Quality has become a key product differentiator in most industries today. Manufacturers are upgrading their technology portfolios to manage quality across their entire ecosystem. A fundamental principle of quality management is that “you should design and build quality in, not inspect quality out.” An important aspect of embedded quality is to start at the source with components and raw materials. Many manufacturers purchase most of their components, meaning they have less control over the overall quality of their products. It is a lot easier to build a quality product if the items used to build that product are of high quality than if they suffer from quality defects. A great way to ensure you start with quality raw materials is to implement a Supplier Quality Management (SQM) solution.
Supplier Quality Management is More Than Just Demanding On-Spec Parts
While most companies accept that you need quality materials to produce quality products, their approach to supplier quality has traditionally been to inspect incoming items to ensure they meet purchase specifications. A best-in-class approach requires much more. An SQM program enables a more collaborative approach to quality where the receiving organization takes more of a proactive role in ensuring that delivered materials and services meet expected quality requirements.
It starts in the product design phase and extends throughout the entire product lifecycle as an ongoing relationship with each participant across the manufacturing ecosystem. It includes more than just the quality of the parts and services. A true SQM program incorporates the processes associated with the delivery of those parts, such as manufacturing processes, on-time delivery, and proper packaging to facilitate quality maintenance and proper handling during unpackaging.
Further, SQM includes the process of selecting the right suppliers when designing products as well. This critical element is part of the process of advanced product quality planning (APQP).
This related article may be of interest, How APQP Plays a Critical Role in a Digital Thread.
As manufacturers design quality into their production processes, they need to include the design of the production processes of their suppliers into their thinking. This is all part of product and process validation.
Supplier Quality Management Delivers More Than Just Fewer Rejected Components
A well-designed SQM program delivers more than just a steady stream of on-spec parts although that by itself adds considerable value. With a dependable supply of on-spec materials, the need for incoming inspection is reduced, saving time and money. It also results in fewer manufacturing disruptions yielding higher productivity.
One of the greatest advantages, however, is the ability to collaborate and share knowledge. When a supplier understands how its contributions are incorporated into a product, it can provide insights into how to better design components and how to best handle them during the manufacturing process. Likewise, when a manufacturer understands how parts are made and the intricacies of their design and manufacturing, they can often work closely with the supplier to refine the component design or manufacturing processes, a win-win situation.
The Digital Thread Enables High-Performance SQM
The key underlying technology to enabling such high degrees of collaboration and achieving the benefits identified above is the digital thread. The ability to share information in a timely and precise fashion is critical to all manufacturers. If issues do occur at the supplier, an SQM solution is critical to communicate both the defect and steps for resolution. This includes not only real-time access to production data but also a historical record of the item through its fabrication and into final assembly. This unlocks the greatest value from an SQM.
When a manufacturer has access to detailed quality information on every incoming component, at any level of a build, they can be assured that their production processes will run more smoothly. When a supplier knows the details of production demand, they can better fulfill their obligations for on-time delivery of those components. In this way, it is easy to see why Supplier Quality Management is the first building block of not only a quality strategy – but the foundation for an entire manufacturing program. Whether you are early in the value chain, an OEM, or the final manufacturer before delivery to the end-user, your suppliers have a definite impact on how well you perform. An SQM system should be included as a part of your overall production process.
Kim Archibald has more than a decade of Aerospace & Defense manufacturing experience, gained while working at Boeing Defense, Lockheed Martin, and space startup Virgin Orbit. As a frequent speaker, Kim leverages her industry expertise to help manufacturers navigate their digital transformation journey. She is currently Head of Solution Engineering at iBASEt.