Lacks First To Integrate Systems

September 22, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — A certain amount of backslapping has been going on at the area plants of Lacks Enterprises Inc.

That's because the firm now is regarded as the first U.S. manufacturer to fully certify and integrate its quality, environmental, health and safety, and laboratory management systems.

Lacks — a Tier 1 auto supplier with 13 plants and nearly 2,000 workers in Grand Rapids and its environs — recently received certification in the ISO 14001 environmental management standard and the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 specification.

Too, Lacks reports having integrated the requirements for these systems with its existing QS 9000 quality management system and ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory policies and procedures. 

Lacks reportedly is the first automotive supplier and one of only a handful of U.S. manufacturers to earn both ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification.

The firm — comprised of Lacks Trim Systems, Lacks Wheel Trim Systems, and Plastic Plate Inc. — also is an electronics and telecommunications industry supplier. 

Lacks reports that it stands alone in certification of lab, environmental, quality, and health and safety systems in its corporate facilities.

"We believe qualification in these standards is a key to doing business in today's global markets," said Douglas Evans, senior vice president and general manager for Lacks Trim Systems and Plastic Plate Inc. "They give us a competitive edge. 

"These standards help ensure that we're providing a healthy and safe workplace for our employees, that we're doing what is right for the environment, and that we are producing the highest quality products for our customers."

Lacks management pioneered efforts to certify and integrate all its management systems beginning in 2001 when adapting systems to qualify for certification in the ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory policies and procedures. 

Evans said Lacks developed certification policy statements calling for implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient integrated management system. Cross-functional employee teams planned and managed implementation and maintenance of the systems.

Karla Haverkamp, corporate QS 9000 management representative at Lacks, explained to the Business Journal that quality certification requires well-defined processes and critical procedures. "Most of the elements were there," she said.

"We evaluated what we were already doing, adjusted processes or tools so they conformed to the requirements, and started to take credit for the good things we had already implemented."

Haverkamp said the resulting certified integrated system involves all aspects of the corporation, from components to process, and from managers to plant maintenance.

Haverkamp's office is more or less the corporate certification clearinghouse. She explained that when any department plans to undertake any new process — be it operations or administration — it forwards those proposals to her office to be checked against all certifications protocols.

Perhaps this explains why Richard J. Powals, P.E, says Lacks is the only company his firm has seen worldwide that integrates the operation of all the certified management systems. Powals is the 14000/18000 program manager with Perry Johnson Registrars Inc., the independent certification body that conducted the Lacks audits. 

"Not only," he said, "do they have all the systems and all the certifications — quality, environmental, health and safety, and lab management — they have integrated all the systems extraordinarily well."

Haverkamp said that integration of those management systems confers strong benefits, both upon Lacks and its customers.

She said integration has enhanced Lacks' ability to understand and communicate internationally on quality and environmental matters.

"Our clients are assured," she added, "that they are dealing with a company that is far advanced in both its environmental and health and safety systems. 

"The bottom line is, we've noticed significant improvements in speed, cost, quality and safety. We've seen a marked reduction in product error rate and an equally significant improvement in our just-in-time product shipments.

"Others in the industry thought you couldn't integrate 17025 with the 9000, 14001 and 18001," Haverkamp said. "Despite its complexities, the integrated management system supports Lacks' business goals of becoming a more efficient, more competitive organization."

The thing that delights her, she said, is the matter-of-course attitude with which everybody at Lacks accepts the audits.

"You call and they just say, 'We're ready!'"

She said it's her observation that the certification effort at Lacks is accepted fully from entry-level employees to senior executives.

Powals said that while achieving full integration of all the management systems is complex, he believes it is a smart way to work and that other companies will follow Lacks' lead. 

"I'd expect a large variety of financial and other benefits to accrue to Lacks because of this extremely well integrated QEHSL system," he said.

"We foresee the most forward-looking firms in all industries will look toward the same type of integrated system in the future."

To stay ahead of the December 2006 deadline for first-tier auto suppliers to become certified in the new TS 16949:2002 quality management standard, Lacks reports that it is evaluating and adapting its QS 9000 quality management system and will seek certification in December.           

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