by Charlie Harte

Supplier Visits Important Clues About Prospective Suppliers
Several years ago a Business Leader Post article recommended visiting suppliers as often as feasibly possible.  The main reasons appear to be relationship building and the opportunity to discuss cost/scrap/quality and other production details that may be problematic.

Proficient Sourcing’s business is finding excellent sources for your manufacturing needs (mostly metal and plastic machining/fab work).  To fully appreciate what a supplier can contribute to your business, a visit to the facility making your items can be invaluable.  Especially if you value the free improvements that might come your way!  Always remember the good supplier will be continuously seeking better methods for making their output—it saves them money and maintains happy customers!

During such a visit, we strongly suggest carefully looking at the production floor itself. Some questions should be on a list of what to look for.  Mainly, does what you see there make sense?  Are things arranged in an apparently organized manner?  During your visit does the flow of materials and work seem efficient?  Then here are a few more things to observe:

  1. How does anyone know what the item is that’s being worked on and just what is to be done? Do these instructions appear adequate and easily available?  You should expect the quality supplier’s work stations have job data that’s easily understood.  Perhaps you might not have the technical knowledge to translate such information, but you should see evidence that the work being done is traceable to a specific customer and work order.
  2. How do the people know if they are making the “right” thing? What is measured at each work station? If gauges are needed, are they handy and clearly identified? Is calibration involved and up to date?  Again, you may not have the specific knowledge to evaluate the details, but asking about calibration and it’s documentation is important.  Also, perhaps ask about the training for operators.  Sometimes that can lead to interesting results.
  3. If the item’s manufacture involves multiple steps or cells, how does each successive one know they are receiving a properly made item? Again, does the movement of batches of parts and materials appear to be efficient?  Do you see any evidence that production operations are stalled waiting for some material delivery or removal?
  4. Do you see evidence of work being set aside in order to permit some other work to be done? This suggests some work has priority over other work. You may be interested in when this happens.  Most job shops get conflicting requirements over time.  How do they decide who gets priority and does this decision making process make sense to you?  Will it meet your needs?  If you are to be a new customer, and if you contemplate a long term relationship, how do you get to become the first priority?
  5. Does the production area appear reasonably tidy? Are inventories and in-process items stored in such a way as to be easily identifiable?
  6. Perhaps as important as anything, what does the overall body language tell you about worker attitude?  Do people appear in good spirits and generally busy with something apparently productive?  If not, what does this indicate to you?

When people answer these questions you’ll get an immediate indication of the attention paid to the things the supplier believes are important. Do these standards conform to yours?

Our work strives to build a network of companies that will pass all these test with flying colors.  That’s what Proficient Sourcing delivers and we’d be delighted to prove it to you!  Just give us a call:  we’re ready when you are!

About the author 

Charlie Harte

I’ve built this business based upon my 30+ years in manufacturing sourcing and productivity improvements, where I’ve developed strong relationships with a network of local and global suppliers who’ve demonstrated on-time delivery, parts built to spec, excellent service and value. This means HAPPY CUSTOMERS!