Whether you’re sourcing abroad, or from a manufacturer down the street, similar issues with product quality, shipment delays, cost and safety concerns, etc. still apply. To mitigate the quality risks and cost involved in sourcing, we recommend five actions that have been proven successful throughout the three decades of experience we have working with clients and suppliers around the world.
1 – Audit Potential & Existing Suppliers
To help ensure that potential or existing suppliers deliver high-quality products, operate efficiently, and support continuous improvement, process surveys and factory audits are performed.
From supplier capability and qualification to process control and quality system audits, there are a wide range of options. More specific audits incorporate standards such as the ISO series, TS 16949 specifications for the automotive industry, social accountability, sustainability, C-TPAT for security, AS 9100 for aerospace and many others. Requirements for audits do vary based on a number of factors. Two commonly performed general system audits include:
Supplier Capability & Qualification – Auditors survey potential suppliers and provide feedback regarding general operations, quality systems, qualifications and capabilities. This critical information aids in determining if the supplier is a viable source and potential partner.
Supplier Process Control & Quality System – Auditors evaluate all manufacturing process control systems for existing or new suppliers. Audits cover several areas, including evaluations of management, quality control methods, non-conforming materials, production, corrective action and inspection and test equipment.
In general, there are four questions considered to be critical to the audit process:
1) Are controls defined?
2) Are controls applied?
3) Do controls really work?
4) Will controls last?
Many organizations incorporate a supplier rating system to monitor performance. Examples include no rating, quality rating only, quality & delivery rating (graphic method), quality & delivery method (cost index method) and a comprehensive method.
Being mindful of communication with suppliers is impactful as well and should not be discounted. More information: Three Ways to Improve Communications With Suppliers
Additional articles we have written regarding various audits include:
- The Nuts & Bolts of Evaluating New Supplier Capability
- How Well Are Your Suppliers Performing?
- Social Accountability Audits
- Automotive Audits – ISO/TS 16949
- Medical Device Audits – ISO 13485
- Sustainability Audits
- C-TPAT Audits
2 – Develop Product Criteria/Specifications – Know Your Product
A good plan is only as good as its foundation, so comprehensive and detailed product specifications are critical to success. An important component of product quality is knowing your product. And, that requires detailed product specifications that identify exactly how the item(s) should turn out. What characteristics of the product are required for it to “meet or exceed expectations?”
Product specifications should include defect details with classifications that later link to accept/reject determinations during QC checks. They also clarify the acceptable quality levels and expectations for the supplier. Each defect noted is generally classified as major, minor or critical.
More information: Classifying Defects
3 – Test Products
Product testing has multiple applications, from determining if the specifications are being met to troubleshooting various issues. Using applicable regional and/or industry related standards to measure the product’s properties and evaluate performance provides assurance of quality throughout the production process. Used as a proactive strategy, applicable product testing can avoid costly delays and rework down the line.
More information: Recognizing The Benefits of Standardization
4 – Inspect Throughout Production
Controlling quality by utilizing product inspections throughout the production cycle reduces sourcing risks and cost. Inspections can be conducted at any point throughout the production process, with the maximum benefit observed when strategically employed at the beginning (first-article), in-process (30% -50% complete) and pre-shipment (100% produced and at least 80% packaged). The idea is to identify, contain and resolve issues as quickly as possible.
Inspections generally include:
Quantity verification – This may include raw materials, in-process components, inputs (components) from other sources and/or completed and packaged product. Sample sizes are selected for each component identified in the criteria for inspection. Acceptable quality levels, AQLs, are identified for determining an accept or reject result.
Packaging –Drop-testing is often conducted to check the integrity of the unit and/or master carton packaging integrity. In addition, the condition of the cartons and labeling accuracy is evaluated.
More information: The Importance of Packaging
Appearance & Workmanship -Examples of appearance and workmanship usually include making sure samples are free of cosmetic defects such as scratches or dents and that all components and accessories are included.
Function & Performance – Examples of function and performance might include assembly or electrical testing, as applicable.
More information: Understanding the Inspection Process
5 – Focus On & Support Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)
Define, evaluate, implement, document and review results. Strategically planned continuous improvement initiatives result in the following:
* A decrease in costs due to less reworking, consequently producing less scrap.
* An improvement in cycle time due to less time being spent on correcting mistakes, and more time being spent on value added activities.
* An improvement in productivity due to less time being spent on reworking nonconformities.
* Improved relationships with suppliers (partners).
* An overall improvement in service.
* An overall improvement in cost.
Tell us about your experiences ensuring quality throughout the supply chain! Or, contact us if you have additional questions and/or comments.