Once you have tasted flight, you will forever live with your eyes turned skyward. This line, often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, is a sentiment that has been embodied by Anchor Harvey (AH) for decades. One of America’s longest-operating forge shops, AH has spent the last century forging quality components with over 25 years of experience in modern aerospace forging. Coupled with a history in aviation dating back to the world’s earliest commercial aircraft, the company had already established a decades-long record of producing AS9100-quality components well before the official introduction of AS9100 quality standards.
Grandfathered in on the production of flight-critical components, the company nevertheless continued looking skyward with a desire to continue building its reputation, raising the level of its expertise and increasing its aerospace offerings. But even with a company ethos rooted in continuous improvement, few had expected plant manager Martin Bondar to walk into work one morning in early March 2019 and authoritatively declare: “I want to be AS9100 by the end of the year.”
Setting an Ambitious Timeline
Bondar had made the announcement in consultation with our senior leadership team, but many employees, including quality manager Holly Helfinstine, were initially astonished by the aggressive target. With 27 years of experience in quality management, Helfinstine’s preliminary expectations for the company becoming AS9100-certified had ranged from two to three years. Her mind began churning as she pondered how to compress a 24-month process into the year’s 10 remaining months.
Helfinstine sat at the conference table in awe. Gathered around her were the members of AH’s leadership, senior staff, floor managers, the head of the company’s human resources and her boss, Bondar, all unequivocally telling her that anything she needed to achieve the company’s AS9100 certification was hers.
Helfinstine already knew she had the three tenets comprising The Anchor Harvey Way: process-control consistency, the company’s unrivaled efficiencies and her co-workers’ trusted manufacturing expertise. AS9100 would bring company-wide benefits that would subsequently enable strategic, risk-based planning, improved quality management and the enhancement of accountability systems. On hearing she also had the full backing of her boss and the company’s senior leadership, she knew the AH team would be more than capable of hitting their target.
Best known as a data-driven aluminum forging company, AH is also known as a company that cares about their employees. Employee morale was an important consideration as we embarked on this aggressive timeline. Bondar and Helfinstine made sure to celebrate each milestone as it was achieved.
Trials and Tribulations
One month into the process of readying AH for its AS9100 audit, Bondar and Helfinstine faced their first complication in the form of an underequipped human-resources (HR) department. The duo quickly realized that the company was understaffed to handle the sheer volume of documentation needed for the successful completion of their AS9100 certification.
In order to process the personnel information, support documentation, training records, previous certifications and maintenance details, the HR department needed backup – fast. Bondar immediately began looking for additional resources, bringing in other company employees to temporarily aid the preparation of all the required documents.
As the weeks continued, Helfinstine, Bondar and the entire AH team grew increasingly confident in their proficiencies and ability to take on new challenges. Helfinstine had brought in an outside consultant to help them ensure they were consistently meeting their targets, and Bondar backed her at every step while simultaneously promoting the values of leadership and emotional intelligence through an internal, AS9100-centric book club.
AS9100 Proving Grounds
Five weeks before the official certification audit, two members of a third-party quality inspection firm entered our facility to perform an excruciatingly thorough AS9100 pre-audit. For five days, the inspectors combed the facility from top to bottom before delivering their findings. Upon receiving the pre-audit results, Helfinstine and Bondar were encouraged to see that only a handful of minor adjustments were needed.
AH would be ready for its official AS9100 audit in December. We had pulled together as a team, with every member willing to do their part in ensuring collective success. The results of the rigorous pre-audit left the whole of AH confident of what was about to come – an official AS9100 certification.
Achieving Official Certification
After a four-day audit, the results came in: Anchor Harvey passed the AS9100 certification process with flying colors. The official audit found zero major findings, a nearly unparalleled accomplishment for a first-time applicant. In under 11 months, we had almost perfectly succeeded at a task others may struggle to achieve over three years.
The company’s engineering change-order process had grown more refined to better support their customers, their component routing and their ability to make live design changes. An increase in the number of system checks enabled a greater level of accountability companywide, ensuring higher quality standards across the board. The team’s preparation, combined with outside consulting, thorough pre-audit testing and the unwavering backing of our leadership, had paid off.
With the implementation of the AS9100 quality-management standard, AH saw its overall performance and customer satisfaction improve across all sectors. Production and component quality had improved for every industry sector AH serves, and new doors have already opened for additional work in aerospace and the general aviation industry. Additionally, thanks to AS9100’s exacting quality standards and systematic process implementation, our company suddenly found itself receiving an influx of requests for project quotes from companies in the automotive, defense and medical industries.
The company successfully implemented one of the world’s most rigorous quality-management systems (QMS) – a true business-management system that further streamlined company procedures; strengthened process flows; and refocused its view on their people, environment, resources, customers, equipment, international relations and risk management. We are poised and ready for the future, and we are better prepared to plan, assess and surmount any challenges as they come. And not a moment too soon.
COVID-19 and AS9100
Less than three months after AH received its AS9100 certification, the state of Illinois went into lockdown. As an essential company, we remained in operation. The new equipment and additional processes implemented during the our AS9100 certification, including improved approaches to long-term strategy and risk-based planning, enabled us to stay one step ahead of the emerging pandemic and rapidly shift gears in response to the onset of a nationwide health emergency.
We moved expeditiously to the sudden increased demand in several key industries as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. Having already ensured government health and safety guidelines were being met and exceeded, we quickly pivoted to a new mix of products. Our investment in new equipment, technology and processes to achieve AS9100 certification was already paying dividends. Now officially certified for exacting attention to detail, we saw demand for components increase during an hour of national crisis. Responding swiftly, AH quickly ramped up production, implementing around-the-clock shifts seven days a week to keep up.
Thanks to Anchor Harvey’s AS9100 QMS and the investments made in technology, equipment, systems and, above all, its team, the company remains in a position to continue operating safely and effectively at full capacity. Having served America proudly for the last 100 years, Anchor Harvey is already planning for – and looking forward to – forging America’s highest-quality aluminum components for the next 100 years.