Planning for the unforeseeable through supplier evaluation

Having the flexibility to identify, contain, and adapt to foreseeable and unforeseeable issues is critical to a comprehensive response plan for quality nonconformances and product recalls. Proactive, responsible companies that implement comprehensive vendor/supplier/contract manufacturer evaluation programs and performance tracking systems as components of an overall quality management system (QMS) will boost preparedness and ensure smooth responses to otherwise devastating product recall scenarios.

Any business — large companies especially — should select contract manufacturers in the same way they select suppliers and other vendors: with thorough research, hand-on inspection and rigorous screening.

A good way to think of it is this: Treat suppliers, vendors and contract manufacturers as if they are your own facilities. Even if they are not providing you with an end-user product, if your company name is going to be on the final product, your customers will view you as responsible and you will be ultimately accountable for the defect.

The alternative – basic adherence to minimal regulatory requirements – does not constitute the wisest PR and quality assurance philosophy. Recall that five years ago, a nationwide recall on children’s toys containing lead paint—and manufactured in China—cast a pall on the integrity of the country’s quality standards. It also forced American toy giant Mattel to recall more than 18 million products and face significant brand damage.

Even entrenched brand images can be dealt significant blows by product recalls, especially when those recalls affect the lives and health of children. For quality managers at companies that rely on contract manufacturers and suppliers overseas, such situations are a call to action: a proactive corporate ethos on quality management — and supply chain traceability in particular — will not only save time and costs long term, it will ensure products exceed minimal regulatory requirements and avert potential public relations and brand image crises. A comprehensive QMS that enables enhanced supply chain traceability and supplier relationship management is the hallmark of such an approach and will inevitably save costs in the long run.

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