Supplier quality management plays an integral role in the success of any process manufacturing plant. It also presents ongoing challenges for companies—especially those with an extensive product line. While each company must adopt practices that align with the nature of their business (check out our best practices for supplier management), support their unique requirements, and help them reach their goals, there are a few elements every successful supplier management program should encompass. Here’s a closer look at what a robust supplier quality management system should entail.
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines supplier quality as, “a supplier’s ability to deliver goods or services that will satisfy customers’ needs.” ASQ also notes that a supplier quality management system should take a proactive, collaborative approach to supplier quality to monitor supply chains.
What Are the Benefits of Supplier Quality Management?
Having a strong supplier quality management process in place has several benefits for manufacturers. For instance, receiving companies can expect less variation in process inputs, and increased reliability when suppliers are able to effectively control their output. For these benefits to be realized, however, companies must work to build a relationship of mutual trust through shared expertise and resources, and support from key stakeholders in both companies.
What Is the Supplier Management Process?
Supplier management is an ongoing process, not a one-time activity. It entails several key steps which, once implemented effectively, can support optimal product quality, boost your bottom line, consistently support customer satisfaction, and promote a positive brand image for your company. Here’s what the framework should entail.
Companies must develop qualification steps for supplier approval. These steps will vary based on risk and could include self-assessments or audits. For example, in the food industry, suppliers of foods identified as high risk on the FDA’s Food Traceability List will require a higher level of scrutiny than those that supply low-risk ingredients.
Each company should also have a comprehensive checklist that details steps needed for approval. This will act as guidance so all parties can stay on track during the onboarding process. The checklist should define roles for everyone involved in the process, and in most cases, these roles will span several departments. There should also be a separate qualification checklist that screens potential vendors for the effectiveness of their quality and safety systems. It could entail:
- Supplier contact information
- Quality and safety measures
- Third-party audits
- Policies for returning products or materials
Audits are an effective and proactive supplier quality control activity. should also be performed periodically to verify the supplier’s practices align with the purchasing company’s requirements. Most facilities use audits to ensure their suppliers have comprehensive safety and quality programs in place. While larger companies may be able to perform second-party audits, most use third-party audits from sources such as GFSI schemes.
To streamline the audit process, many facilities are leveraging plant management software that supports remote audits. With these tools, suppliers can add attachments and be assigned tasks, while internal teams can perform sign-offs easily through one integrated system.
Inspections are another form of supplier quality control. Raw materials and ingredients must be constantly evaluated for compliance with pre-established specifications. This is another area in which plant management software can provide an advantage by managing your supplier within the system; you will receive trigger notifications to alert the appropriate parties of any out-of-spec results.
Keeping the lines of communication open with suppliers ensures that expectations are clear, issues are addressed promptly, and any changes to requirements are understood. Your plant management software should feature a private supplier network that allows you to digitally share and capture requirements, eliminating paper and emails that get buried in inboxes. Having a designated portal also protects your confidential documents and eliminates manual processes to support time savings for both parties. Some aspects of supplier management can even be automated with plant management software; for instance, you could set up notifications to be triggered when a specific supplier certificate is about to expire so they can quickly and easily upload a new document.
Non-Conformance & CAPAs
Materials that fail to meet quality control standards should result in nonconforming material reports (NCMRs). From there, it’s important to track the steps taken to remedy the issue and prevent it from happening again, which should include Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPAs).
How Is Supplier Quality Management Measured?
The final but critically important aspect of supplier quality management is continuous monitoring of each supplier’s performance over an ongoing basis. Look for both on-target performance as well as any negative trends that must be addressed to confirm all suppliers are consistently supporting your company’s ability to provide a safe, high-quality end product. Supplier scorecards have metrics that track a supplier’s performance using specific metrics, which can help uncover areas of concern and highlight potential opportunities for improvement.
Performing all of these activities on a continual basis is complex and challenging, but process manufacturers can deploy technology to help them succeed. With features like private supplier networks, automated notifications, and supplier scorecarding, plant management software can help companies achieve greater visibility and effectiveness in their supplier quality management activities.