The process of bringing a new customer on-board at a manufacturing supplier can be difficult. As a company, you have won the business. Often this involves answering the request for proposal. Sometimes it involves completing an on-site survey with the potential customer.
Now comes the time to produce! The purchase order defines the requirements that apply. The purchase order contains several key pieces of information. The accounting department focuses on the price per unit and overall value. The program managers ensure the delivery schedule is achievable. The engineering department reviews the required engineering. Quality reviews the quality clauses and any supplier quality manuals.
Challenges of a New Customer
Working with a new customer presents unique challenges. First, the team must become acquainted with the expectations. This comes from a thorough understanding of the engineering and quality requirements. Second, the team must plan how to produce the product within the time frame in the purchase order. Finally, the team must execute the plan to deliver a quality product on time.
The engineering department receives the customers engineering documents and models. This creates the basis for everything the team will work on. The engineering documents usually consist of a drawing or model, the parts list and applicable specifications. The engineering drawing or model and the parts list usually come with the initial award.
The applicable specifications present another challenge. Usually the parts list contains a section of general notes or drawing notes with the requirements. Those specifications govern every aspect of producing the customer product.
After engineering finishes the programming and planning, quality begins reviewing the engineering documents and any supplier quality manuals. Most customers add the supplier quality manual on their website. The quality manuals prescribe how the Quality Management System should be established. The quality manual also covers the quality clauses.
Quality also reviews the engineering specifications. Their review focuses on the certifications and inspection criteria for each process. For example, a painted product requires the paint to be a specific thickness and smoothness. Many other tests certify the material.
Execute the Plan for the new customer
Now comes time to execute the plan. With all the preparations completed, the product begins the process. Hopefully the supply chain ordered the material already. The planning routes the material from one station to another. Each step along the way means material and information transfer. Material moving makes sense, but information travels through as well. The information consists of programs, instructions and work order history. Finally, inspection verifies the plan was executed properly.
Companies make similar mistakes when on-boarding a new customer. A relatively small number of large failures occur with new customers. Executing the plan gets all the glory, but flawless execution cannot cover poor preparation.
The most common errors normally involve omitting requirements, misunderstanding a requirement or using an unapproved supplier. Each of those errors cover several specific issues. Each new customer presents special hazards.
New customer documentation challenges the company to recognize all requirement sources. This may sound simple, but the structure of engineering documents and purchase orders can be deceptive. The presentation of information varies by customer. Without fully understanding how the information is presented, the team may execute the wrong plan by simply not knowing a requirement.
Misunderstanding a Requirement
Once all the requirements are known, the challenge becomes properly interpreting the requirements. Proper tolerance presents a common misunderstood requirement. For instance, GD&T commonly defines the engineering drawing or model. If geometric dimensioning and tolerance confuses the programmer, then the program may not fulfill the customer expectation.
Using an Unapproved Supplier
To control the quality of a supply chain, most customers publish an approved suppliers list. With a new customer, the approved suppliers may differ from other customers. Having the proper controls in place reduce the risk of using an unapproved supplier.