Transforming Lemons Into Lemonade

Oct. 1, 2010
Improving your supplier quality management system

About the author: Glen Kosowski is facility assessment manager for the Water Quality Assn. (WQA). Valerie Zaleski is facility assessor for WQA. Kosowski can be reached at [email protected] or 630.505.0160. Zaleski can be reached at [email protected] or 630.929.2531.


Driving home from work you happen to notice a lemonade stand. Reminiscing about your childhood days, you pull over and buy two cups. You take a big gulp, which you spit out immediately, realizing it was grapefruit juice, water and salt. A finished product is only as good as its ingredients. Had these little entrepreneurs put a supplier quality management system in place or followed the written recipe, this mistake could have been prevented.

This example is proof as to why supplier quality management is so important in the manufacturing world. Companies should take three important steps to improve their supplier quality management system: utilize supplier score cards, perform supplier audits and collect supplier documentation for the raw material components purchased.

Supplier Score Cards

One of the most important things to remember is to establish a good buyer and seller relationship. A key factor to the success of any relationship is communication. Supplier score cards are a great way to keep open communication between the buyer and seller. By setting up a score card that monitors a number of critical operational metrics that affect the productivity of a supplier, the supplier is able to find areas in which they need to make improvements. Score cards also make it possible for suppliers to track their improvements over time to see how quality improvements positively affect their operational productivity. Both suppliers and buyers benefit from score cards because score cards improve the teamwork skills between both manufacturing bodies. In addition to this, suppliers benefit by being provided with a means of monitoring their performance and productivity over time.

Auditing Suppliers

The next action that should be taken to improve the supplier quality management system of a company is to begin auditing suppliers. Regardless of what happens within a producer’s own four walls, it is very difficult, if not virtually impossible, to offer a quality product or service to customers when the input received from its suppliers are flawed. This is why it is very important to incorporate supplier quality audits into a manufacturer’s quality control system. Supplier audits are a great way to make sure that suppliers are following the procedures and guidelines outlined in the customer/supplier contract. These audits are used to identify any kind of non-conformance in the raw material manufacturing process. These audits may be used to find problems associated with the supplier quality processes, the raw material receiving process, the product assembly process, the shipping process and any other process involved in creating your purchased item. These audits also help improve the relationship between supplier and manufacturer. The closing audit meeting gives the two companies time to go over any problems found during the audit, and it allows the two companies to work together as a team to determine the corrective actions needed to fix the identified problem. A future audit is then used to ensure that the agreed upon corrective actions have been made and that new procedures are in effect to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

Collecting Supplier Documentation

The final step that should be taken to improve a company’s supplier quality management system is to collect supporting documents from the supplier, including certificates of analysis, certificates of conformance, procedures, receiving documents, material checks/reports and dimensional specification checks.

Although these three recommendations are not the only steps that can be taken to improve the supplier quality management system, they are three great ways to make supplier quality improvements for the future.

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