Supplier Audits - Creative ways to gain confidence in the next Supplier


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We are evaluating a supplier to assemble some cable assemblies for us.

We've had quality issues with previous suppliers so Im looking for creative ways to gain confidence in the next supplier.

Is it appropriate to ask a supplier for references from like customers?

Like customers being other Medical Device Manufacturers.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sidney Vianna

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Is it appropriate to ask a supplier for references from like customers?
I don't see any problems for you to ask for customer references. Keep in mind, though, the prospective supplier might be selective about such references and only offer names of customers that, they know, would give this supplier good ratings.

Make sure you focus on customers with similar products. Cable assemblies and harnesses vary wildly in size, complexity, grades, etc...To ensure that you are assessing the supplier's capabilities, I would filter, as you said, for similar customers, but, further, similar product lines.

Good luck.

Mark Meer

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Agreed with Sidney...

But in our experience getting references can be difficult/problematic for 2 reasons:
1. Suppliers are reluctant to disclose such information
2. (as Sidney points out) Suppliers will selectively choose good references

Obviously there are many other things you can additionally do. Some common ones are:
1. Negotiate a supplier agreement in advance
2. Verify that they have a quality system in place - preferably one that involves regular 3rd-party audits (i.e. one certified by an accredited organization)
3. Facility inspections (if resources permit)
4. Inspection of product samples

Also, draw from your previous experience. You say you had issues with the previous supplier? What were they? Previous supplier non-conformities is a great opportunity for investigation and preventive action...

Best of luck!


Trusted Information Resource
Share your dirty laundry with the (potential) new supplier. Give them the details of the problems you had with the other supplier and ask them:

1) What they think was the root cause of this issue with your other source

2) How their system would prevent this from happening

3) How they would respond if you informed them it had happened anyway

If they're 9001 or similar, ask to see a record of an internal audit and external audit nonconformance, and their response. If they show you their dirty laundry, you have some idea of their approach to things.

If they decline to share, then you have some idea of their response to things.

Bev D

Heretical Statistician
Super Moderator
I have suffered with this problem for several decades now. In my experience quality system audits are a very weak approach. Be very careful about certification and "references": some larger suppliers may be certified and have a satisfied customer base for one facility but not the facility that will be doing the work for you.

A supplier visit to assess that they have the equipment capable of assembling YOUR products and testing them is essential. Have their engineering staff demonstrate and discuss their capabilities with your expert engineering staff. Look at the manufacturing floor, is there a lot of WIP? Is there a lot of non conforming material? What are their rework processes? Ask to follow a few supplier corrective actions from complaint to resolution - in detail, don't just look to see if the boxes were checked. Talk to the engineers and Manufacturing manager - how do they feel about Custoermcomplaints - move past platitudes about quality adn delighting the Customer...ask for detailed examples. Go to the bathroom in the lobby and/or 'executive area'. Then go to the bathroom for the manufacturing folks. Are they equally bright and clean? This is a huge red flag for me...

Mike S.

Happy to be Alive
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Go to the bathroom in the lobby and/or 'executive area'. Then go to the bathroom for the manufacturing folks. Are they equally bright and clean? This is a huge red flag for me...

Yes – intangibles like this are important, and many people would not to think to look for them! :agree1:

How do they treat the employees? Do they look happy or miserable? Would you wanna work there? What does the internal and external building/grounds maintenance look like? Does the tour guide even know the names of the employees on the shop floor? Is the equipment old and worn or newer and well maintained? Is it clean? Is it safe?

As Sidney said, by all means, you can ask for references.

I gotta admit, even after the best of efforts, sometimes you will still pick a stinker. One of my biggest failures as far as a new supplier I recommended we bring on to replace a poor performer turned out to be an even worse performer. There is still risk involved….so don't ditch the current supplier completely yet!
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