Don’t Overlook Quality

How to Determine if Your Prospective Supplier’s Quality System is Legitimate Before There Are Consequences

Quality – everyone claims they offer it.  No one will say they are a low-quality and shoddy-workmanship company. Therefore, it’s up to you, the buyer, to make sure. After all, isn’t a quality system just a paperwork exercise? As long as the item does what the supplier says it does, everything is fine… right? Well, not exactly.

In the aerospace world, quality control is second only to performance. The reason for an effective quality-control program (whether formally registered or not) is to assure the supplier has put plenty of thought and experience into how they do things, and aren’t “winging it.”

How do you know an item conforms to performance specifications and will continue to do so? That’s where a supplier’s quality system comes into play. And, not all systems are equal.  There are things you need to consider.

An effective quality control program:

a) Proves an item conforms to specifications.
b) Has a system in place to provide that proof.
c) Has corrective measures in place to deal with an item that doesn’t.

QA Questions for Prospective Suppliers

Whether you do or don’t require rigorous quality-control measures, a legitimate supplier must have straightforward answers to the following questions:

  1. To what standard does your QA system conform?
  2. When was your latest external QA audit? By whom?
  3. How do you perform internal audits? How often?
  4. How do you control documents and records?
  5. What is the process flow for a typical program and when are the quality provisions invoked?
  6. How do you control changes?
  7. How do you control and verify the configuration of delivered items?
  8. How do you deal with certified material?
  9. What are your typical inspection points during verification and validation activities?
  10. Do you issue a Certificate of Conformance? What does it cover?
  11. How do you control calibration?
  12. How do you control external suppliers?
  13. What is the selection process for special-process suppliers?
  14. What authority does the Failure Review Board and Material Review Board have when it comes to anomalies and nonconforming material?
  15. How are corrective actions implemented?
  16. How do you address nonconforming material that has been delivered?
  17. Describe the steps taken to preserve and maintain product, measuring equipment and customer property.
  18. How are employees trained and qualified to do their tasks?

Notice, all of these questions deal with the supplier knowing their products and processes, and can demonstrate that a delivered item conforms to requirements. If not, that there is a process in place to address problems and shortcomings.

You don’t necessarily need to ask all these questions at once; but if quality is important in your program, start with a few when you first make contact. Their reaction and answers will say more than a paper trail. Often what is NOT said and HOW what IS said speaks louder than documentation.

Don’t make a costly mistake. A little due diligence will tell you if you are dealing with a company who takes quality seriously.

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