In How do quality problems arise? – Part 1, we spoke with our supplier quality engineers, auditors, and quality inspectors on what causes supplier quality problems. They pointed out that management resistance, poor training in manufacturing techniques, and the failure to effectively communicate design and product changes, were often the reasons. We continue our discussions with them.

  1. ‘It’s Not My Problem’ Mentality

Alex Liu, Supplier Quality Engineer, Shenzhen, China

I think a ‘quality’s not my problem’ attitude is the cause of many quality problems I’ve seen. This can arise at the management level – my colleague Raul Rodriguez has already discussed the need for quality leadership, but another situation where this can occur is when department teams believe that quality is only for the quality department to think about. That’s absolutely not the case.

Quality management is a specialised profession and you definitely need to have a separate team for it. However, quality is everybody’s concern, whether the person is in the design, procurement, engineering, or the production team. Every employee should equally be interested in quality and ensure that it is first priority in their work. There should also be cross-disciplinary team discussions on quality as it could mean different things to different people. For instance, a product designer may view quality in terms of style, aesthetics, and user functionality, whereas from a production perspective it is about conformance to specifications. The business and sales teams will see quality as fitness for use and customer satisfaction. 

  1. Lack of Resources

 Sunchai Chaisurivirat, Senior Quality Inspector, Thailand

 Successful quality management can all come down to how much resources your supplier has. For big suppliers, they can afford to invest in robust quality systems but this becomes a much greater challenge for the smaller suppliers who have less resources at their disposal. A dedicated quality team will also not be foremost on their list of business priorities as rejected products only means increased costs. The supplier would much rather try and get away with defective production.  In such situations, it’s all the more essential that you deploy your own quality personnel to manage your supplier’s quality.

  1. Drive Down Costs

 Sunny Wong, Supplier Quality Engineer, Tianjn, China

 It’s the need to drive down costs. OEMs are under unprecedented pressure to keep lowering costs while extracting as much value as they can from every single bit that goes into their product. They pressure suppliers to keep dropping their prices, and the suppliers are themselves under pressure from their local and international competitors to offer rock-bottom prices. This ‘race to the bottom’ encourages employees to cut corners and make compromises – it’s just a recipe for disaster.

  1. Constantly Changing Personnel

 Duy Ngo, Senior Quality Inspector, Vietnam

 Suppliers in low-cost manufacturing locations like China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, India and Thailand don’t use permanent full-time production staff. Again, that’s another cost-cutting measure for them and saves them having to pay employee benefits. The workers usually come from manpower companies and only stay for one to two years. This means that there is no consistency in manufacturing processes and quality control.

  1. Conflict of Interest

 Edwin Lim, Supplier Quality Engineer, Singapore

 You get quality problems because there’s a conflict of interest and objectives between your purchasing and quality departments. Purchasers are contract negotiators and their interest is in securing the lowest price for their company. This means that they may not give due regard to technical or quality concerns. Another troubling situation is that suppliers may give purchasers incentives or bribes so that they can secure the purchase agreement. To get around this, you should make purchasing a collaborative exercise between your engineering, technical, quality and purchasing teams – don’t let the main decision rest with one person alone. You can also mandate that purchasing and supplier selection decisions should be informed by the following factors: financial terms, quality assurance, risk, service performance, buyer-supplier partnerships, cultural and communication barriers, and trade restrictions.

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