August 14, 2006 — /inTEST/ — CHERRY HILL, NJ — inTEST Corporation (Nasdaq: INTT), a world leader in developing and manufacturing equipment that reduces the cost of semiconductor testing, announced today that its tester interface division, inTEST Silicon Valley, has been re-certified to the rigorous ISO 9001-2000 standard. The division received its original certification in 2003.
“ISO 9000 certification is very important to us,” said Dale Christman, General Manager of inTEST Silicon Valley. “In fact, being a market leader demands it. Most of the companies we work with, especially our larger customers, either require supplier certification or have a strong preference for it. We consider it a very high priority.”
Many of these customers, in addition to expecting ISO 9000 certification, also conduct their own audits of supplier quality. inTEST Silicon Valley gains an advantage here, too, by being ISO certified. “We’re ready,” said Leonard Torres, the company’s Operations Manager, “because of the very high quality standards that we maintain continuously through the ISO 9000 program. It reaches into a tremendous number of our internal processes and procedures, affecting virtually every aspect of our business.”
The center of this on-going quality program is the customer. “ISO 9000 certification is designed to assure our customers of an extremely high level of product consistency,” said Torres.” That means we have to stay in close touch with them after we ship, to make sure they are getting the high quality they expect.” The company uses a variety of means to follow-up with customers, including visits by sales people, survey questionnaires sent out by mail, reply cards sent out with product shipments, and follow-up telephone interviews.
“Any quality question raised by a customer is formally turned into an internal project aimed at fixing not just that customer’s concern, but the root cause as well,” explained Torres. “The objective is to make this essentially a closed-loop process, ending with a fix that prevents any recurrence.”
Customers like other things about the program, beyond the high quality of the company’s interface products. “Knowing we are ISO 9000 certified gives customers peace of mind,” said Torres. “It’s especially reassuring for customers who don’t have audit teams of their own. And those customers who do audit us have an easier time of it, because many of their metrics are aligned with the ISO 9000 system, making their audits more efficient. The ISO standards also create a common language between us and the auditors, which further simplifies the process.”
There is a big difference between ISO certification and “ISO compliance,” a claim that Torres says is sometimes heard in the industry. “This so-called ‘ISO compliance’ claim is absolutely not ISO certification,” he emphasized. “To maintain true ISO certification, a company must be audited often by ISO-approved outside inspectors. Every six months, auditors conduct a surveillance audit, which checks sampled elements of the quality program. Every three years, there is a full re-certification audit, like the one just conducted for us by Perry Johnson Registrars. This is a complete, top-to-bottom audit to assure full conformity with the rigorous ISO 9001-2000 standard.”
Torres points with pride to the fact that inTEST Silicon Valley maintained its ISO certification despite a number of significant changes in its operation. “We actually moved the entire interface division in February of 2005. Our new facility is extraordinary, featuring a Class 10,000 clean room environment with a degree of cleanliness well above the industry standard. (In fact, it provides a cleaner manufacturing environment than most semiconductor test floors.) We also have a new Probe-Interface Laboratory, an integral machine shop, and a new Reliability Engineering Laboratory, and have increased both manufacturing and stockroom space significantly. Maintaining certification through all this was a challenge, but the inTEST Silicon Valley team did it. Everyone in this company worked doubly hard to make sure that all of these changes were put in place in strict conformance with ISO standards.”
Samuel Lee, Quality Manager at inTEST Silicon Valley, noted that the company has a Continuous Process Improvement Program (CPIP) designed to make quality improvement a part of everyday life throughout the company. “This program begins with the creation of a document that identifies current performance, setting a baseline for comparison. We then set specific improvement goals and a program of action for implementing the improvements,” said Lee. “We also created a ‘Tiger Team’ to identify any weaknesses in the quality process and propose corrective action. The whole effort is extremely pro-active.”
Lee said that there are numerous parameters used by the company to monitor quality performance. “Not only do we develop metrics to better understand our performance, we also post these around the company, so everyone can see how we’re doing. People take real pride in seeing them up there, knowing that the company’s performance is really their own.”
Among the many metrics tracked are on-time delivery, incoming quality (the company also audits many of its own suppliers), shipments vs. returns, in-process first-pass yield, outgoing first-pass yield, and more. All of them are tied into an aggressive program of root-cause analysis, so if any metric goes over a predetermined control limit, the event automatically triggers a meeting to determine the root cause and take corrective action.
Dale Christman underscored a number of other changes that ISO certification has brought about. “Our quality program starts and ends with the customer, of course. But the ISO 9000 process itself has also had a major internal effect on our own company. It has helped us streamline our entire business, improving both time and dollar efficiencies. It has also had a profound effect on our internal corporate culture,” continued Christman. “You can see the quality banners on the walls and the performance metrics posted on bulletin boards, but it goes much deeper than that. It has helped to create a culture of quality-consciousness throughout our whole organization, a company-wide feeling of ownership. When somebody recognizes an opportunity for improvement, they voice it, and we take that idea seriously. We act on it. You find that pro-active attitude everywhere here, in every department. That attitude is the real quality driver you hope to have in your company. And we’ve got it.”
The ISO 9000 designation refers to a multi-faceted quality management system for companies. The standard is published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a worldwide federation of national standards bodies, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. To be certified, a company must implement multi-level quality management structures and procedures in accordance with the IS0 9001-2000 standard, and be audited and recommended for certification by an ISO-approved independent auditor. The inTEST Silicon Valley Division was audited by Perry Johnson Registrars.
About inTEST® Corporation
inTEST Corporation is an independent designer, manufacturer and marketer of ATE interface solutions and temperature management products, which are used by semiconductor manufacturers to perform final testing of integrated circuits (ICs) and wafers. The Company’s high-performance products are designed to enable semiconductor manufacturers to improve the speed, reliability, efficiency, and profitability of IC test processes. Specific products include manipulators, docking hardware products, temperature management systems, and customized interface solutions. The Company has established strong relationships with semiconductor manufacturers globally, which it supports through a network of local offices. For more information visit www.intest.com.
inTEST® is a trademark of inTEST Corporation.