Jefferson Lab’s Superconducting Radiofrequency Operations team, which builds parts for accelerators around the world, has achieved ISO 9001:2015 certification
NEWPORT NEWS, VA – An important certificate now hangs on the wall of the Superconducting Radiofrequency Operations group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.
SRF Operations builds cryomodules and other particle accelerator parts for the lab’s very own Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF), a DOE Office of Science user facility. The group also supports user facilities at other DOE labs, including SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This piece of paper represents the department’s dedication to supplying these internal and external customers with the best possible service.
More formally, it means their quality management system meets rigorous standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Specifically, their system meets the ISO 9001:2015 standard, which is related to quality management for production.
“I like to think of this standard as guardrails for how you construct your management system when your business is focused on delivering a product or service to a customer,” said Jacob Harris, SRF Operations quality engineer at Jefferson Lab. “The certification itself demonstrates that our quality management system is focused on delivering good customer experience.”
With this certification, Jefferson Lab joins a selective club. There is only one other accelerator component production facility supported by DOE has ISO 9001 certification: the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams in Michigan.
“We want to be a preeminent SRF Operations group, not only in the DOE complex, but globally. This certification is integral to that effort,” said Tony Reilly, SRF Operations department head.
This rare accomplishment didn’t come easily. SRF Operations had to develop and follow a more disciplined quality management system, which took concentrated effort from the entire team, as well as support from the lab as a whole.
Filling in the gaps
A cryomodule is a complex piece of equipment. Building one takes about a year of meticulous work, and manufacturing all the parts for some projects can take up to four years. A lot can happen during that time, such as budgeting issues, replacement of employees and changing requirements. These are all potential roadblocks to delivering a product that performs as expected to the customer on time.
To ensure excellent products and customer satisfaction, the ISO 9001 standard demands a process-based quality management system. There must be evidence, in the form of documentation, of a process that addresses every requirement in the standard.
For example, the standard requires the system to have a process that reviews incoming customer requirements to ensure the team can meet them and deliver conforming products back to the customer. The system must have a process in place that generates records tracking that activity.
“Meeting ISO standards means there are processes in place to make sure that no matter what happens, the team has the wherewithal and resiliency to not fail on the deliverables to the customer,” said Dan Gautier, the human performance improvement lead in Jefferson Lab’s Performance Assurance Office.
Gautier conducted a gap analysis in December 2020, comparing the quality management system to the 20-page ISO 9001 standard line by line. While some processes passed inspection, this week-long internal audit identified the “gaps” where the system didn’t line up with the standard’s requirements. Some processes just needed to be beefed up, whereas others had to be created from scratch, such as a formalized internal audit process.
After Gautier’s gap assessment, Harris joined the lab to help spearhead the overhaul of the quality management system. Both Gautier and Harris joined the steering committee created by Reilly to guide the process. Anne McEwen, SRF Operations project support group manager, also joined the committee.
“We were fortunate to have Dan's participation. He's a very experienced guy who has worked in quality for many years and was very thorough in his inspection,” McEwen said. “And Jacob fully embraced developing a new quality management system with all of the necessary documentation. He also did a fantastic job.”
The four met regularly to oversee the overall effort. They were tasked with assigning each process with a process owner who would be responsible for making sure their process runs smoothly. There are 14 total processes in the management system and about 12 process owners scattered throughout the organization (some of them doubled up on processes).
“The process owners are the pillars of our organization,” Reilly said. “They produced all of the quality management processes that will help us become a world leader in SRF Operations.”
In January 2023, three years after the internal gap analysis, an auditor from an external certifying body called Intertek arrived at Jefferson Lab for the first official audit of SRF Operations’ upgraded quality management system.
After this one-day preliminary audit, the auditor described a few areas of concern. The team adjusted the system accordingly, which was confirmed in another one-day stage-one audit in February. Then in March, the auditor conducted a stage-two audit. This time, the auditor spent four full days meticulously picking through the team’s system, looking for evidence of every single requirement.
Once finished, the auditor recommended that SRF Operations be granted an ISO certification — earning them the certificate that now hangs on the wall.
“I think there's a lot to be proud of for the process owners themselves,” Harris said. “I think by spreading out the workload across the organization, we all had skin in the game and collectively stuck with it and got to the finish line.”
Rigorous Process Management
To pass the certification process, more than just the process owners and steering committee had to be involved. During the stage-two audit by Intertek, the auditor chatted with different members of SRF Operations working on the floor. All 80 or so employees in the organization had to understand their role in the updated quality management system and how they each contribute to the overall goals and customer experience.
“It's very gratifying for all of us really,” Reilly said. “I hope the people that are actually out there doing the work will also feel gratified that we accomplished that.”
He also wants to recognize the assistance the team received from other parts of Jefferson Lab.
“This was truly a team effort, but it wasn't just an SRF Operations effort,” he said. “We got help from around the lab.”
In addition to ensuring a positive customer experience now, this certification sets the foundation for SRF Operations’ future growth.
“We made a lot of progress, but we still have a lot to do to bring all of our processes to full maturity,” McEwen said. The team has only been running this new quality management system for about a year. With time, newer processes will mature, and all of the necessary records will accrue.
The team will continue to conduct internal audits, and an external auditor will visit annually to make sure their quality management system still meets the requirements. In three years, SRF Operations will need to get recertified.
Beyond this upkeep, Reilly is shooting for further improvement.
“It's great that we've achieved the ISO certification, but it's also the first step in us becoming who we want to be,” he said. “We hope to continually improve upon these processes.”
By Chris Patrick
Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, firstname.lastname@example.org