Does your sales staff or top management read the customer purchase orders when they are submitted to determine customer requirements to ensure capability?
Many original equipment manufacturers and Tier 1 companies require suppliers to become familiar with their policies and procedures. Yet how many companies actually read the fine print? I once read a customer purchase order that was at least 25 pages, which the organization's sales personnel said they had reviewed. But there was no part number or revision level in the entire contract. How did the company actually know what part to manufacture? Appalled? Me too. What about when the contract has been fulfilled? Does anyone go back to ensure a profit was made? These are just a few of the issues in quoting/sales/customer service that can affect quality.
If an organization is design responsible, what controls are established to ensure outputs meet inputs, and the product to be developed is something that a customer will purchase? Have the company's designers/engineers identified any potential risks the product might present? If so, what controls are established to prevent a dangerous situation from happening or prevent the company from becoming involved with a product recall? If after the product has been manufactured, what changes are suggested by the customer to improve the product? If the product has design issues after distribution to customers, what processes are established to investigate and either remediate, redesign, or recall the product? All are issues a responsive company must confront and resolve.
The purchasing process seeks to establish a reputable and capable supply chain to provide necessary quality parts/products/services with on-time delivery, and of course fair pricing. Organizations need to establish criteria for supplier selection, and should evaluate their suppliers periodically.
Effective, long-term relationships are the goal, but what happens if there is a problem? Does the supplier have a corrective action system to address these issues in a timely manner, determine root cause, and permanently correct problems? If the company requires a certificate of analysis or certificate of conformance, is it reviewed for accuracy?
More than once I have discovered that a supplier made a mistake. Most recently a quality report was submitted instead of a certificate of analysis to a customer of mine. It did not contain the necessary requirements for a particular customer-required plastic. Naturally phone calls had to be made to track down what the problem was.
I am amazed how frequently organizations do not require their suppliers to investigate issues and correct them. Top management is well aware how one supplier can disrupt a manufacturing process, but how many times does it need to occur before an organization initiates the process of finding a new supplier?
The production process, in particular, needs to be monitored and measured. How effective is the scheduling process? All too often I find parts or products being manufactured that are going to be shipped beyond a customer due date. Of course all customers want their parts or products tomorrow, but has a realistic lead time been established and communicated to the customer to prevent late deliveries? Of course customers are always changing their due dates, but how efficient are you as a company to accommodate these changes without pushing another company's order back to keep a larger customer happy?
What type of paperwork will accompany the material through the production process? For machine set-up, are the barrel and machine temperature ranges identified? What happens if the machine heats up or cools down beyond its limits? If a traveler package is employed does it identify all the processes required with employee sign-offs? Does it indicate where problems occurred during the entire process? Are the prints or CAD drawings accurate with appropriate revision levels? Does it document any measurements that need to be taken such as: first article, periodic, or final inspections? Many times I have found travelers which require inspection check-offs without actually documenting the measurements.
Get ready — this is hard to believe, but no surprise when an employee checks off the boxes at the start or end of the process or shift without actually checking the parts or product. Does this scenario sound familiar? Unfortunately, I still have not convinced some companies to change their paperwork to actually document measurements, rejects, re-work, etc. The excuse is that the employees will not complete the paperwork. Stop shaking your head or laughing, because these things actually occur.
I am still dumbfounded in this day and age that many companies still have not established a monitoring and measurement process for rejects, re-work and re-grind. How can you accurately assess how much money is being lost if these processes are out of control? Even companies that establish an SPC process during production do not always analyze the results to determine when operators have had to make adjustments for variation or if those adjustments were actually made before non-conforming product was produced. What about calibrating monitoring and measuring devices on the machine? Preventive maintenance is another process many companies overlook until the machine is out of commission, and parts cannot be ordered for weeks.
I know many owners who love to purchase machinery at auctions, because they think they are saving money. But what happens when the machine does not perform like stated or does not have the capability required? I see way too many machines being cannabilized for parts because the quality was not there. These are just a few issues to oversee during production.
Most importantly, has the organization established a comprehensive corrective/preventive action system that actually addresses root cause and long term corrective action? Too often one person is given the responsibility to document, investigate, and determine corrective action without the benefit of other eyes contributing to the process. Quality managers or another person identified as the caretaker of the system are usually overloaded with other issues and in many cases do not possess the time, skill or resources to actually determine the root cause of a problem, unless it is a customer complaint. Pressure to apply corrective action usually results in the problem being fixed, yet the real cause of the problem may not be identified and may reoccur. Sound familiar? Companies must really commit to establishing and maintaining a robust corrective/preventive action system that solves problems and identifies how much money is being lost because of failures.
Finally, as the year evolves, top management needs to keep track of the above points and compare themselves to other similar organizations in their industry. How do you measure up? Are you gaining business or losing contracts to competitors? Are you instilling an atmosphere of continual improvement and innovation to raise your company into the benchmark echelon that other organizations wish they could attain? If not, then it is time to reassess your business plan.
Pascoe is owner of Lake Orion, Mich.-based consultant agency Progressive Integrated Systems Inc. She can be reached at [email protected].