“We looked like too small an organization.” That’s how Softronics Director of Operations Tony Nurre described the Marion-based contract-engineering firm before it made the commitment to work with ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and pursue ISO certification. Now with certification in hand, the company is charted toward expansive growth this year.
With fewer than 20 full- and part-time employees, Softronics had developed three healthy product lines centered around radio technology: antenna systems for cell-phone towers, miniature receivers used by the intelligence community, and what Norre calls Softronics’ legacy business — designing updated transmitters and receivers for customers at Rockwell Collins and ATT.
Despite that favorable track record, “we were losing business because we weren’t ISO certified,” Nurre said.
Just like a fast-paced Silicon Valley startup, Softronics operates largely as a virtual company. Softronics’ engineers dabble in amateur radio the way West Coast computer programmers make video games in their spare time. Many Softronics employees also work at home and keep their own schedules.
Softronics took an unconventional approach to ISO certification, crunching through the entire process without holding a single all-staff meeting, Nurre noted, adding, “We did it all through e-mail. All we had to do is tell everyone at the company what quality procedures were set up and where to find them.”
With CIRAS’ help, the company documented existing procedures and mapped out additional ones needed for certification. “A lot of things we came up with were helpful. We implemented a part-numbering system and a more extensive system for backing up data,” Nurre said.
Realization of the true benefit of ISO certification occurred some months later when the company received an order from Rockwell to produce 250 radios destined for airport control towers throughout the world.
Eventually, Nurre expects Softronics will produce upward of 10,000 radios. That may make the entire Rockwell deal worth $200 million over the coming decade and inevitably bring further changes to the company. “Softronics has to move from small batch orders to large-scale manufacturing,” noted CIRAS account manager Sean Galleger. CIRAS is already advising Softronics on how to set up the necessary workflow procedures.