The International Organization for Standardization, better known by its acronym ISO, is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. The ISO family of thousands of standards covers pretty much all aspects of technology and manufacturing. One of the more familiar of those myriad families of standards is ISO 9000 and ISO 9001 in particular, which focuses on quality management systems (QMS). Getting ISO’ed is a big deal, and I’m proud to have helped lead the charge at Nextracker to achieve certification for ISO 9001:2015.
As I said in our press release about earning the ISO certification, every Nextracker solar tracker is designed and built to the highest quality standards. Our ISO 9001:2015 accreditation is confirmation of our demonstrated and ongoing commitment to reliability, quality assurance, the environment, and safety. Although that quote puts a nice bow on things, it doesn’t do justice to the heavy lift that was involved by my teammates across the Nextracker organization to get to the ISO finish line.
After kicking around the idea for a long time and knowing many of our biggest customers were pushing for us to get ISO’ed, we officially began the process in November 2020. We knew we were pretty far down the road to compliance and meeting the needs of our customers with our existing QMS, but we needed fresh independent eyes to assess our efforts and to make sure everything we were doing was best in class.
In December, we conducted “gap assessments” in our own systems and found some gaps associated with certain specific requirements of ISO 9001:2015, such as risk assessment and risk mitigation processes that we did have in place but didn’t have properly documented. One of the keys to the ISO process is “say what you do, do what you say,” which means having everything documented for repeatability and reproducibility and following those documented processes closely. It’s also important to have precise and clear wording in your documentation that aligns with the ISO specifications.
The gap-closing process ran through the first few months of 2021, after which we went right into the all-important audits. The first stage of the audit took a few days, but the second stage was a grueling 7-day stretch of deep-dive, fully focused audits. Our auditors were SGS, the world’s leading testing, inspection, and certification company.
During the audit, nearly all aspects of our business systems were closely scrutinized. Key groups within the company had to document every process involved in what they do. The auditors went through each and every one of those processes we’d written down, to understand what we do, and we had to give examples to prove we do what say. It was a monumental cross-functional team effort. The entire ISO process usually takes a year or so, but we completed it in about 6 months.
While much attention is paid to the quality management part of it, the audit process was more than just a quality review. As noted, it also focused on the broader business management system and customer relations. The questions we faced included:
- Are you able to meet the needs of the customer?
- Are you appropriately hearing their voice and then making products that conform to their needs?
- Can you plan to meet your demand forecast?
- Do you have a strong product development system?
- Do you have a robust supply chain?
- Can you accommodate logistical changes or changes in tariffs that could be occurring from country to country?
- Do you conform to the requirements of local government rules and regulations?
- Have you anticipated the risks and have mitigations in place to deal with them?
Nextracker has grown phenomenally over the past few years – but with growth comes risk. If you don’t have a scalable process, a repeatable process, then you can find yourself in trouble. Getting ISO certified is confirmation that we have the appropriate procedures, documentation, measurement systems and corrective systems in place—a real key to achieving scalability. The other part of 9001 is the customer connection because a company can’t thrive and expand without hearing what the customer has to say and responding to what the customer needs. Believe me, we listen very closely to what our customers are telling us and have the documented processes to prove it.
Achieving ISO 9001 is by no means an end in itself, it is just the beginning: it provides the solid foundation and continuous improvement mindset on which we’re building our efforts to obtain additional ISO and other certifications. We are already working on two other ISOs–ISO 14001:2015 (for environmental management) and ISO 45001 (for occupational health and safety management)–and expect to have the audits completed and the certifications signed off before the end of the year. This ISO journey is one of the keys to our continuing success as we scale toward our first 100 GW of shipments and installed capacity.
Tony Seng is senior manager of quality engineering at Nextracker and has worked at the company since 2015.