Ulrich Fietz: World operations – Securing global quality standards

“Made in Germany” enjoys an excellent reputation around the world. To assure that it stays that way, TÜV Rheinland, as an independent institution operating around the world, tests and certifies to make sure that technology meets standards over long-term use and production processes meet certain minimum requirements.

What are the challenges that companies from NRW have to master in the world market and how do standards and certificates contribute to assuring export capabilities.

Official statistics from North Rhine-Westphalia show that companies from this German federal state exported goods, products and services valued at 182 billion euros in 2012. This represents an increase of three per cent compared to 2011. The strongest exporting sectors include the chemical industry and automobile construction, but numerous medium-sized companies are also active and successful, on international markets. About two-thirds of the exports from NRW went to countries in the European Union, and one-third went outside Europe.

Globalisation has resulted in more and different opportunities for companies today. However, this also brings with it significantly different legal and corporate conditions, as well as increased and emerging risks. The met­­aphor, “What do I care if a sack of rice falls over in China” may have applied 20 years ago, but today, any small de­­velopment at the other end of the world can indeed have consequences for companies in North Rhine-Westphalia and the state’s economy.
Reasons for this include the continuing internationalisation of value-added chains and the rapid digitalisation of company processes, technical innovations in all sectors and ever-shorter product development cycles as well as cost and competitive pressure. Many trends like these are decisive in the lasting success of a company. If this success is to occur on an international level, then the rules of the game for the economy in other countries must be complied with.
The basis for the international exchange within commer­cial life is that the partners have a mutual understanding, even beyond borders, of which characteristics of products and services must be satisfied. Important in this regard are binding rules in the form of standards, which describe these characteristics, for example DIN, EN, ISO. Standards and internationally accepted provisions assist in reducing trade barriers or, ideally, overcoming them entirely. Prod­­ucts that circulate around the European single market must also meet the legal require­ments within the EU. The compliance of products with such provisions for conformity is thus an important pre­­requisite for a functioning single market and functioning worldwide commerce. Conformity assessments by inde­­pendent third parties, such as those performed by testing organisations, provide the necessary trust in products, processes, systems, services and equip­­ment. These are based on competence and independence, neutrality and objectivity as well as reliably assure the uniform quality of international value-added chains.

Integrating testing organisations as independent third parties results in considerable cost reductions and increased competitiveness for manufacturers and service companies. The sooner conformity assessments can take place within the value-added chain, the more cost effective production processes can become. The independent testing makes it possible to assess products or their components at the site of production and thus validate them at an early stage in the chain. This allows to identify necessary corrections in the manufacturing process early on and makes timely readjustments on prototypes possible. Accidents, costly product recalls and in turn related resource expenditures as well as a tarnished public image are avoided and liabil­ity risks minimised, while increasing quality assurance.

The development within the testing sector progressed similarly to the internationally required standardisation of product characteristics and which the testing sector participated in and supported. For example, TÜV Rheinland, as one of Germany’s largest and the most international testing organisation, already established its first foreign subsidiary at the end of the 1960s. Today, the organisa­tion employs a far greater number of employees outside Ger­­many than within. The reasons are clear: Customers of TÜV Rheinland not only include regionally anchored small and medium-sized businesses, but also globally active companies from North-Rhine Westphalia and throughout the whole of Germany. Thus, the testing organisation adopts a very strong international focus in order to assist these types of customers. This is only possible thanks to specialised expert networks, uniform processes, a global network of testing and laboratory centres as well as corresponding national and international acceptance of testing and cer­­tification services.

This international expertise displayed by TÜV Rheinland provides not only an advantage for companies from NRW when it comes to implementing international projects, but it is also helpful in the so-called One-Stop-Testing principle: The testing organisation, thanks to its recognition, can work with so-called accreditations by state authorities all over the world and can thus assure the control and certification of products in all relevant manufacturing and sales markets. To this end, the organisation features a network of testing laboratories and experts that spans the globe. This includes laboratories for analysing hazardous sub­stances and the environment, for materials technology, for physical and chemical product and component testing as well as food analysis. The regional focus is on Europe, Asia and in particular South America.

An additional advantage of a globally active testing organ­isation for the economy: Companies, in particular small and medium-sized ones, can do without the resource-intense establishment and upkeep of the necessary testing infrastructure and related knowledge base required for statutory provisions and standards by enlisting the help of independent testing organisations. Integrating an in­­dependent third party is an important safeguard of internal company quality standards and can serve as proof as having complied with the own duties of care. Certificates issued by established, independent testing organisations and based on generally accepted standards thus protect the company’s business activities and provides greater predictability on the global market; indeed, from which all parties involved in business benefit.

Ulrich_Fietz~1 Ulrich Fietz
The author has been a member of the Executive Board of the TÜV Rheinland AG since 2002 and respon­­sible for finances and controlling. The economist was born in Bottrop in 1951 and began his professional career as project manager for the construction of large-scale plants. Fietz worked for the Lentjes Group from 1982, before joining TÜV Rheinland in 1998..