Put Quality in the Supply Chain


I would think that electronics OEMs or distributors would be leading the charge toward quality, and I’m sure many of them are. However, the first time I encountered a quality department that did extensive quality control it was in a New Hampshire distribution center (DC) that served the apparel industry.

For this manufacturer, the goal was to make fairly priced clothing that delivered good quality to middle-aged women. The Director of Quality at the warehouse, along with her team, did such a good job that this retailer was known for its quality. To meet their quality goals, workers spent a lot of time measuring the tops and pants against strict criteria, checking the cut of the pieces, figuring out how the pieces would look on real people, and making sure that the colors were good for a variety of skin tones. They thought of everything. They took pictures and shared infractions with their vendors across the supply chain.

All DC’s follow quality processes. Typically, there are two types of quality processes:

  • Quality inspection
  • Quality audit

Quality inspection

Quality inspection is a relatively simple process. Basically, a percentage of the product received is set aside for quality check, done at the vendor level. If the vendor has a good track record, its percentage would be lower. Vendors with issues in the past might be assigned a higher percentage.  Then the vendor’s performance is measured using Vendor Performance codes.  Each code indicates a specific infraction, to identify issues ranging from the label being applied wrong to an incorrect product quantity. Problems, when identified, are issues as charge back to vendors including labor spent fixing infractions.

Quality audit

Quality audits involve a more detailed quality check. A defined sample is set aside from each shipment and rigorous checks are performed against those samples, often multiple times. If quality is lacking, further samples might be checked from the shipment. This is typically done for products coming from a manufacturing plant.  In most cases, these products would be received right from the manufacturing line.

Other quality checks

Other quality checks are also helpful. For example, an organization might inspect for the cleanliness of the truck to ensure that products don’t get damaged or contaminated. Operators loading the trailer are often asked to document the job they did in washing the trailers.

Another quality concern might be how the trailers are loaded. Consider the differences in labor cost and how it might impact the way trailers are loaded. For example, a plant in Thailand would have plentiful inexpensive labor so it would cost less for them to floor load the boxes.  The lower cost also means that they may take advantage of maximizing loading of the cube. Now, consider what happens at the receiving end, now the trailer shows up with fully loaded with boxes.  On this end, a lot of people or an automated palletizer is needed to build pallets (the preference in the U.S. since it allows one person to carry a huge amount of product using a forklift). This would not be a problem if the company is manufacturing products and Thailand and sending them to their own US facilities. However, if the cubes are being sent to a partner, the lack of palletization might be a huge infraction.

These types of quality checks allow organizations to spot and mitigate points of failure. Currently, there are technologies that can help image-enable the supply chain to allow organizations to document and explain quality issues. With pictures as examples, DCs can train employees using real world examples.

How do you effectively communicate quality infractions to vendors? How to you close the communication gap with offshore suppliers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit the company at www.smartgladiator.com. Also follow him at www.pugasankara.com.

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