Supplier Quality Management (SQM) is an extensive approach and strategy, using a broad array of activities,
quality expertise and tool-set to ensure that the suppliers of a particular company deliver products and services fitting to the customer’s
expectations. SQM is not industry specific, it is widely applied in many economic sectors, such as automotive, construction, healthcare, IT,
financial services, and many others.
SQM is crucial, as every economic entity has suppliers, and without supplier management the long-term
results can be painful. On top of that, the quality of purchased goods highly influence the quality of the finished product. The ISO 9001
quality standard briefly notes, that suppliers must be evaluated, selected and re-evaluated, while the automotive specific IATF 16949
quality management system standard - and its predecessor ISO/TS 16949
specification - even goes further with the requirement of supplier
quality management system development and supplier monitoring.
Managing the quality performance of our suppliers is one of the most difficult sections of
, as influencing another companies can be more
problematic, than taking effect on our own organization. SQM is a much diversified field with many obstacles, however it has a wide literature,
containing best practices and focus points.
The first question is, what we need to do to select, deal with and cooperate with the best possible suppliers.
The first step is to change our attitude and business strategy. Perhaps the answer is very evident, it is still true. Various companies do not
invest into a centralized supplier quality management, and without that there is no chance for success. Conducting our own manufacturing
environment on the highest level is vain without paying attention to our suppliers. The cooperation with our supplier must be long-term,
focused on partnership and trust.
Juran pointed out a totally new approach in his quality handbook, visualizing the differences between
traditional and strategic view:
|Traditional vs strategic view of the purchasing process
(source: Joseph M. Juran:
Juran's Quality Handbook)
|Aspect in the purchasing process
|Supplier / buyer relationship
||Adversarial, competitive, distrusting
||Cooperative, partnership, based on trust
|Length of relationship
||Long term, infinite
|Criteria for quality
||Conformance to specifications
||Fitness for use
||Inspection upon receipt
||No incoming inspection necessary
|Communication with suppliers
||Infrequent, formal, focus on purchase orders, contracts, legal issues
||Frequent, focus on the exchange of plans, ideas and problem solving opportunities
||Many suppliers, managed in aggregate
||Few suppliers, carefully selected and managed
|Interface between suppliers and end users
||Manage transactions, troubleshoot
||Manage processes and relationships
|Purchasing business plans
||Independent of end-user organization business plans
||Integrated with end-user organization business plans
|Geographic coverage of suppliers
||As required to facilitate leverage
||As required to facilitate problem solving and continuous improvement
|Focus of purchasing decisions
||Total cost of ownership
|Key for purchasing's success
||Ability to negotiate
||Ability to identify opportunities and collaborate on solutions
But how can we create such a partnership with our suppliers? The answer is not simply having an expert SQM
team. Instead, all other influenced fields must be in the game, especially purchasing, engineering & development, manufacturing, finance and
business planning. Good supplier performance starts with the selection and contracting phase, focusing on the requirements (what we expect from
our supplier). Such as in manufacturing and development, quality must be built into the product, and this is relevant also in case of the
purchased parts. The following chart contains major sequences of sourcing and supplier quality management.
Sourcing and supplier quality management (Source: qMindset.com)
SQM must have a very active role from the supplier sourcing, and must be in the lead function during
cooperation with the supplier. The following table contains the key points of supplier quality management:
|Key points of SQM
|Key Point / Task
||Project Management / Development
||Business Planning / Finance / Logistics / Manufacturing
|(1) Definition of purchased product quality requirements (driven from internal and end customer’s
|(2) Evaluation and assessment of possible suppliers (based on technology, experience of previous
projects, historical quality results, risk management, etc.)
|(3) Selection of the top supplier based on point 2
|(4) Contracting, building the quality design requirements and expectations into the contract (also
quality and warranty terms and requirements)
|(5) Involvement of supplier into the product realization process (NPI - New Product Introduction)
/ Joint quality planning, APQP, etc.
|(6) Certification of supplier, validation of conformance (both supplier, and purchased good)
|(7) Cooperation in continuous quality improvement and supplier development
|(8) Claim management and supplier monitoring / rating
As we could see in the table, supplier quality management has to closely cooperate with purchasing
(procurement), development, manufacturing and other departments of the company. In terms of quality related topics, SQM is the bridge or
interface between the supplier and the stakeholders of the customer.
Depending on the company, supplier quality expert are named differently, e.g. Supplier Quality Engineer
(SQE), Supplier Quality Developer (SQD), Supplier Technical Assistant (STA), etc. Some companies combine these roles, while some divide it into
separated ones. At bigger companies, even the supplier quality engineer and supplier quality developer are separated roles. In the latter case,
the SQD is deliberately focusing on the development of the suppliers.
The key roles and responsibilities of supplier quality management:
- Protecting the company from non-conforming supplied products, with the tools of quality planning, control and improvement.
- Interface between the supplier and the stakeholders of the customer.
- Active support of purchasing (supplier assessment, supplier selection, support in contracting).
- Definition of quality requirements, specifications toward the supplier (together with the development department).
- Active support of project management during the product- and process development phases.
- Continuous cooperation with the supplier.
- Decision about supplier initial sampling (release, conditional release or rejection of PPAP, EMPB, etc.).
- Supplier related change management (ECN, ECR).
- Risk management of suppliers.
- Interface between supplier and manufacturing in case of production trial runs (that are performed at the customer).
- Supplier development and quality improvement programs.
- Supplier monitoring and audits during the series phase (process audits, system audits, incoming inspection, tracking quality
- Process owner of claim handling and incident management in case of supplier related defects.
- Reporting supplier quality information to the management and affected stakeholders.
A typical layout of quality departments in a business organization, including the position of SQM:
The place of supplier quality management (Source: qMindset.com;)
Supplier selection and integration is an extensive framework. The following points well define what the
customer should be focusing on to evaluate the preconditions of quality at a given supplier:
- Performing process and system audits at the supplier (based on industrial standards and specifications, such as VDA 6.3,
IATF 16949:2016, AS 9100). Process audits must be frequent also during the cooperation.
- Checking 3rd party (certification bodies) audit results, certificates.
- Quality awareness and mindset.
- Willingness for cooperation and maximum dedication to Zero-defect strategy.
- Communication and flexibility.
- High-tech resources (technology and machinery are available to fulfil quality expectations).
- Manufacturing capability (high OEE, high
process capability, outstanding measurement capability, even in case of "bottleneck" processes).
- Well-trained staff (proven during audits, visits).
- Reliability in keeping deadlines (first sampling, deliveries, etc.).
- In-house improvements with real content (best practices, lessons learned, continuous improvement, 6 Sigma, etc.).
- High knowledge of incident management (emergency plan, high problem solving competence, deep traceability).
- Infrastructure, compliance with environmental management (e.g. ISO 14001), safety (e.g. OHSAS 18001) standards and governmental
Of course a higher cost manifests in these points, so top-notch suppliers apply a higher price, however it
brings return during the long-term cooperation (see Cost of Quality
Many of the above mentioned points are included in VDA 2 (Quality Assurance of Suppliers). This automotive
standard defines a so called Quality Assurance Agreement (QAA), which is a contract between the supplier and its customer, related to details of
quality management and expectations. QAA takes effect as soon as it is signed by both parties (after the supplier is selected, and the quality management
points are agreed).
There are many key quality (or quality related) metrics that are often used by SQM, especially in the
automotive or aerospace industry. Usually these metrics are combined into one or a few scores, giving a higher understandability:
- 0km and field claims originated from supplier defects in Part per million (PPM).
- Number of supplier incidents (systematic defects).
- Number and weight of service campaigns or safety recalls due to supplier failures.
- Cost of failures, incidents.
- Process / System audit ratings.
- Supplier PDCA executions and delays.
- On-time delivery scores are usually tracked by logistics.
Example: the company tracks various supplier quality metrics, and combines them into one major KPI that
represents the monthly performance of the given supplier.
|Key points of SQM
||Number of 0km defects (ppm)
||Number of line incidents (piece)
||Number of service campaigns over 50 000 USD (piece)
||Supplier process audit result
||0 pmm (score 10)
0-30 ppm (score 8)
30-100 ppm (score 6)
over 100 ppm (score 0)
|0 pc (score 10)
1 pc (score 5)
over 1 pc (score 0)
|0 pc (score 10)
1 pc (score 2)
over 1 pc (score 0)
|over 90% (score 10)
80% – 90% (score 6)
under 80% (score 0)
|Metric score based on actual level
||(8 * 0.2) + (10 * 0.2) + (10 * 0.4) + (6 * 0.2) = 8.8
Based on general roles of supplier quality management, it has a systematic frame of tools and methods, many
of them are overlapping other quality fields.
As a concrete example, the knowledge of the following tools and methods is essential for a supplier
engineer or supplier quality developer, to be successful in the automotive industry:
Sourcing of supplier
- Supplier Selection process or the given company the engineer is working for.
- Quality metrics.
- Risk management (first estimations about supplier).
- Industrial standards and specifications (e.g. ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949).
Integration of supplier
- Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) and NPI (New Product Introduction).
- Failure Mode- and Effects Analysis (FMEA).
- Risk management (risk evaluation with the development).
- Special Characteristics.
- Control Plan (CP).
- Quality Assurance Matrix (QAM).
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), Machine- (Cmk) and Process Capability (Cpk).
- Measurement System Analysis (MSA) and
Gauge Repeatability and Reproducibility (GR&R).
- Production Part Approval Process (PPAP).
- Initial Sampling Inspection Report (ISIR or EMPB).
- Trial Run.
- Limit Sample.
- Product- and Process Audit.
- Run at Rate.
- Statistical Process Control (SPC).
- (Suggested: Six Sigma methodology).
Maintenance of supplier performance
- Claim management (8D report with knowledge of root cause analysis, action implementation and verification, etc.).
- Incident Management.
- Layered Process Audits.
- Lessons Learned.
- Controlled Shipping Level (CSL).
- Quality Awards and Prizes.
Source: qMindset.com; Joseph M. Juran: Juran's Quality Handbook
Create your company’s supplier manual, than contains quality requirements. Supplier specific details about
quality expectations will be contained in the contract. Nowadays not only multinational companies, but more and more SMEs (Small and Medium
Enterprises) create their own supplier manual.
Integrating quality expectations and metrics into the contract is as crucial as the financials or operational
requirements. On top of that quality affects financials and operations on the long-term!
Establish your supplier scoring system (metrics, scorecard, and summarizing dashboard) that is not only
transparent, but also reflects the performance of the supplier, based on your needs. Your (and your customer’s) main requirements must be
reflected in the scoring, e.g. if you are focusing on the number of incidents, overweight the related metric, which may honour or punish the
supplier, depending on its performance. Of course these conditions must be included in the contracting, and the supplier must agree to these
Honour the high performance of your best suppliers. Make awards for them which expresses your satisfaction,
and also can be motivating for them (and even for those ones that were not performing on the highest level).