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What is certification supposed to do?
December 23, 2010
Dear Control Engineering: I was looking at the Automation Integrator Guide, and the term “CSIA Certified” comes up again and again. What does that mean?
You’ve probably heard the old maxim: Plan your work and work your plan. This basic concept is at the heart of certification programs. Whether you’re certified by ISO, CSIA, FDA, or other regulatory body, the common element is that you perform your work functions consistently and according to a plan.
The certification body will outline the nature of the functions that are relevant to the certification, and then you fill in the details of how those particular jobs are to be done in a series of procedures. Individual workers that perform those jobs then receive appropriate training.
For example, let’s say you’re a company that makes ½-inch hex nuts on a screw machine. The procedure for making the nuts will specify things like what material is appropriate, applicable dimensional tolerances, and how often the operator is supposed to check the threads with a gage. The company order processing department will need to say how orders are to be entered into the system, how to make changes, shipping procedures, and so forth. The point of all this is to make sure you do those jobs the same way every time. The certification body audits your company to observe what goes on and talk to people doing the work to make sure they understand and follow the correct procedures. If everybody works the plan, you get certified. Auditors return at various time intervals to make sure you are still following your procedures.
System integrators have procedures that are relevant to the kind of work they do. They cover functions like dealing with customer specifications, how to document changes, purchasing, and the like.
Certification doesn’t mean that a manufacturer always makes a quality product or that a system integrator will always find the best solution to a problem. What it is supposed to do is make sure that your internal structures will not interfere with that possibility, and that you perform consistently.
As a customer, certification means that your supplier has created systems that ensure consistency and clarity. It also says that the people you are working with are trained in their jobs and know what they’re doing. If you work in very specialized industries, such as a nuclear power plant, it says that the supplier understands the pecularities of your requirements. The integrators themselves do a better job of explaining this in the video interview with the System Integrator of the Year winners. That will fill in some additional details.
Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com