Selecting the Right Supplier Part 1: Evaluating Capabilities

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By Carlo Mears | Jul 25, 2012
Evaluating Capabilities

Through the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of aerospace companies – from Boeing’s Tier 1 suppliers to OEMs and resellers. The best relationships, those that have developed into long-term partnerships, are the ones that have gone through a thorough examination from hard benefits like cost per piece and capacity to soft benefits like customer support and cross-industry expertise. In this three-part series, we’ll give our perspective of how to evaluate potential suppliers’ capabilities, capacity, and commitment.

Capabilities: When manufacturers, especially those involved in the aerospace business, talk about their capabilities, it usually refers to the expertise they have in a particular production process and their ability to apply that process to a variety of applications. Regardless the type of program; from passenger service units to glass cockpits and flight deck markings the following considerations should be researched and evaluated:

  1. Expertise in Production Process – Lots of companies can claim to have expertise in a particular area or capability, but how do you know for certain? Ask them about their production process, get a tour of their facility and meet the people who are on the production line. If a manufacturer can’t tell you what happens at each step in the process, chances are, they don’t have the depth of experience to deliver high quality parts with the specifications you demand. Ask about:
    • What is each step in the production process?
    • What procedures are in place to ensure that each step is done to specifications?
    • When does testing occur?
    • What are the acceptable margins for error?
  1. Example of Past Projects – One of the best ways to see what a supplier can do for you is to see what they have done for other customers. Ask for several finished pieces and hold on to them for a while to judge the quality.
  1. Age of Equipment, In-House or Off-Site – Another criterion in evaluating a potential supplier is to walk the factory floor. Take a look at the equipment and the condition of the production facility. Do the machines look well-kept or are they in need of repair? Is the factory floor neat and clean, or are scraps casually strewn across the floor?
  1. Expertise of Operators – When you evaluate a supplier, it’s important to understand the experience of the employees who will be directly responsible for the manufacture of your order. Be sure to ask:
    • How are they trained?
    • How long have they been doing this?
    • What are their hours of operation?
  1. Quality Assurance – There are a few key statistics that every buyer and decision maker of aerospace parts needs to consider. In aerospace, failure is not an option. So, solid manufacturers that are considered highly capable are those that experience only a handful of defects per million units produced – also known as DPMO or Defective Parts Per Million.

Read our second and third articles in this three-part series on how to evaluate capacity issues, opportunities, and constraints.