Improving quality through reduced efforts and costs

IRISBernard Kaufmann, general manager of the International Railway Industry Standard, explains the scheme and how it is successfully evaluating suppliers to the railway

With more than 500 companies worldwide having completed the scheme, the IRIS “seal of quality” for rail is gaining traction with operators and manufacturers alike. Four years after its launch, the international railway industry standard is on target to deliver 600 certificates by the end of the year.

Origins & context
Created in 2006, the International Railway Industry Standard (IRIS) was the first initiative taken by the rail industry to set a standard for itself. Although market liberalisation is now underway in Europe, the then incumbent operators – excluding the United Kingdom where the market was already open – owned their trains, issued specifications and were fully responsible for their operation.

Four years ago, the two primary drivers for establishing IRIS were complaints from operators that the quality of trains was deteriorating and that overlapping audits were costing too much time, energy and money without any marked improvements in the final results. One idea put forward by system integrators Alstom, Bombardier, AnsaldoBreda and Siemens, plus equipment manufacturers such as Knorr Bremse and Faiveley, was to bring the best practices together and build on them. From the earliest days onwards, the philosophy behind IRIS was that when a third, independent party audits a company, then all the others will trust in the results and cease any further system audits to focus solely on improving their products. This meant that all members could audit according to their own needs for their specific contracts and products. Before IRIS was created, everyone was trying to improve each other’s systems with a very low success rate.  

In the UK there are leasing companies that purchase the trains (ROSCOE), engineering offices that develop the needs and specifications for those trains and operating companies (ATOC), like Virgin, who run the actual fleets. This has led to three different entities, plus the industry, providing the rules and quality standards for products. However, in the 26 other European Union Member States, these three activities are grouped into one entity, the operator. What that means is that once the trains are built and in operation there is a strong tendency for maintenance and refurbishment to be carried out by the operator rather than another, better placed third party.

Today the industry is keen to take over this servicing task, rightly claiming that the manufacturer can do a better job. As such, train builders are increasingly introducing maintenance into contracts. For example, when Virgin purchased its Pendolino trains for the West Coast Mainline, it also signed a 15-year maintenance contract with supplier Alstom. Although the situation is slowly changing, maintenance is primarily handled by operators, except where high levels of technical expertise is required, such as the servicing of brakes, where the industry steps in to perform the task. This is why IRIS applies to operators like the SNCF, NS and SBB, who are trying to adopt the best practices in terms of organisation.

Rail operators are joining the IRIS group individually, each developing their own policies or strategies. For example, NedTrain (Netherlands) and SBB (Switzerland) want to apply IRIS standards to their maintenance shops, without aiming to obtain global certification for all of their operations immediately. Others, like the SNCF (France), are considering applying IRIS to their whole supply chain.

Today, the initiative to further improve the IRIS system is coming from both industry and operators alike.

A global scheme like IRIS is not yet mandatory in rail, whereas in the automotive and air industries no product can be delivered if the company is not ISOTS16949 or AS9100 certified; here the bottom line is “I need the certificate to deliver the goods”. Today our objective is not to make IRIS mandatory in order to deliver products, but mandatory in terms of recognition. Put into practice, this means focusing on the progressive uptake of best practices.

Certification process

IRIS is endorsed and implemented by all the majors in rail production and operations, such as Bombardier, Alstom, Siemens and AnsaldoBreda, as well as French Railway (SNCF), Russian Railways (RZD), Swiss Rail (SBB), and the London Underground. The system comprises a standard and an evaluation process, plus an audit and scoring methodology supported by a website and software. Using these tools, independent and approved certification bodies are authorised to audit companies involved in the rail business. About 20 audits are underway at all times – either in the final stages or before the certificate is issued – and up to six certificates are issued every week. Today the certification covers rolling stock and signalling parts, but infrastructure and some services are under investigation for application.

Similar to the ISO 9001 standard for quality, promoted by UNIFE – the European rail industry – the IRIS standard is dedicated to rail. It provides the best practices from the sector to give all players – from both industry and operations – a model for sustainable organisation in order to fully comply with today’s specifications and needs of all stakeholders. The evaluation process involves four mandatory stages:
• Readiness review: This assesses the candidate’s level of preparation and how it meets IRIS prerequisites. Before starting the whole certification process the company must answer 12 key questions. If the candidate is unable to complete this step and fully answer the questions, the certification process is discontinued. The responses to these questions are then checked in what is termed a readiness review, which can take part of or several days to complete depending on the size of the company. During this review, the auditor will pre-analyse the company before starting a full audit. This avoids wasting time, energy and money for all involved.
• Certification audit: This first audit is performed on the full scope of company activity, which, if successfully passed, results in the issuance of a three-year certificate.
• Surveillance audit: 12 and 24 months after the above, a partial assessment confirms the certification.
• Recertification audit: 36 months after the certification, companies must be re-assessed to renew their certificate for a further three years.

An integral part of the IRIS process is its questionnaire. Successful applicants must provide satisfactory responses to all 259 questions related to requirements. With just one wrong answer the certificate is refused and the company has exactly 90 days to rectify the weakness or fail. Evidence must then be provided to the auditor that the problem has been resolved. At this point, if the required standard is still not met, the certificate is denied and the applicant must start the whole process from scratch.

Benefits for all
Improving the business management of rail by incorporating more efficient and effective processes delivers cost reductions across the whole supply chain. For small outfits, having IRIS certification is clearly a competitive advantage because it displays a high level of organisation and ensures the quality of their products. For medium and large companies, IRIS provides a form of recognition that endows them with a “visiting card” to meet the four major players – Bombardier, Alstom, Siemens, and AnsaldoBreda – and join their supplier list.

For railway systems integrators, successful implementation of IRIS creates a win-win situation in many respects. The benefits to be reaped include:
• Enhanced product quality increases across the entire supply chain
• More efficient evaluation and approval of rail products
• Lower costs for manufacturers and suppliers
• More comprehensive and accessible data.

The IRIS database – – provides further interested stakeholders with easy access to all listed, certified companies. IRIS strives to be accessible to the entire rail sector by providing several translations of its booklet (including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Czech, and Russian) and is constantly perfecting itself by enabling all IRIS-approved Certification Bodies to participate in the further improvement of its system.

Global reach

The majority of the IRIS Advisory Board members represent European companies and to date there are no US or Asian member companies. With that said, more than 75 Asian companies are currently holding an IRIS certification, and in the light of President Obama’s decision to invest in high speed rail projects throughout the United States, IRIS looks to play a key role in the US certification process from the start.

Since 2009, the IRIS Management Centre has held several awareness training sessions in Moscow, where the translation of the new Rev.02 Russian booklet was presented. The events concluded with a self-check questionnaire to allow participants to assess their understanding. This action is linked to an agreement with NP-UIRE and Russian Rail (RZD) to back the plan to improve the organisation of the Russian supply chain, and ultimately the quality of rail products.

Russian Rail has set 2015 as the cut-off date for their suppliers to be IRIS-certified. An IRIS conference took place at the end of July this year at RZD headquarters to address the commitments, asses the status and define the necessary steps for future progress.

In 2010, another IRIS experience sharing session was organised by ABB and CC-Rail for Swiss companies. The event highlighted the following strengths of the scheme:
• IRIS is used and accepted as a tool for continual improvement in the Swiss rail industry, as well as on an operator level
• IRIS sets high requirements which increase the overall sector standards
• IRIS is becoming increasingly state-of-the-art
• IRIS facilitates synergies with product certification.

Last but not least, during the InnoTrans event in September in Berlin, the IRIS booth was well visited as well as the small seminars we organised. We could also share testimony of companies that measure for instance reduction of 50 per cent of their warrantee costs.

The remarkable output of IRIS after just four years is the result of constructive team efforts across the rail sector. Operators are now part of the certification process, which in turn is simplifying qualification. Looking to the future, UNIFE envisions a continued push toward a full recognition of IRIS to allow the sector to reach a superior level of excellence.

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