When inspecting suppliers, what should be paid attention to at the production site?

Whether it’s supplier review, customer or peer factory visits, acquisition target evaluation, or internal genchi genchi management, a lot of on-site observation is involved. On-site observation is often limited by time, requiring relevant personnel to practice sharp eyesight and quickly evaluate and judge the scene in a very short period of time.

1. The importance of on-site observation

On-site observation is the basis for continuous improvement. Taiichi Ohno of Toyota made on-site observations to the extreme. Even on factory rest days, he would bring management personnel to the site, let people stand in the workshop to observe quietly for half an hour, and then pointed out areas for improvement. Only in this way can we truly achieve endless improvement and realize the PDCA cycle.


People in this company often turn a blind eye to many problems, or think they are harmless, or think that they cannot be changed. There are also many managers who tend to turn a blind eye to intuitive information and only have a soft spot for numbers. As a result, it is possible to miss everything, ignore some key clues, and fail to truly understand the real situation of the enterprise.


As a customer, we should go to the supplier’s site to understand its cost structure, production efficiency, and quality control. As a supplier, we should go to the customer’s site to understand its production process in order to serve customers better. As a colleague, if you have the opportunity to visit other factories, it is also a very good opportunity to learn, compare and refer.


Enterprise operation is a large system, and all links are closely related and affect each other. For production-oriented enterprises, any details on the site can be seen. The root cause of any major problem can be found on the spot. Even in a limited time, as long as you grasp the key points, you can fully grasp the key information of the factory operation. The following will talk about how to conduct on-site observation in combination with the macro system and management details.

2. Atmosphere

At the scene, you can firstly see the true mental outlook of the employees. The employees with high morale will be in stark contrast to the sloppy and indifferent employees. A few words with the workers on site can also get an important first impression from the workers’ facial expressions and body language, because these directly reflect the workers’ emotions and satisfaction with the factory. In a factory I visited, cheerful music was playing in most of the workshops. At first glance, the workers were very enthusiastic about their work. Working in such a relaxed and pleasant environment, the efficiency is relatively higher, and the quality of the products will also be impressive. More confident.


Walking around the workshop, you can pay attention to whether there is uneven busyness or idleness. For example, when the machine is automatically processing, workers are idle for a long time, or workers at some stations are waiting for materials for a long time. The existence of this phenomenon shows that the factory lacks lean management, the utilization rate of personnel is low, idle employees will also affect the working atmosphere of others, the overall work efficiency is low, and the cost must be higher.


You should pay attention to whether the light in the workshop is sufficient, whether the air circulation is smooth, whether there is any peculiar smell on site, whether there is too much noise, and whether the workshop is clean, because these will directly affect the mood of workers, and then affect production efficiency and product quality. It is hard to imagine that a factory with a lazy, depressed, indifferent atmosphere, employees or resentment or idleness can make good products and create benefits.

3. Space utilization and layout

Many factories in China are very successful. The bigger the production workshop, the better. As a result, the utilization rate is often very low, and the layout of equipment and processes is very scattered. In addition to wasting space, a large amount of materials are also carried out in the factory. While most factories in developed countries do not look so spectacular, even a little cramped, but they have high space utilization and high circulation efficiency.


Vehicles take up space, are expensive to operate, and encourage unnecessary material movement. I saw a lot of electric forklifts and manual forklifts busy shuttling in a customer factory, but there was a lot of unnecessary handling. For example, the same batch of parts is moved from Area A to Area B for processing, then moved back to Area A for subsequent processing, then moved to Area C for processing, and finally moved back to Area B. The waste of handling is simply extreme.


In principle, the production materials used on the day should be stored along the production line instead of being stored separately in several storage areas. Tools and tooling should be placed as close to the machine as possible. The factory layout should ensure the smoothness of product flow and avoid any partitions as much as possible. If you see long material handling distances, repeated handling routes, or many times of handling in a factory, it means that the layout is unreasonable, the use of space is not ideal, and it also means that the production line has not been assembled as much as possible.

4. On-site standardization

Standards are the state of the art and the uniform reference for execution. Without standards, there is no way to implement, and there is no focus for improvement. The production site should have many standards, including operation and quality standards, 5S and safety standards, operation and maintenance standards, process and rework standards, safety stock standards, and so on.


Many factory sites have SOPs (Standardized Operating Procedures), and we can observe whether there are any missing items in these standards, whether they are easy to implement, and whether there are breakpoints in the middle. Check whether what is written, said, and done is consistent, and whether the quality control points are highlighted with eye-catching signs or colors.


By observing the specific operation process of different employees in the same process, we can find out whether there are differences, including the sequence of actions, operating strength, and whether there are omissions. Differences indicate that employees lack standardized operation training, and the possibility of product variation is greatly increased. When I visited a supplier’s factory, I found that different workers locked the four screws in different orders, and there was no standard torque reference. It was all based on feeling. Some workers would lock them twice, and some workers only locked them once. Quality complaints that come off, or that one side is locked too tightly causing the other side to warp.

5. Quality control

On-site observation should focus on how the workshop handles defective products. A good factory will expose problems instead of covering up defective products and waste products. For example, by focusing waste with a light, or highlighting it with a red tag, you can immediately know if waste is increasing, or if a certain part of the production process is producing defective products.


I saw a lot of defective parts in the corner of a factory, and the dust on them could be seen to have accumulated for quite a long time, but there was no sign of the cause of the defect and what the problem was. Ask the on-site workers, and the answer is that those things have been there for several months, and no one knows what the problem is, and no one has dealt with it. Asked how to deal with defective products, the answer is that there will be rework by special personnel, and no one will go into the cause of the defective products. Who would dare to cooperate with a factory with such chaotic quality management?


The traceability of WIP and semi-finished products can also be easily seen on site. In a good factory, each component has a card or a document that follows the circulation, indicating the source, the person who processed it, the equipment used and other information. Any problem found in any process can be easily traced to the source, and it is also convenient. improve.


The site can judge the fineness of product quality management through the degree of protection of workers for parts and components. I saw the rotors randomly placed on the concrete floor in a motor factory without any protective measures. The quality of such finished motors can be imagined. On the other hand, the stator is placed vertically on the wooden workbench, and the workers are shaping the upper part. The enamelled copper wire at the lower part is easy to damage the insulating paint due to friction, which also causes quality problems.


By observing the quantity and proportion of defective products, it is also possible to preliminarily judge whether a factory’s quality control process is qualified. When I was visiting a supplier, I found more than 20 substandard products piled up at the end of the finished product line around noon. After asking the workers, the average daily output of this assembly line is 1,000 pieces. Based on this, it is estimated that there are about 50 pieces of defective products per day, and the defective rate of finished products is as high as 5%. This shows that there are many quality problems in the previous processes that have not been found. Floating all the way to the end, quality control is weak, and the cost of poor manufacturing must be high.

6. Visualization

Visual management is the basis of many advanced management methods, and it is an intuitive communication of the management level of a production enterprise. In a well-managed factory, visualization tools are ubiquitous. Including organization and standardization of the workplace, visualization of result indicators, visualization of standard operations, visualization of control indicators, visualization of automatic error prevention and error correction, alarm mechanism, etc. When visiting, you should pay attention to looking for various visual tools.


The visual management kanban can be divided into static and dynamic management kanban. The static kanban mainly conveys the long-term management concept of the organization, while the dynamic kanban is the management information that managers need to grasp at any time, and it can better reflect the management level and ability of a factory.


5S is the embodiment of on-site organization and standardization, and the underlying application of visualization. However, due to various reasons, in reality, most Chinese enterprises have entered into a misunderstanding in terms of 5S management. In a large motor manufacturing factory, the production workshop is almost spotless at first glance. All the floors are painted with beautiful paint, and all kinds of visual lines and signs are well done, but there is only a lack of safety warning signs. If the road surface is too smooth, the friction force is insufficient, and people will slip and fall if they walk on it accidentally, and trolleys and forklifts may also slip. This superficial effort is well done, but there are still many safety hazards.

7. Tool equipment status

In a good factory, the equipment is clean and well maintained, and the information about the equipment is clear and updated in real time. In the machine shop of a foundry, although the various lathes are not very advanced, and even have a long history, they are all in good condition. I saw a card conspicuously pasted on the side of each machine, which recorded the model, purchase date, price, supplier, maintenance record, maintenance record and so on of the equipment. In addition, the daily inspection form is also very complete, and some inspection forms clearly record the hidden dangers discovered by the operators, as well as the signatures and solutions of the equipment department. This shows that equipment management and maintenance have formed a benign system.


In another factory, I saw a large vacuum impregnation machine waiting for repair. It is said that the sealing rubber ring is aging and needs to be replaced, but the parts will not arrive in place until one month later. There is no maintenance record on this equipment. Although there is a daily inspection form, such vulnerable parts are not discovered until they are seriously aged and cannot be used, which means that the inspection is not in place or perfunctory. The failure of this equipment could have generated an early warning and made corresponding preparations, so that it would not cause a one-month shutdown and seriously affect production and delivery.


In the field, employees can also be asked whether operators and product developers are involved in purchasing decisions for equipment. Front-line workers and those involved in product development and production know the advantages and disadvantages of new equipment best, and they also know the actual needs of the production line best. In many factories, the purchase of equipment is decided by the top management or the equipment department, and the opinions of front-line personnel are seldom sought, resulting in a large number of follow-up problems.

8. Precautions for on-site observation

On-site observation is the most direct way to find problems. Most of the problems will be manifested on the spot, which can quickly make a preliminary assessment of the factory, and trace the root cause, which can also reduce the blindness of many tasks. What this article discusses is only a small part of the many contents of on-site observation. There are many methods and different points of view for on-site observation, but the basic principles and matters needing attention are the same.


First of all, you can’t look at the scene with colored glasses, and you can’t go to the scene to find evidence with conclusions, which will often be biased.


Secondly, you can’t just look at the surface on site, you need to check whether what you say, write, and do is consistent, and you need to ask a few more why.


Third, we should look at both macro and micro perspectives, focus on the details in a zoomed-in way, and look at the whole in a zoomed-in way.


Fourth, try not to take notes, which will affect the continuity of observation and thinking, and make the on-site personnel feel nervous.

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