A couple of weeks ago MetalMiner penned a piece on how a small metal service center created strategic differentiation by creating a “supply chain integrator” model. That service center, Klein Steel, went one step further and pursued a national nuclear quality assurance standard called NQA-1 to not only better serve existing customers, but to expand its geographic footprint.
NQA-1 essentially serves as a quality assurance standard for nuclear power plants and fuel reprocessing plants, according to this document published by the US Department of Energy (DOE). The standard encompasses 18 criteria, including organization, design control, procurement document control, identification and control of items, control of non-conforming items, corrective action, quality assurance records and audits, among several others.
“We started down this path specifically for an existing customer with a nuclear division,” said Mark Turek, operations/quality assurance manager and nuclear auditor with Klein Steel. But the company went one step beyond by adding a 24/7 video surveillance system in its nuclear holding area. “NQA-1 has allowed us to process and do pure distribution well beyond our regional geography…in essence, NQA-1 compliance has helped us expand our geographic footprint such that we are even seeing international expansion,” Turek explained.
With this capability, Klein Steel has penetrated new industries, particularly nuclear and energy. How?
By going beyond ISO standards, the capability has opened doors into wind as well as oil and gas. NQA-1 differs from ISO in that it does not include a formal certification process. Rather, it encompasses an audit process in which customers audit suppliers and suppliers audit their suppliers. So for example, as customers require different types of steel and steel grades, they can approach a company like Klein Steel that will go out and identify unique suppliers to get added to Klein’s nuclear-approved list. Klein Steel then integrates these suppliers into its supply chain capability.
Implementing NQA-1: No Walk in the Park
It took Klein Steel 8 months to lock down the procedures and training needed (not to mention an independent auditor) prior to getting any nuclear projects, according to Jim Sloan, head of operations for Klein Steel.
“We had to make a substantial investment both with money and time,” Sloan said. “We couldn’t have done this 10 years ago.” Supplying materials that meet this standard requireds the efforts of the entire organization from the shop floor to the executive suite. “Every process requires documentation and any slight change in anything requires new communication from the front end to the back end,” Sloan explained. “We maintain training records now indefinitely and are able to say who worked what hours and supply proof of that.”
Certainly, others have implemented NQA-1, but for Klein Steel, it has proven to be a game-changer. Tighter regulations mean everyone has to raise their game.
“We aren’t resting on NQA-1,” said Sloan. “We are exploring all ways to better serve our customers.”