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Blueprint for Success
The importance of design for a strong supply chain
by Tiea Theurer
There are three prongs to a strong supply chain:
- The quality of the inputs into the product: Qualifying the right suppliers, obtaining the right raw components and understanding how to purchase (lead time, safety stock and lot size, for example).
- The delivery of the product: Manufacturing the product, dealing with nonconformances, shipping channels and the method of shipping, understanding the forecast and ensuring the product doesn’t have any quality issues—meaning it works exactly as expected out of the box each and every time.
Those two prongs are well understood and practiced, but this next prong could arguably be the most important.
- Understanding the product’s design: Its intended use, use environment, user needs and consumer risks or hazards associated with the design.
When a product’s design is well understood by manufacturers, it—and thus the product itself—is robust. This makes the other two prongs easier to maintain, resulting in a stronger supply chain.
Understanding a product’s design and consumer risks or hazards is technical and sometimes complicated. The key is documentation. Most international and national standards, and professional societies’ bodies of knowledge have requirements that can provide a structure for how to document a design effectively and robustly.
Documentation typically starts with understanding consumer risks or hazards relative to the product’s safety, efficacy and intended use. Next, the consumers’ wants and desires—and where and how they will use the product—must be determined.
This information then becomes the source for developing the documented requirements, which drive behaviors, such as performance, function, usability and interfaces, into the product. The product then can be developed and transferred to manufacturing.
The raw components that make up the final product’s design are documented in its specifications. By understanding a few of the key raw components that directly or indirectly influence consumers’ needs or the product’s safety, concentrated efforts can be applied and limited to those few key components, such as choosing the right suppliers, monitoring the critical attributes of those key raw components and performing concentrated testing to confirm the key raw components.
This allows for more targeted supply chain development in areas such as suppliers, necessary lead time, cost tolerance and lot size, and reduces out-of-box failures on market design changes and complaints. Minor attributes of the design could have a less-focused supply chain plan, resulting in a more effectively resourced supply chain process.
Understanding and appropriately documenting the design requirements based on consumer risks or hazards, the product’s intended use and the conditions upon which consumers will use the product results in a well understood, robust design. Concentrating manufacturing processes and testing on key components can ensure a strong and secure supply chain.
Tiea Theurer is a lead auditor at National Standards Authority of Ireland Inc. in Newark, DE, and earned a master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University in Bloomington. She is an ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality engineer, and a Project Management Institute-certified project management professional. Theurer is a member of ASQ.