Vetting Your Supplier—an Interview Checklist for the Buyer
Quality. Delivery. Price. Three basic things every buyer wants to be promised. But what assurance does a buyer have that those commitments will be met, time and time again, over the length of the program?
Like interviewing a prospective new employee, an interview with a prospective precision metal stamping supplier should include topics that give you a good idea of what their capabilities are, and whether they will be able to produce a quality product, reliably. I’ve discussed below the subject areas you should explore with prospective suppliers. We can assume that they will be open and willing to share this information—as well, they should have the answers readily available. If not, these alone are indicators of their overall (in)ability to accommodate your needs.
- Quality Standard Certifications
One assurance is that a potential supplier is certified to a quality standard, whether it’s IATF (International Automotive Task Force), ISO (International Organization for Standardization), or one of the many medical, military, or aerospace quality standards. Whether your industry requires it or not, if they’ve done the work to achieve and maintain registration to a quality standard, it demonstrates an investment in their organization. But a good vetting process shouldn’t stop there.
- Well-Defined, Measurable Objectives
Your prospective supplier should have a well-defined set of objectives that are measured on a regular basis and are thoroughly understood—and practiced—throughout the organization. A quick interview of the company’s management should yield some honest answers about what their objectives are, how they measure up, and what they are doing to meet and improve their objectives. Performance objectives should include things like on-time delivery, customer complaints, customer reject rates, etc. These should be measurable and reported on a periodic basis. A report on “cost of quality” should not only include the cost of poor quality but also show an investment in prevention and improvement. Any reports should show a trend toward improvement or plan for corrective action.
- Reinvestment Priorities
Part of your conversation should be about reinvestment in their company. Are your suppliers expanding their capacity and capabilities, or at least keeping them up to date? Are they able to add capacity for increased production needs? Are they willing to add capacity if you bring them enough business? If they are willing to add capacity, how quickly will they be able to ramp-up for full production and delivery?
- Value-Added Relationships
Ask about their relationships with their material sources. Do they buy enough from the type of supplier your product will require so that they have buying power and a dependable source? Do they have long-standing relationships with a complementary network, with possible contingencies and options in place should the supply chain get interrupted or compromised for any reason? Ask about their lean manufacturing initiatives. Is there an active program and is everyone trained and commited? You would want your product to be run as efficiently as possible to avoid costly mistakes and delays.
5. Workforce Training
At the core of any operation is the workforce. Find out what percentage is permanent versus contract help. It’s important to know how well-trained and supervised are they are—ask. It’s increasingly common for companies to use a higher percentage of contract help, which can lead to a poorly trained workforce with high turnover, unless they are working in a very controlled and supervised environment. It’s too easy for expensive mistakes to be made under those conditions, with serious consequences to both your product and tooling. Costly events such as equipment crashes could result in interruptions to your product supply.
- Visual Check
Last but not least, a tour of the facility will be insightful. Is the space well-organized and clean? Does the equipment look clean and well-maintained? Does there appear to be adequate room for your product? Visualize, if you can, your product being processed through their plant. Does it appear there is a good workflow and an overall good fit for your requirements?
Although these questions may sound like a full-blown audit, some clear and structured questions during an interview with a prospective metal stamping supplier should yield some evidence and general indications fairly easily. ISO or IATF standards require these kinds of records, but any well-run company should be tracking their performance against objectives they set for themselves—and have the information readily available for you.
The best vetting process still will not guarantee you won’t have any start-up issues or minor delays now and again, as things can happen beyond anyone’s control. But it will certainly provide some assurance that you’ve placed your product in capable hands that have a system in place to logically, nimbly, and scalably flex to your production needs with consistency while maintaining top quality.
We discussed advanced quality planning (AQP) in a recent blog. The intention of a AQP is to establish a system, from the very beginning of the manufacturing relationship, that ensures that customer requirements are met (and exceeded) throughout the tenure of the customer/manufacturer partnership for any given tool or metal stamping part. AQP provides a framework of communication among all stakeholders within the manufacturing company, and the process rolls out in five phases. There are some distinct benefits to highlight when following AQP.
Advanced Quality Planning Benefits
The benefits are always two-fold—both to the customer and the manufacturer. They include:
- Saving time and money—through the efficient use of time and resources
- Clear communication—to set expectations and mitigate misunderstandings and risk
- Continuous improvement model—that incorporates assessment, feedback, and nimble corrective action when needed
- Increase in overall customer satisfaction—by avoiding or reducing disruptions (and their subsequent containment contingencies)
- Superior quality—in designs and products, process flow and controls
Larson has has been practicing AQP for many years, which allows us to be a nimble and flexible precision metal stamping supplier—and we can do so in a scalable manner. We apply those characteristics to all projects, passing those advantages on to our customers.
To help you vet your precision metal stamping suppliers, we’ve compiled this interview checklist that will guide you through the information-gathering process. Download this checklist that guides you through the information-gathering process when vetting a precision metal stamping supplier.