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NQIs in the Commonwealth

IN commemoration of World Standards Day 2019 and later World Quality Month, welcome to the second in a three-part series on the importance of national quality systems and procedures to promoting trade, protecting consumers and safeguarding the environment. In this feature, we spotlight how countries in the Commonwealth have used their National Quality Infrastructure to support the growth of key sectors and ensure that the products offered within, entering or leaving a country are fit for use or purpose.

As we saw last week, a National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) is national framework that guides the production of local goods and services based on agreed standards that follow international benchmarks. Simply put, it is a network of interconnected and interdependent public and private organisations, responsible for ensuring the quality, safety and environmental soundness of goods, services and processes in a country. The organisations, activities and people in a country’s NQI work together to create quality policies and legislation, develop standards, verify conformity to standards, ensure the accuracy of measurements, and assure technical competence in conformity assessment procedures. Through these quality control and assurance activities, the NQI ensures that products and services offered within, entering or leaving a country are fit for use or purpose.

Few Caribbean nations have a strong NQI framework. Thankfully work is being done in several CARICOM Member States to change this, with the support of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ). This is especially important as Caribbean nations make steady strides to improve their competitiveness in the global economy. Despite incremental improvements, the reality remains that many goods and services offered in our local markets would be denied access to regional and international markets without meeting the standards and requirements of importing countries. The tides need to shift so that the goods produced by Caribbean businesses can effectively compete.

A few of the 53 Commonwealth Member States have well-developed National Quality Infrastructures (NQIs) that position them to trade competitively in the global marketplace. The United Kingdom and Australia are Commonwealth countries with well-developed NQIs that give these countries the “quality” advantage. Understanding the strengths of the NQIs in these countries will also help you be an advocate for NQI development and implementation in your own country. Let’s take a closer look.

The United Kingdom (UK)
Two industries contribute significantly to the UK’s economy: services and manufacturing. In 2017, 17.93 percent of the UK’s GDP came from the services sector while 70.56 percent of the UK’s GDP came from manufacturing. While there have been economic tensions since the Brexit vote in 2016, this has not compromised its well-developed NQI infrastructure.

NQI in the UK
Four organizations work together to implement the UK Quality Infrastructure (UKQI) across industries:
● The Office for Product Safety and Standards (Safety & Standards)
● The British Standards Institution (BSI)
● The National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
● The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS)

They oversee standardisation, testing, measurement, certification and accreditation of businesses across the UK. The UKQI team offers needs analysis for targeted interventions, consultation services for legislators and entrepreneurs, training and technical assistance. They help UK businesses meet international standards with most of the businesses in the manufacturing sector exporting chemicals, food and beverages and tobacco.

Australia:
It seems so far removed from the rest of the world but it has a vibrant mixed-market economy that enables it to effectively compete in the global marketplace. The services sector contributes the most to Australia’s economy; it represents 70 percent of GDP. However, three additional industries also make substantial contributions to Australia’s GDP: tourism, mining and manufacturing. In fact, Australia is a leading producer of natural resources used worldwide such as coal, uranium, iron ore, nickel, bauxite, gold, lead, copper, zinc, mineral sands and diamonds.

Australia’s NQI
Australia’s NQI is dubbed the Standards and Conformance Infrastructure. Four organizations work in tandem to create the standards, measure performance and ensure conformity. These organizations are:
1. The National Measurement Institute (NMI)
2. Standards Australia
3. The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
4. The Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ)

Australia’s NQI is applicable to all industries but contributes most significantly to the mining and manufacturing industries since those industries require strong measurement and standardization practices.

Case Study:
Lobatse Clay Works is one example of a company in the Commonwealth that has utilised and implemented standards to create process efficiencies.

Lobatse Clay Works (LCW) began operating in 1992 as a joint venture between the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) and an American company, Inter-Kiln. In 2004, Inter-Kiln diversified and BDC gained total ownership of LCW. The company produces mainly face bricks, but also window sills and pavers, which are categorized as special bricks. LCW boasts an output of over 30 million items per year and has been a major partner in building Botswana’s infrastructure. They operate in the construction and construction material industry with their main products being bricks; face bricks, pavers and window sills. Their use of quality processes and procedures are used extensively in the production process. Some of the more common standards used by Lobatse Clay Works include:

• BOS 28, Burnt clay masonry units (based on South African national standard
SANS 227), which defines requirements for product characteristics and test methods
• BOS ISO 9001, Quality management systems
• BOS OHSAS 18001, Occupational health and safety management systems
They are also preparing for ISO 9001 certification.
One has to ask the question: what were the major benefits for Lobatse Clay Works of using standards? It’s a question most companies will ask. For some the answers are obvious.

For Lobatse Clay Works it has allowed them to improve on many aspects of their production process including:
• Calibration of its equipment and keeping it in good working order
• Increasing the conformance rate of raw materials received from suppliers
• Improving the production process, minimizing product failures
• Reducing the number of incidents causing health and safety issues
Standards have helped LCW to focus its operations on a limited number of brick types, which it produces to a consistently high quality.

Quality procedures defining its processes, from the excavation of clay soil to the production of the final bricks and their packaging, storage and delivery to customers, have helped the company streamline its production processes and optimize production runs with fixed settings of the equipment.

Adherence to BOS 28, which defines specifications for different types of bricks, has been key to ensuring consistent quality.

And well, the financial benefits have been tremendous for this company; contributing to an increase of 2.63% of company sales revenue or 4.96% of company EBIT.

The company has also seen a reduction in the number of products bolstered efficiency ; communication within the LCW production unit was made easier and the training of staff was improved by referring to standards.

Putting It All Together
An NQI may wear different faces in countries worldwide but its fundamental premise remains constant. Standardization is crucial for creating products that can compete in the global marketplace. The tides need to shift so that the goods produced by Caribbean businesses can effectively compete. Be the one to succeed where others have failed. Your investment in a continuum of standard and quality management practices- from standards adoption to conformity testing, product, process or whole entity certification to accreditation – is key to ensuring the full advantages of standards adoption are realized and any quality based competitive advantage is maintained.

This article is made possible courtesy of the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ), the Caribbean Development Bank and the Saint Lucia Bureau of Standards.

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