This blog reviews which an important supplier management issue; which personnel should be conducting specific types of audits for the company.
Today, I would like to start by asking a question: Who does supplier audits at your company?
I believe that there are three primary purposes for conducting supplier audits:
1) “For cause” audit, where the auditor is investigating the root cause of a nonconformity
2) Qualification audit, where the auditor is assessing if the supplier should be added to the Approved Supplier List (ASL)
3) Re-evaluation audit, where the auditor is verifying that the supplier is maintaining proper production controls
The problem with these three audits is that most companies send the same people—regardless of the purpose. Usually companies send a purchasing manager or a supplier qualify engineer to conduct supplier audits. Occasionally, the two will do a team audit. Resources for auditing suppliers are tight in most companies. Therefore, I do not recommend this “one size fits all” approach. Instead, I believe that each purpose should be matched up with a specific type of auditor.
“For cause” audits need a supplier quality engineer who has strong investigational skills and will be able to identify the root cause(s) of a nonconformity. The auditor should also be capable of training the supplier on how to respond effectively to a Supplier Corrective Action Request
Qualification audits are ideal opportunities for a team approach. There are quality issues to consider, but there are also financial, scheduling and capacity issues. A cross-functional team approach works best in this case. A team also reduces the potential for biased individuals making inappropriate recommendations.
Re-evaluation audits should not be conducted by purchasing or supplier quality engineers. The reason is that neither position is typically responsible for performing incoming inspection. If you don’t perform inspections regularly, you may not be aware of all the problems to search for. Therefore, I recommend using QC inspectors for this activity. QC inspectors know exactly which quality issues have been found recently, because the QC inspectors identify the defects during incoming inspection, in-process inspections and during final inspections.
I don’t think that my approach to “For Cause” or Qualification audits is unusual. However, using QC inspectors to perform supplier audits is uncommon. There are two other reasons why I believe companies should consider this approach. First, inspectors would get a rare opportunity to go on a business trip and be reimbursed for the travel. For those employees that rarely travel, this can be an opportunity for recognition by management and a perk (i.e., – free meal, lodging and travel). Second, supplier quality engineers could easily fill in for a QC inspector to become more familiar with parts and components, as well.