In the next few months, the Quality Committee will be putting together a proposal for integrating the most important aspects of ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001 and presenting it to GTS members.

2012. You read the newspaper: the German government has amended §41 of the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG). From this year onwards, you can apply for a limitation of the EEG apportionment (share of costs) starting at a minimum consumption of 1 gigawatt hour of electricity and really save money. If, in the next few years, you were to undergo certification in accordance with ISO 50001, you could furnish proof that you have taken the necessary measures to save energy. Your electricity consumption in 2011 was 500,000 kWh (i.e. 0.5 GWh) and your business is expanding. This concerns all of us, doesn’t it?
Could GTS not …?

Links to the topic:
How GTS is organized / GTS Quality Commitee
GTS-Strahl 27
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Last updated: 22.12.16 Home Copyright (C) 2012 GTS e.V.