This blog discusses the importance of reviewing previous quality issues and specific areas where the author likes to spend his time during a vendor audit.
When you attend a lead auditor course, the focus is on Quality System auditing. However, when you perform a supplier audit—the Quality System is not the focus. The focus of a supplier audit can fall into two primary categories: 1) qualifying the supplier, or 2) re-evaluating the supplier.
Suppliers are not required to have a registered Quality System or ISO 13485 certification. Therefore, many of the things that an auditor might learn about audit agendas in a lead auditor course just don’t apply. However, one thing always applies: reviewing previous quality issues. When I audit internal auditing and supplier auditing programs, I find that one of the most common mistakes is the failure to close-out previous nonconformities. Therefore, the second section of my audit report template is a review of prior audit findings. If you have no previous findings, ensure your audit report states that. If you are qualifying a new supplier, ensure that the new supplier doesn’t have the same problems you are having with current suppliers.
When you close the previous issues, there are two approaches. The first approach is to close previous issues at the beginning of the audit—immediately after the opening meeting. This is the most common strategy. The second approach is to close previous issues as you audit the applicable area. For example, if you have previous problems in the area of incoming inspection and maintenance records, it might make sense to close these findings when you audit these areas. The advantage of this second approach is that it ensures that the process owner is closing the previous finding and facilitates the sampling of additional records.
What has little value in the supplier audit agenda? Auditing the Management Review process has the least value because the supplier is not required to have a Quality Management System. In fact, subcontractor audits for BSI never include management reviews, CAPAs, or internal audits—the three required areas for every quality system audit.
Most Valuable Areas to Audit?
Incoming inspection, control of nonconforming materials, preservation of the product, production controls, training, and process validation are the areas I typically audit. I like to start in the nonconforming material area and see which materials are on hold. Then I like to sample the incoming inspection records for those raw materials. Next, I want to see how the company is storing those raw materials—if they are accepted. I typically cover these three areas as one process audit. This also happens to be the process audit I like to use for training new auditors, because of the audit of incoming inspection results in numerous audit trails in the support process areas of document control, training, calibration, etc.
The next area I will visit is the production area. For this portion of the audit, I am doing a process audit of the production process. I usually request that we schedule the audit for a time when the production area is running the product(s) of interest. A process flow chart helps plan this portion of the audit, and I will often write some notes directly on a copy of the process flow chart.
I conclude the audit with follow-up trails in the areas of 1) document control (to ensure the supplier has the most current versions of all documentation “we” provided), 2) calibration (to ensure that all measurement devices used for inspection are calibrated), and 3) training (to ensure that all personnel working on “our” product are appropriately trained).
Since I do not have to spend time on Quality System issues during a supplier audit, I spend more time sampling records in the other areas. Therefore, I might sample 5-10 records in each of the above areas instead of 3-4 records. If the number of samples available to sample is small, I may even sample 100% of the records.