Here’s the scenario: You have a part that you’ve been making and selling but you’ve decided to put it out to quote. You send your drawings package and samples of the part to a contract manufacturer that has a reputation for providing quality engineering support. In reviewing the drawings, the project engineer picks up on a small but significant difference between the drawing and the actual part that’s in production.
This points to a couple issues:
- The company’s documentation is incorrect.
- The tool is incorrect.
- The part is not being made to spec.
Obviously, the discrepancy between the drawing and the part wasn’t a difference-maker since no one noticed it before. But is that any way to do business?
Think about it: Somehow a tool was made that didn’t conform to the drawings and no one ever caught it. Quality processes are part of any reputable contract manufacturer’s operation. For example, the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), which had its roots in the automotive industry, has become the norm in manufacturing across industries.
The PPAP is meant to demonstrate that the design and production process developed by the supplier will meet the client’s requirements as agreed to in the design phase or in the drawings package. When properly administered, the PPAP minimizes the risk of failure, reduces costly errors and moves the project forward in a timely fashion.
In the case of our scenario, something clearly slipped through verification process of the PPAP document. This could land on the desk of several departments — quality, engineering, administration. Maybe someone unintentionally checked an item off that should have gone through further review. It's important to do a post-mortem on how and why it occurred, and even more important to follow established procedures to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
A note to the customer: Remember this is your project. It’s incumbent upon you to be engaged in the process and protect the integrity of your project.
Before you sign off on a PPAP:
- Closely inspect every tool sample against the drawings. Does it look as it should?
- Closely inspect every product sample against the prototype and/or drawings.
- Document and report any discrepancies immediately. Take photos and provide a detailed explanation of the differences.
- Carefully read every document you get from your CM before you sign.
5 Benefits of Engineering Support
Situations like the scenario described also point to an aspect of product development that you would be wise to consider. Does your contract manufacturer have an experienced engineering team? How well do you know them? How well do they know your product?
We've identified several advantages of working with contract manufacturer providing engineering support:
- Your goals are front and center. A good engineering team will listen and ask questions, then translate your expectations into clear specifications for the manufacturing team to execute.
- Because 80 percent of the cost of a product is determined during the design phase, early involvement by engineers can ensure that there are no “hidden factories” — the hidden cost of quality versus the visible costs of quality.
- An experienced engineering team will consider the manufacturing process when they design products.
- They have an understanding of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and can ensure the part is being made at the highest quality for the lowest cost.
- Typically have a range of experience in a variety of specificationss, materials and test requirements.
Here's a graphic that visualizes the process of design, review and manufacturing. Note the arrows calling for review, feedback and review again. Communication is essential.
If people are involved, mistakes are going to happen. When they do, it’s important to fix them and address them so they aren’t repeated. Make it a teachable moment. Take the time to revisit established quality protocols both on the manufacturing and customer sides. An even more efficient approach is to work with a contract manufacturer with a seasoned staff of engineering professionals who can head off mistakes long before a product comes off the line.
- How Engineering Support Positions Your Project for Success
- How to Manage Quality Processes When Using a Contract Manufacturer
Originally published June 28, 2017, updated January 2018