Changing the quality paradigm
IEC Global Visions interviewed Dr Zhengrong Shi, Founding CEO and Executive Chairman of Suntech Power, one of the biggest global manufacturers of solar products for residential, commercial, industrial and utility applications. In the interview he explains how his pioneering role in the IEC and in certification changed how the players in China now approach production and certification. His work in the IEC has allowed his company to steadily increase the efficiency and quality of its products, while reducing overall development and commercial costs.
Before it all started
Because of his background as a scientist and engineer Shi was trained to understand the importance of standardization. He participated in IEC work for 14 years during his time in Australia. That’s where he learned that IEC International Standards are an absolute necessity for the certification of the quality of PV (photovoltaic) modules and a basic requirement for field deployment. Later, when he founded Suntech Power it was evident that he would continue on this path and Suntech became the first company in China to build and test products according to IEC International Standards.
A strategic advantage
In an industry where constant innovation, the use of new processes and new materials is a must, standards need to be kept up to date. There is a lot of interaction among different industry players. This provides participants with access to global industry knowledge and allows them to design better, more reliable products. Shi underlines that this is one of the key reasons why he continues to be involved in the IEC.
“Chinese companies are export-oriented and to be successful, they need to demonstrate that they fulfil all basic quality requirements. Participation in the IEC, the use of IEC Standards in the design and development processes simplifies certification and makes it easier to market products,” said Shi.
Shi strongly believes that CEOs and executives of start-up companies should pay great attention to standardization because they need to achieve certification, reassure investors and achieve regulatory approval before accessing and growing markets. Customers and consumers simply like quality assured products better.
Built in quality
In Shi’s mind quality needs to be built into the product and controlled from the start. Suntech Power participates in the development process of standards for technical reasons, for example to improve product design, a production process or new material testing. It becomes a more efficient and actually a cost saving process for any company that designs and builds its own products. Being involved in standardization makes it easier to achieve certification.
However there is a difference between certification and participation in standardization work. To achieve certification, the components and material selection as well as product design needs to follow strict principles. Suntech suppliers are also required to comply with IEC International Standards; otherwise Suntech will not purchase their products.
Shi underlines that certification is the final judgement on how well quality was built into the product and how the production process was managed. “At the end of the day, the product only achieves certification, if all of these steps are quality controlled from the start; otherwise it’s hit and miss.”
He feels that companies who don’t understand this approach to quality assurance often try to obtain certification at the very end of the production process, when the product is ready to be delivered. What they fail to understand is that certification is not just a rubber stamp; compliance with a standard has to be realized through procurement, through production and then through quality assurance along the way. This makes it easier to achieve certification.
“When you try to assure the quality for your products at the end it’s much too late and can be way more expensive.”
Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (NYSE: STP) produces industry-leading solar products for residential, commercial, industrial, and utility applications. With regional headquarters in China, Switzerland, and the United States, and gigawatt-scale manufacturing worldwide, Suntech has delivered more than 25,000,000 photovoltaic panels to over a thousand customers in more than 80 countries. Suntech's pioneering R&D creates customer-centric innovations that are driving solar to grid parity against fossil fuels. Suntech's mission is to provide everyone with reliable access to nature's cleanest and most abundant energy source.