Attention to component and product quality requirements early during product development and later during production is absolutely vital to ensure components and products meet all necessary customer safety, technical, and quality specifications. Quality is a price of entry and sustenance in most industries today so it is critical that supply chain team members have a thorough understanding of the available quality requirements and how best to manage quality requirements pre- and post-launch. Focusing on unique component and product quality requirements, especially technical specifications and tolerance levels, in advance of sourcing reduces supply risk by enhancing supply partner qualification criteria. Further, establishing ongoing manufacturing quality metrics for PPM and periodic testing before sourcing leads to supply partners maintaining quality component and product manufacturing upon completion.
In our experience, the most critically important quality requirements for high-growth technology companies to focus on are: technical specifications, tolerance levels, defective parts per million (PPM), and periodic testing. Cost benefit analysis should always dictate the level and number of quality key performance indicators (KPIs) tracked, but below are some critical cost effective recommended must-haves for any current or future program.
Technical specifications describe the minute details of all component and finished product requirements that allow manufacturers to understand the function of all components and features of a product. Without proper detailed technical specifications, your components can be misinterpreted; manufacturers may be reluctant to point out shortcomings of your designs and send them back to you for re-working. Clearly defined technical specifications are an integral part of effective communication between your company and manufacturers, minimizing time, cost, and risk in your product’s component manufacturing and assembly. We frequently find that a company’s innovation outpaces component prints, which can often cause miscommunication of technical specifications. As they say, it is better to “measure twice and cut once,” so make sure you are always communicating the latest component technical specifications and prints to supply partners.
When creating designs for manufacturing, engineering tolerance levels are used to measure a machine’s ability to cope with changes in physical dimensions, measured value of a physical property, and other measured values. Including a tolerance level for error is crucial to ensure that all of the parts fit together effectively. Tolerance levels state the ideal dimension value +/- a value that defines the upper and lower tolerance limits at which the component is able to function. This is especially important because it only takes one defective component to cause a finished product not to function or to have an increased rate of wear. Companies should set realistic tolerances, have supply partners measure components, and periodically measure components at the final manufacturing location. The process of measuring and recording component measurements will identify changing component dimensions and head off potential quality issues before they arise.
PPM, is a measurement of the number of events or defects per million parts. Historically suppliers worked to keep their defective PPM under 1 in 10,000, but in recent years that value has dropped to 0.1% (1,000 PPM) and then plummeted as low as .0025% or 25 PPM. If your company or supply partner is a ‘six sigma’ manufacturer, the goal is to be lower than 3.4 PPM. No matter what defective PPM limit your company and supply partners elect to use, it is a valuable tool to help gauge component and product quality consistency.
Periodic testing in this instance refers to company audits and to third party testing audits that may be required to maintain certain product certifications such as General Certificate of Conformity (GCC) or manufacturing plant certifications such as ISO 13485. Periodic testing is in addition to the testing that was conducted when a component or product was initially tested for certification or retested and certified following a material change. Depending on the industry, periodic testing may be required to be performed by a CPSC-accepted third party laboratory (Consumer Products Safety Commission). Periodic testing at supply partner facilities will ensure ongoing quality compliance along with pointing out improvement initiatives upon which your organization and supply partners can build stronger quality processes and better end products.
In conclusion, technical specifications, tolerance levels, PPM, and periodic testing, are all valuable tools when verifying and monitoring component and product quality levels. All high-growth technology companies should take these quality requirements into account for new components and products, pre- and post-launch. Institutionalizing quality best practices and processes within your organization and supply base are key to ascending to a leading quality position within your market. Quality is a long-term game of ongoing percentages and should be treated as a partnership with supply partners to continuously track and improve KPIs over time. Leading Supplier Quality and Manufacturing teams we partner with move beyond viewing quality as an audit function and instead view quality as a process and collaborative continuous improvement initiative with supply partners. Whether you are partnering with a contract manufacturer or manufacturing a product yourself, base-lining and working to continuously improve the aforementioned quality metrics will put your company on a path to develop and maintain quality leadership in your industry.