Quality Assurance

How to build quality assurance into a supply chain

01 Feb 2023


An efficient and resilient supply chain is vital for any business seeking to bring a new product to market. This is particularly true for businesses with specialised and complex products which may contain thousands of individual components, sourced from hundreds of suppliers across the globe.

One of the key considerations for building a successful New Product Introduction (NPI) framework is to build and develop a quality assured supply chain. Quality is key to ensuring that a new product is on time and on budget, particularly for businesses trying to ramp up or scale production.

Building quality assurance into a supply chain helps ensure that manufacturers can embed a repeatable and sustainable manufacturing process to supply products that fully satisfy client expectations and are validated to specification. Without it, your products can fall at the first hurdle, causing delays, reducing operational efficiency, adding cost, and impacting launch to market.

But how do you start to build quality assurance into your supply chain? Our NPI experts have identified 6 tips to help you to improve your supply chain management strategy so you can achieve ‘first-time quality’ to provide that all important competitive advantage for your new products.

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  1. It’s never too early to be thinking about quality assurance

    A robust quality assurance process requires time and effort to develop and embed into your production strategy. Supply chain management is inherently full of risk so the earlier that these considerations are made in your NPI framework, the better.

    The supply chain is typically engaged after a product has emerged from its concept phase, when production planning for industrialisation begins but it’s never too early to consider how your supply chain strategy will impact your product plan.

    A quality assurance process will help you identify best practice guidelines and performance benchmarks throughout the product’s supply chain. It will help you to identify any potential sources of risk to your production early so that you can avoid consequences such as increased costs, delayed shipments, and cancelled launches.

  2. Audit your supply chain continuously

    Supply chain quality management practices can be overlooked in favour of other operational challenges such as managing demanding lead times. However, auditing your supply chain should be a continuous part of any NPI strategy.

    A proactive approach to supplier assessments can help you to get ahead of potential quality issues and mitigate quality risks. Frequent audit of both existing suppliers and potential new ones means that you can be assured that they can meet your expectations for quantity and timings, even as you ramp up and your requirements change.

    Continuous auditing practices also enable you to identify any issues, activities and milestones that could interfere with your production timeline before they become a serious problem for you. Being aware of potential supply chain problem early will mean you could potentially mitigate these issues before they impact your production plan.

    By collaborating throughout the supply chain and conducting a gap analysis, companies can work together to address critical issues and proactively co-create solutions that will result in a smoother ramp to launch.

    Quality assurance inspection
  3. Take a holistic approach to quality issues

    When a quality issue arises in a supply chain it can have serious consequences for your production programme but don’t be tempted to rush into a quick fix.

    We often find that businesses can take a hurried and haphazard approach when trying to resolve supply chain issue quickly. This can lead to treatment of the symptom, but the root cause of the issue will remain.

    When quality issues arise in the supply chain an independent evaluation is the best way to resolve it. Assemble a team that includes operational consulting and engineering experience to independently identify all the potential issues that could be causing the quality problem. This can include your own internal resource, but you could also reach out to an independent specialist like Ricardo to provide balanced and trusted guidance.

    Developing an action plan, including how to evaluate and prioritise each scenario, will help identify the cause, after which a solution can be implemented with confidence.

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  4. Data-driven continuous improvement is key

    Quality assurance isn’t an activity that can be conducted in isolation. Building a quality assured supply chain requires a commitment to continuous improvement and dedicated resource in your new product introduction framework.

    Take time to build good relationships with your suppliers and ensure that regular feedback backed up by data becomes a part of your supply chain management strategy.

    Continuous monitoring of the end-to-end NPI process can bring data-led adjustments to manufacturing processes and tweaks to the supply chain. Product feedback, both pre- and post-launch will also enable optimisation and further innovation.

    Working with your suppliers in this way can help to bring consistency to your programme over time and can help when temporary issues, such as a recurring defect, emerge.

    Data driven manufacturing
  5. Plan ahead to prepare for supply chain volatility

    Businesses are facing an unprecedented challenge when it comes to managing a complex supply chain. The uncertain global political, economic, and environmental landscape has caused a ‘perfect storm’ of supply chain disruption. Shortages of raw materials and labour, fluctuations in demand, order backlogs, and bottlenecks at transportation hubs in many sectors have been a challenge for even the most mature organisations.

    Major supply chain failures can be particularly disastrous for businesses with an immature or ad hoc supply chain management strategy. Organisations that are introducing a new product to the market are especially vulnerable during the crucial first step in production ramp-up where operations have begun but revenue has not yet been generated.

    No one can be sure of what the future will hold but preparing for supply chain volatility can help businesses to navigate uncertainty and mitigate risk. Taking the time to develop an agile supply chain management strategy that takes your end-to-end NPI process into account will help you to respond flexibly to these challenges and minimise the impact to your production programme.

  6. Take advice from the experts

    Developing a supply chain management strategy which considers the entirety of your NPI framework can be challenging. At Ricardo we work to overcome supply chain obstacles and challenges to give peace of mind to our clients.

    As part of our approach to NPI, our experts will work closely with your team to manage everything from the availability of raw materials to fluctuating prices and volatility in markets. Agility is our strength: our consulting teams offer all the benefits of being part of a large global plc but retain an agile, nimble, customer-focused, rapid-response mentality.

    By combining our strong technical pedigree with industry-leading business acumen, we can craft a quality assured, tailored, and implementable supply chain strategy that will give you a vital competitive edge. If you’re facing challenges in your supply chain management, book a consultation with Ricardo now to find out how we can help.

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