Surviving and thriving as a supplier

Features - Cover Story

Maintaining an efficient supply chain – as customer and vendor – locally and globally.

October 13, 2015

Every good manufacturing company focuses heavily on – one might even say obsesses over – quality control. The final product delivered to the customer must be perfect and always on time. But no business can operate totally independently. To ensure the perfect final product, you need an outstanding and well-managed supply chain.

So how do you ensure the many businesses supplying your company, possibly from all over the world, consistently meet your demanding standards?

You must closely and routinely audit the work of your suppliers. Every good manufacturer will not only carry out regular internal audits but will also execute supplier audits to ensure quality control processes are being properly implemented. Your suppliers, equally, should carry out their own internal audits.

Managing suppliers internationally becomes more straightforward every year. Through means such as teleconferencing, videoconferencing, and intranet portals, not every review meeting needs to be face-to-face.

Grow together

While audits are essential, be wary if you feel your suppliers are reluctantly meeting your standards. You should seek to cultivate a long-term partnership, with suppliers knowing that if your business grows, their businesses will expand, too. Constantly changing suppliers simply disrupts the flow of your work.

Similarly, a high number of suppliers can create costly logistical nightmares, so streamline your supply chain to ensure the most efficient flow.

Your suppliers should know that investing in your company’s growth is indirectly investing in theirs. When you set up facilities in a new location, your key suppliers may establish operations in that location as well, eager to exploit the logistical benefits.

Sharing information

Rapid and comprehensive information sharing is vital. Through a secure intranet portal, you can ensure your international suppliers can instantly access the information they need. Opportunities are extensive, from process checklists to quality manuals online that save reprinting costs every time a change is made. All suppliers can be alerted immediately and simultaneously when a customer provides new specifications or a delivery date moves. You can also use the portal to support your audit process, ensuring suppliers can see how their performance is measuring against the agreed key performance indicators (KPIs).

Sharing information is also key when expanding your business. There is no value in gaining new contracts only to realize your supply chain cannot keep pace with the growth. While change rarely happens overnight in most sectors of manufacturing, making sure your supply chain is thoroughly briefed ahead of any likely changes to your business is always a good idea.

High quality everywhere

As manufacturing companies grow, one of the major challenges is to maintain consistent quality control at multiple locations. Overseeing operations at just one facility may not always be easy, and when that oversight needs to apply to facilities across the country or internationally, the challenges inevitably increase and intensify. Quality of operation, and ultimately product, can never be sacrificed, which means expansion can feel frightening. Nonetheless, the company that takes an intelligent approach to growth can achieve all the benefits without risking quality.

Expand or sub-contract?

Expansion through acquisition is a smart move for any company that cares about quality control. A company can undertake a program of sub-contracting to offer customers an increased range of services and products, which could be described as a form of expansion. The customer also enjoys benefits such as a single point of contact. Quality should not suffer – every good manufacturer will closely and consistently audit the work of sub-contractors.

There is no better way of ensuring the highest level of quality than through your own staff operating your own machinery in your own locations. When quality cannot be compromised, which is to say, all the time, direct control is invaluable.

Disseminating information

Your new facilities and international partners may share your belief in quality but may have very different processes in place by which to achieve those goals. A unified public image will mean little in the long term if you cannot ensure unity in process behind the scenes and unified quality in the final product.

There must be a single overriding quality manual. That document might physically exist and be updated regularly, but most dissemination of information in the 21st century will likely take place electronically. A company-wide intranet is the most efficient and economical means of ensuring locations internationally are all aware of, and operating to, the same quality control standards. When new specifications are provided by a customer, for example, or if a new safety regulation needs to be enforced, every facility can instantly be alerted to the change.

Are low-cost suppliers a risk?

Every business wants to operate as economically as possible, but is low-cost sourcing advisable? Clearly, there can never be compromise in key areas such as materials, machine tools, and consumables. Nonetheless, our experiences at Gardner Aerospace tell us you need have no fears about sourcing from suppliers who use low-cost labor in markets such as India and Poland. As long as you implement intelligent processes to monitor and support your international suppliers – such as the auditing and intranet use outlined above – you can enjoy the financial benefits of sourcing from low-cost markets.

Do low-cost operations work?

There are many benefits to having a manufacturing presence on a global scale. Key customers will find reassurance in knowing your facilities are close to their own headquarters, for example. And there are huge logistical gains to be achieved, perhaps most notably in ensuring on-time deliveries when you operate locations internationally. Your major customers will also appreciate your support as you establish facilities in the geographical markets into which they themselves are expanding.

Through electronic communication such as the intranet, all facilities – whether low-cost operations or not – can operate identical machinery with identical processes.

To ensure quality control processes are being properly implemented, every good manufacturer will carry out regular internal audits and welcome customer and governing body audits. A company’s high standards should be universal, set by the senior management, but there are limits to how effective centralized management can be in terms of day-to-day operations. Local management must always uphold those standards.

In the 21st century, there are no reasons why an intelligent company cannot operate multiple locations and do so without loss of quality control. The benefits, from time efficiencies to cost savings, are many and significant. Most importantly, those gains can be passed on to the customer.


Gardner Aerospace


About the author: Kenny Worth is chief operating officer at Gardner Aerospace, an independent supplier of detailed parts for the aerospace industry. He can be reached at