Thomasville, Ga. is known as the City of Roses, but it is also home to the North American headquarters of Wilo-EMU, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of water and wastewater pumps. Founded in 1872 by Louis Opländer as a copper and brass goods foundry, the company is now represented in more than 70 countries and employs 6,000 people worldwide. The innovative company – which files up to 20 patent applications annually – plans for Thomasville to be its technology center in North America.
When the Thomasville facility was asked by its German parent company to attain ISO 9001 certification, an international quality management system standard, it turned to the Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top research universities. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute provides comprehensive services to improve the competitiveness of Georgia’s business and industry, including technical and engineering assistance, continuing education courses, facilitation of networks and connecting companies to Georgia Tech resources.
“Some of the customers asked for us to be ISO certified and we figured it was better to go ahead and do it. We wanted to show potential customers that we have ISO 9001 certification and that we already have a process in place and that it’s controlled,” said Paulina Tompea, Wilo-EMU’s Thomasville plant manager. “It’s a benefit for us. It disciplines and teaches employees the processes and the flow to have a good system in place and send a quality product out of the door.”
Craig Cochran, a Georgia Tech quality specialist, assisted Wilo-EMU with developing and implementing its quality management system. Together they reviewed the company’s documentation, developed a system that had a more value-added process and identified training needs. Team members also conducted a gap audit, helped with the development of an implementation plan, assisted with initial internal audits and management review, conducted a pre-assessment audit and corrected system issues prior to the registration audit. Nine Wilo-EMU employees, including Tompea, were certified as internal auditors.
“I had worked with ISO 9001 before, but I looked at it through a manufacturing lens. I had never actually built a system,” recalled Tompea. “Craig conducted the gap analysis in June 2008 and determined we were 50 percent ready, so we had another 50 percent to work on. Craig was a very good trainer and mentor, and he knew how to motivate.”
Wilo-EMU received its ISO 9001 certification in November 2008, less than a year after beginning the project. As a result of the ISO certification, the company expects big results, including a sales increase of between $2 million and $4 million. The company will also add five jobs over the next two years as part of its natural growth.
“When a customer comes in and they see that we are ISO certified, they know they’re going to get something that is consistent,” said Terry Rouse, president and CEO. “I expect it to have a definite impact on our sales, especially out west where we’re not as well-known. It does make a difference.”
The ISO 9001 certification project was not the first time Wilo-EMU had worked with Georgia Tech, however. When the company moved into a 60,000-square-foot facility in Thomasville, lean specialists Sam Darwin and Tom Sammon developed an optimal plant layout by examining space utilization, work flow, processes, material handling and shipping.
In addition, Rouse and Thomas Halstrick, senior vice president of Wilo’s North American operations, visited the Georgia Tech campus to hear about hydraulics research being conducted in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. The connection was made via Greg King of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Partners Office, an “industry-centric” doorway that can link companies to leading-edge resources, applying Georgia Tech faculty know-how, specialized facilities and student talent to such goals as new product development, improved competitiveness and transformation of industrial processes.
“We spend about three percent of our revenue on research and development, and we utilize universities in Europe,” said Rouse. “We wanted to make a connection here in the states because there are issues that will be different here than in Europe. It’s been a good relationship so far with Georgia Tech.”
The next step for Wilo-EMU is to become certified in ISO 14001, the international specification for an environmental management system that outlines requirements for a company’s environmental policy. The standard exists to help organizations minimize their impact on the environment and comply with applicable laws and regulations. Tompea said she has already contacted Cochran about providing assistance in this area.
“From the beginning, Wilo-EMU’s focus was on creating a system that drove customer loyalty and that would support additional business growth,” noted Cochran. “The workforce embraced the common-sense control and discipline of ISO 9001 without missing a beat.”
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright