Joseph Moses Juran, one of the founding fathers of quality management, penned The Quality Control Handbook in 1951. In his handbook, he outlined a nine-step supplier quality assurance process that is still followed to this day. Although Juran’s process is still highly relevant, times have changed -- especially so in the electronics and high-tech manufacturing space where products are continually evolving. While tried and true practices are timeless, electronics manufacturers need to be flexible and find ways to adapt age-old best practices to a continually evolving industry. One of the most impactful changes within the industry is the role of suppliers. Suppliers are now involved at an earlier stage in the product life cycle than they were before, particularly in the high-end electronics and other complex manufacturing spaces. As a result, these suppliers are providing more value to manufacturers beyond the parts that they are creating.
Suppliers as Collaborators
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are taking a more direct approach by investing in strategic supplies, giving more importance to the role of suppliers earlier on. Many brands and manufacturers that are household names have made investments in their suppliers. For instance, auto manufacturer BMW has made a significant investment in the carbon fiber used to create various parts of its I and M models. Tech giant Apple made a similar investment in its supplier of sapphire glass, the material that provides the basis for several key components of its iPhone 5 and 5s models. OEMs that have made such an investment in their suppliers stand to gain a competitive advantage in their field by making the process more standardized, streamlined, and cost-effective.
More high tech companies are also bringing suppliers into their design environment. Suppliers, designers, and manufacturers often use the same system, so if a component gets changed, any division with a hand in that process is flagged and proactively notified in real-time.
In an industry peppered with as much rapid-fire change as the electronics manufacturing space, these changes, as well as the changing relationship and roles of suppliers and manufacturers, must be addressed during the supplier quality assurance process. Enterprise quality management solutions (EQMS) come into play to bridge the gap between these divisions.
Bridging the Gap Between Supply Chain Roles -- As Well As the Past, Present, and Future
EQMS is neither a hindrance, nor a duplicate of existing systems that may have already been in place. Rather, it offers more granular insight into work flows, triggering warnings early on in the process. By connecting the various spheres of designers, suppliers, and manufacturers, it provides greater traceability and accountability. Given that many suppliers are now a more integral part of the process, EQMS provides a way to keep them in the loop and notify them of changes sooner, rather than later.
In order to ensure and validate that suppliers conform to requirements, an EQMS system can put early warning triggers in place. When these triggers are established as part of a supplier non-conformance procedure, certain key people can be notified or action can be initiated to create a more streamlined workflow for this specific action. In addition to being able to aid in the process of generating a supplier non-conformance report, EQMS can also help with “lessons learned” processes and predictive intelligence. Historical and current data logged via EQMS can be mined for future processes to be sure that any past failures are not replicated in future efforts. This can be helpful in predicting failures, specific issues, or maintenance concerns with certain types of equipment.
Supplier Quality Assessment: Red Flags to Watch For
As technology evolves at a faster pace, the ability to bring a product to market faster and tighten the cycle time is crucial to electronics manufacturers. Having visibility and collaboration and same-system access for quicker task completions and swift remediation is important when it comes to delivering quality and safe products at a faster pace. Having structured workflows and processes can help to be sure that products meet not just written, but internal quality standards which may need to be verified by cross-functional teams before release.
EQMS has the potential to put these cross-functional teams on the same page and better recognize when supplier non-conformance and supplier corrective action requests (SCAR) should be issued. There are five common red flags that may trigger the need for remediation. These triggers include:
- Non-conforming materials
- Changes that have not been approved
- Changes that have been made without informing pertinent members / departments of a supply chain
- Incomplete incoming materials (Although this trigger isn’t very common in the electronics manufacturing space, there are some instances where incomplete materials -- such as integrated chips without heat-sink mounting -- can pose an issue.)
- Excessive field failures as a result of a supplier component
Despite the continually evolving nature of the electronics industry and the roles of suppliers in the chain, some constants remain. Supplier scoring is a timeless part of a process and insight into adverse trends allows each link in the chain to more quickly pivot and correct course.
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