Canadian Manufacturing

Navigating the procurement process: preparing your plant for a quality audit

If you find yourself scrambling to get your facility ready—you're probably already way behind, says Alps Welding president Dennis Dussin


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—Sponsored article for Alps Welding Ltd.

WOODBRIDGE, Ont.—Like most aspects of Canada’s manufacturing industry, the procurement process used to be just a little bit easier.

Not long ago—according to Alps Welding Ltd. president Dennis Dussin—companies looking to hand down a contract would simply ask you a few questions, or have you fill out a quick questionnaire to make sure your facility fit the bill. Clearing those couple of low hurdles was often all it took to bid on a project, he said.

Those days are over.

“Now, it’s much more demanding,” Dussin said.

Today, with large companies taking a more proactive approach to procurement, potential bidders can be expected to take care of a 10- to 20-page survey just to get in the door. From there, firms aiming to qualify for projects will usually need to showcase their facility to potential clients through what’s known as an on-site quality audit, or vendor qualification visit—all before the bidding process even begins.

Clearly, companies looking to hand off work have stepped up their game, and smaller manufacturers need to make sure they’re ready to rise to the occasion.

While there may be a few added steps, preparing for a quality audit doesn’t have to be daunting. According to Dussin, getting ready is more about having good workplace practices in place than about catering to an individual client.

“If you’re preparing for a specific quality audit—you’re probably already way behind the curve,” he said. “The way we approach it, is we’re always ready for a quality audit.”

Based in Woodbridge, Ont., Alps Welding fabricates equipment for the chemical and oil and gas industries, among others. Having navigated the procurement process and pulled in work from a range of global companies such as ExxonMobil Corp., Suncor Energy Inc. and Dow Chemical Co., the Toronto-area firm says the audit process gives it the chance to showcase its capabilities to clients.

“They’re looking at quality of the product, but I would say these days they’re looking at quality very broadly,” Dussin said. “So they’re looking at your safety record, they’re looking at your environmental compliance.”

The integrity of your supply chain, compliance with rules around conflict minerals and adherence to any labour laws are sure to come up in an audit as well. For all these indicators, establishing best practices and being in a constant state of readiness is the ideal preparation.

“These are experienced people who go to a lot of different vendors and they can tell when somebody has their place in order or if they’ve just done it quickly because Exxon happens to be visiting on Tuesday,” Dussin said.

Formal quality programs

Procurement officers are sure to ask about any formal quality programs your company has in place as well—Alps, for instance is qualified through the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Regardless of which standard your company works to uphold though, Dussin stressed that showing customers your company has processes in place to monitor and record everything from product quality to workplace injuries is vital to a successful audit.

“It’s not enough to say we have a good safety record, or ‘this is our defect rate’ or ‘this is our quality rate,’ they want to know that you can document that and provide them with the documentation.”

As well as being a good best practice, posting key performance metrics right in your plant on a routine basis is one way to avoid becoming complacent.

For small operations, Dussin also cautioned that larger clients usually don’t want to see an owner or manager as the linchpin of a company’s quality control system.

“They want to see that there’s an engagement in the whole company and not just that it’s one person kind of running the whole quality system,” he said.

And while audits create an added bit of work, they also presents an opportunity to show customers what you’re capable of.

“Usually we’re having the audit at a time when we’re bidding, so it’s also an opportunity… to show the procurement person that not only do we meet your requirements, but we’re actually the best at this particular kind of equipment or this particular process,” Dussin said. “It’s an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves and do some selling.”

For more information on Alps Welding Ltd. and its capabilities to custom-design, manufacture and transport complex fabrication and cleantech assemblies visit www.alpswelding.com

This article is part of the Manufacturing Growth & Innovation Showcase, highlighting strategies for industrial success.


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