A manufacturer of any product must always constantly monitor output quality to ensure finished goods meet applicable standards and any specifications demanded by customers. Equally important is to ensure that manufacturing excellence delivers products which are competitive in the marketplace. High quality at competitive prices whilst still delivering good stakeholder returns is paramount to business success.
How can a business ensure that these objectives are met?
Regular and comprehensive testing as part of the quality control process is key to achieving business success in the manufacturing environment. Rigorous testing processes not only ensure customer satisfaction but can drive down manufacturing costs.
It was these fundamental principles that led my company to begin a journey that would last 10 years but ultimately allow a small manufacturing company to compete at the very top of our industry.
Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete or GRC as it is more commonly known (GFRC in the United States), is a complex composite that shares more in common with high-tech aerospace materials than other forms of cementitious-based manufactured products. Over the last 50 years testing methods have been developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the International Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete Association (GRCA) and the American Standards and ASTM International.
From the start of our newly-formed manufacturing business, we decided testing was to be at the heart of our operations, allocating a high percentage of the initial capital costs to testing equipment. The ultimate aim was to attain UKAS accreditation and become the first laboratory in the UK to become accredited to ISO 17025 for GRC testing.
Working with BSI we attained ISO 9001 accreditation in 2012 and this provided the foundation for our progression to finally attaining ISO 17025 accreditation in 2018.
Our rigorous approach was questioned by many in the GRC industry, as we not only tested to accepted standards more frequently than is required but also introduced several test methods where no current standards existed. It did, however, bring us major commercial benefits which far outweighed the costs of both establishing our laboratory and attaining UKAS accreditation.
With a collection of test data which far exceeded most if not all of our competitors, we were able to modify mix designs to achieve consistent and increased material properties. This had the benefit of then allowing our design engineers to use accurate and reliable data for engineering analysis input. The overall result was a reduction in production costs which more than contributed to those attributable to operating our laboratory.
A high level of testing and investment in laboratory equipment will, of course, also present a manufacturer with the opportunity to promote that customers can have high levels of confidence in product output. In the construction industry, where contracts can be worth millions, clients who can see high investment in testing are much more likely to place orders and contracts with such organisations provided they can compete financially.
This combination of lowering costs through a rigorous testing process and providing confidence to buyers is a powerful combination in winning business and this certainly proved the case for our company. Recently we sold our manufacturing business and independent testing company to a large multinational. One of the primary reasons for the acquisition was directly connected to our investment in testing.
We are now starting our journey again, albeit this time with a much shorter timeframe targe! Our new company, The GRC Centre Ltd, is a global GRC consultancy offering help and assistance to anyone involved in the manufacture or use of this amazing composite. As part of the service, we will again be offering independent and impartial testing and are currently building a new laboratory, which we hope will be UKAS accredited during 2023.
We have been a member of the British Measurement and Testing Association since 2018. We first came across the association through our UKAS accreditation when I was invited to speak at a BMTA event pre-Covid. The subject was our journey to full ISO 17025 accreditation. I hadn’t realised but it appears we were one of the first organisations to be accredited to the new 2017 standard.
Our involvement has made me realise that our journey to accreditation could have been made much simpler if we had benefitted from being able to access help and advice from such an organisation.
It was with great pleasure that I was invited to stand as a Council Member of the BMTA and duly elected in January of this year.
I am hoping that during my time on Council, we can encourage manufacturers of all types of products to develop their laboratory testing and perhaps assist them in attaining UKAS 17025 accreditation which I personally believe benefits not only the particular company but also their customers.