Can Buyer stipulate that all product quality efforts be directed straight through her

#1
Good morning Covers! I've been working in the QE role for a privately-owned contract manufacturer for about 3 yrs. For at least the past decade, we've been supplying Class I disposable components for power tool medical devices to several OEMs.

We're currently struggling with implementing CAPA and related actions for one of our Customers. I've written action plans which have rec'd internal approvals, but have been unable to elicit consistent guidance. IMO, a major reason for our difficulties is that the Buyer has mandated several times that all discussion/approval of actions be routed directly through her as the primary (only authoritative?) contact. The practices/ shifting demands/ of this individual consistently deflect/ ignore our good faith efforts to propose solutions to an escalating number of complaints. This Buyer's tendency to either not respond, or set aside discussions between our respective Engineering dept. as subject to her (indefinitely?) delayed review is causing headaches from our CS rep, up to our chief onsite executive.

Frankly, I'm finding myself wishing for the interactions provided by one of our (BIG) OEM Customers. While (often very) demanding, their SQEs are an authority which definitely drive implementation/closure of CARs, and true improvement...

Do I have a right to demand a Customer SQA contact as the primary contact on these efforts?

These issues are only growing, as frankly I don't have practical authority to delay continued Production to a range of open affected p/n which is distressingly growing due to failure to close issues which, after a few contentious e-mails assigning blame for (our) problem, seem to lose urgency in the Buyer's focus in favor of "Today's" new issue regarding "Today's" hot urgent part!

Any help would be greatly appreciated; if I can solve this (personality-driven?) bottleneck I might just become the "Hero of the Day" around here!!!
 
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Sidney Vianna

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#2
Re: Can Buyer stipulate that all product quality efforts be directed straight through

Do I have a right to demand a Customer SQA contact as the primary contact on these efforts?
Typically, in the customer-supplier relationship, it is rare for the supplier to have the upper hand and demand anything. On the other hand, you and your organization are entitled to expect a less dysfunctional relationship.

In this day and age of worker exploitation, it is possible that your customer decided to have buyers acting as the single contact point with suppliers. In my experience, buyers do not have the technical expertise to discuss adequacy of root cause analysis and corrective action plans and they act as the middle-man between you, the supplier, and someone at the customer organization who can (hopefully) intelligently assess the proposed fixes. Buyers tend to shift priorities, based on whatever crisis comes to the forefront, in their organizations.

If I were you, I would try to overcome the buyer bottleneck by suggesting that you could communicate directly with someone at the customer organization who can approve your plans; obviously, the buyer might perceive that as something that undermines their "authority", so, it would have to be done extremely tactfully and under the guise of helping the overloaded buyer and reducing his/her work.

Tread carefully, but do something. The situation, as you describe is not sustainable in the medium and long term and the friction will erode the relationship between the two organizations.

Having said all of that, the end goal should be to prevent these crisis to happen in the first place. Apparently you have a significant number of product rejections with this customer. Why is that? Your customer should not have to issue SCAR's in high numbers. They should be few and far between.
 

Big Jim

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#3
Re: Can Buyer stipulate that all product quality efforts be directed straight through

Although it would be poor form to demand, there is nothing wrong with asking. Remember that your customer's resources are also often spread thin and they usually cannot afford to provide the level of help you desire for every situation or every customer.

This is most certainly one of the situations where you will get further with honey instead of vinegar.
 

Wes Bucey

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#4
Re: Can Buyer stipulate that all product quality efforts be directed straight through

Big Jim and Sidney have capsulized the situation as completely as anyone could want.

Let me add my two cents (or less;)):
If you do not supply custom made goods, but supply off-the-shelf products of your organization's design (or if they are commodity-type products like drill bits, saw blades, etc.), then the "bottleneck" is entirely in the customer's lap. Different story if the products are custom or unique to this customer.

I am concerned a bit about your comment regarding CAPA plans and approvals for this "bottleneck" person. Are you really experiencing product problems with your goods or are these "bookkeeping" problems having to do with documentation, delivery times, etc.?

Depending on the nature of the N/C, it may be entirely appropriate for the buyer to be the key contact point, if the N/C are entirely bookkeeping in nature.

If the product quality is an issue, is it a single feature or multiple features on multiple products? In either case, the issue must be resolved and CA implemented (just the "plan" of CAPA does not satisfy OEMs, they NEED results!) If your organization is looking for signoff on a "plan," don't waste your energy. Solve the problem and present a finished event to the customer. Don't expect ANY employee of a customer (versus a 3rd party auditor) to even consider approving a "plan" for product N/C remedy because they need results to use in their product with assurance the problems are solved.
 
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