NSPE Gateway to Industry Summer 2012
In This Issue of PEI e-News...

Certification or Not... ISO Standards Provide a Marketing Edge

Steve Storts

One of the common discussions among U.S. companies regarding ISO’s global quality standards revolves around the question of certification and its value as an exclusive marketing tool. While ISO certification is a laudable path that many industries choose to pursue, it is not the only option for businesses wishing to promote the quality of their products and services under the umbrella of the International Standards Organization.

Having developed and published more than 19,000 voluntary international standards covering most aspects of technology and business, ISO provides companies with ample opportunities to help make their industries more efficient and effective. However, subscribing to ISO’s state-of-the-art specifications for products, services, and best management practices does not require certification as the endgame. In fact, ISO is not involved in the certification to any of the standards it develops. That service is performed by external, independent certification bodies or registrars, which are largely private.  

Companies pursuing certification of their products, services, or management systems must go through a lengthy review and audit process, one that can take nine to 18 months to complete, or even longer, and cost upwards of $2,000 per day per reviewer or auditor, including travel expenses, plus application fees and later renewal charges. The length and expense of the process depends on such factors as the extent of certification desired and the degree to which a company has already implemented a documented standards-improvement program. When successful, the process results in a company’s certification to ISO standards or requirements, but only the specific products, services, or processes reviewed and audited are certified, nothing else. Also, while companies may proclaim ISO certification through their advertising and marketing efforts, ISO does not permit its logo to be used by anyone in connection with certification.

As an alternative to committing additional time and financial resources to the certification process, some companies simply issue a self-declaration of conformity to ISO standards and then engage in a marketing campaign promoting that declaration. Although they cannot use the words “ISO certified” or “ISO certification” in defining their processes, products, or services, they can still outline and promote their adoption and implementation of ISO standards, requirements, or guidelines. This strategy is especially popular regarding ISO’s family of management system standards: 9000/quality management, 1400/environmental management, and 3100/risk management. It is important to note, though, that these standards specify requirements for a management system, not the technical specifications of any products or services.

Currently, ISO’s independent organizational structure encompasses a global mix of members from national standards bodies representing 164 countries. The United States is represented by the American National Standards Institute. Two of ANSI’s standards that are characteristic to U.S. industry were used as source material, along with other countries’ guidelines, in developing the ISO 9000 quality management series, still one of the most accessed set of standards. It is currently reported that more than 20,000 businesses in the United States are ISO 9000 certified.

Whether or not a company chooses to seek certification, the value of ISO’s standards alone remains as an exclusive marketing tool for participating enterprises. International standards help harmonize technical specifications of products and services, making industry more efficient and breaking down barriers to international trade. ISO reports that 80% of world trade is impacted by international standards, and that an 84% reduction in global transportation time has been realized due to standardization of shipping containers. Conformity to ISO standards also assist in reassuring consumers that products are safe, efficient, and good for the environment.

Aside from the overall benefits of cost savings, enhanced customer satisfaction, access to new markets, and increased environmental sustainability, there is an added benefit of ISO certification for U.S. industries under the 9000 series. Certification reduces the concept of multiple-supplier audits because it helps to eliminate organizational paperwork and manpower shortages that can result from having to continually review the quality of supplier products and services.  

Moreover, certification can help to limit the liability of losses through litigation, according to legal sources. When a company’s quality system is under control, the elements relating to potential customer injury from products during actual use are going to be minimized. Punitive damages can also be reduced or even eliminated because a company cannot be cited for dereliction of responsibility in monitoring the quality system that produces the products.

Undoubtedly, the number of U.S. companies considering ISO standards as quality and performance guidelines is on the rise, if for no other reason than to be more competitive in both domestic and international business. And it is projected that more contractual obligations between companies, customers, and suppliers in the future will require ISO certification, or at the very least, legitimate declarations of conformity to ISO standards and best practices.

Today, virtually all global continents have embraced ISO standards to some extent within their public agencies and private industries, and U.S. companies are increasing their certification activities for specific products and services, not just their quality management systems. The Federal Drug Administration was a staunch advocate for adherence to ISO standards as far back as the 1990s. ISO consultants suggest that U.S. companies consider certification if they deal 50% or more with European and Asian business enterprises, and particularly if a European or Asian operation contributes more than half the value of a product manufactured or service offered in the United States.

Christopher J. Scolese, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, summarizes, “People sometimes forget that standards evolve with time. This is a job that ISO and the ISO community do very well. They adapt as we learn things. International standards are the repository of our knowledge.... They explain it and maintain it well; they are the caretakers.

“At the same time, we are constantly learning and updating our standards. This is done through a formal process to make sure that everyone understands the same thing. Our duty is to communicate the correct information, not only to the current generation of engineers, but to future generations of engineers and scientists.”


Happenings on the Hill

  • NSPE joined an international group of engineering societies in endorsing the U.N.'s "Sustainable Energy for All" initiative. The program seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double energy efficiency rates worldwide, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

  • NSPE cosponsored the 2012 Engineering Public Policy Symposium, which was held in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering Convocation and the American Association of Engineering Societies Awards. Entitled "Outlook for Federal Funding of Research and Development," the symposium featured remarks by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Patrick Gallagher, Acting Undersecretary of Energy Arun Majumdar, Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13) and Rush Holt (D-NJ-12), and National Science Foundation Engineering Directorate Deputy Assistant Director Kesh Narayanan.

  • The USA Science & Engineering Festival was held in Washington, D.C., in April. NSPE was a festival partner and sponsored a booth featuring an engineering activity where children and parents built catapults for launching Ping Pong balls while learning about engineering design and simple machines. The festival has gained the support of the president and has an honorary congressional host committee of 22 senators and 73 representatives.

  • NSPE met with representatives from the Society of Afghan Architects and Engineers. SAAE President and Kabul University professor Jamil Khalid, Afghanistan Ministry of Public Works procurement officer Dalia Akbarmir, and ManSab International Vice President Ahmad Wali Shairzay discussed the challenges of organizing an association for design professionals.

    SAAE was founded by a group of Afghan architects and engineers in 2005 to advance the architectural, engineering, and related professions through high standards of professional practice and ethical conduct. The organization seeks to help build capacity in Afghanistan through training and education to meet the present needs of reconstruction and the long-term needs of sustainable development.

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NSPE Education On Demand

Learn how to communicate more clearly, both verbally and in writing. Find out how to cut costs and take better control of your bottom line. Learn more about how to approach decision making in an ethical manner, and how the history of these decisions can give you perspective on your own challenges. Finally, get your ethics requirements covered by the authority on the subject.

Each of our archived Web seminars is $69 for nonmembers and $35 for members.

Visit our Web site to see a full list of our archived Web seminars.  [ return to top ]

NSPE Aims to Define Body of Knowledge

NSPE leaders are in the beginning stages of drafting a document that will detail the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary for practice as a professional engineer.

NSPE's Engineering Body of Knowledge, once adopted, would serve as a formal statement on the level of achievement professional engineers should demonstrate in various topics and skills. While other organizations have developed discipline-specific bodies of knowledge, NSPE's BOK would aim to be applicable to all engineering disciplines. The multiyear effort is being led by NSPE's Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee.

The first draft of the NSPE Engineering BOK covers three areas: guiding principles affecting practice as an engineer in the future, key attributes of the engineer of the future, and outcomes. Once the draft has been reviewed internally and comments have been received, informal comments will be sought from other engineering organizations.

Read more in the blog posting "NSPE Engineering Body of Knowledge Outline: First Draft."  [ return to top ]

Software PE Exam Set to Launch in 2013

In April 2013, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying will begin offering annually a PE exam in software engineering. NCEES partnered with IEEE-USA and was assisted by the IEEE Computer Society, NSPE, representatives from PEI, and the Texas Board of Professional Engineers—a group known as the Software Engineering Consortium—to develop the exam.

IEEE will publish study materials later this year, and registration for the first exam administration is scheduled to open in December. The exam specifications, which indicate the knowledge areas to be tested and the percentage of emphasis, are available on the NCEES Web site.

The consortium has worked since 2007 to spread the word about the importance of software engineering licensure for work that affects the public health, safety, and welfare. In 1998, Texas became the first state to license software engineers and remains the only U.S. jurisdiction to provide this license. The Texas Board of Professional Engineers ended the experience-only path to software engineering licensure in 2006, and since then licensure candidates have had to take an exam in another discipline. NCEES approved plans to develop the exam in 2009 after it received letters of support from 10 licensing boards, a prerequisite to implementing a new exam.

NCEES also announced that the industrial PE exam will be moved from an October administration to April, beginning next year. The exam offered next year will have new specifications that were developed with the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Study materials for the updated exam will be published in October.

Access information about the software and industrial PE exams at www.ncees.org/exams
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The Role of the Consulting Engineer

The Guides were created to bridge the broad development of the young engineer who enters a private practice firm from the education received in school to the practical knowledge needed for a typical professional practice. A secondary goal of the publication is to assist in preparing professional engineers from other practice areas such as industry, education, and government, for entry into private practice. 

The Guides can be used on either an individual basis or for group discussions within a firm. Entry level engineers using the Guides are strongly encouraged to seek out the views of their colleagues and mentors in private practice to supplement the overview provided by the publication. 

Contents include information on:

  • Responsibilities;
  • Forms of organizations;
  • Types of practices;
  • Pitfalls to avoid;
  • Legal and ethical considerations; and
  • Client relations.

Purchase for only $5.95 in the NSPE online shop.  [ return to top ]

Contact the 201112 PEI Executive Board Officers

Curtis A. Beck, P.E.

Stephen A. Hutti, P.E.

Austin Lin, EIT

Immediate Past Chairman
Jonn Nebbe, P.E.

Young Engineer Representative
Peter E. Pisasale, P.E.

NSPE House of Delegates Representative
Richard L. Buchanan, P.E.

Northeastern Region
Thomas J Kesolits P.E.

Southeastern Region

Central Region
Howard R. Jones, P.E.

North Central Region
Donald W. Mitchell, P.E.

Southwestern Region
Neerali J. Desai, P.E.

Western & Pacific Region
Franklin Fong, P.E.

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