Getting the Vendor Part Approval Process Right

In a previous article, I introduced the use of the Sample Part Request (SPR) form so that a vendor has the responsibility of doing most of the footwork in retrieving the proper specifications for any part it is requesting for addition to your company's approved vendors list (AVL). (See: Opportunities & Challenges in Alternate Parts Sourcing.)

We left off with the process for AVL qualification beginning with the routing of the numbered Component Engineering Request (CER) form. This form is a downloadable PDF to be modified for your company's use.

In order to track the progress of the interdepartmental part qualification, the CER form has been designed also as a traveler with work center authorization sign-offs for each stage of the qualification. When the CER has been signed by all authorizing signatories indicating a “pass” status, the component under test can be added to the company AVL with the highest level of confidence. The SPR form with the component datasheet is also meant to travel with the part.

To avoid any mix-up, attach the CER routing form to the SPR. Don't forget to cross-reference the CER number, found at the upper right of the CER form, with the identical SPR number, so that if the two forms are separated, they can be quickly identified for mutual reattachment. Here are the fields to be completed on the CER:

  • The name of the initiator
  • Date of the CER's initiation
  • The phone extension of the initiator
  • The in-house part number affected or assigned
  • Type of request — select one, including:
    1. New part number
    2. Alternate source search
    3. Alternate source approval (This is the action for this article discussion)
    4. Part disqualification
    5. Correction to AVL part number or item master description
  • New part number or alternate source information, including:
    1. Original manufacturer's part number & AVL description
    2. Candidate parts manufacturer's name
    3. Candidate parts manufacturer's part number
    4. Number of parts required for qualification testing. (Be sure to specify to the vendor how many parts are needed for qualification. Always keep a representative sample for reference.)
  • Disqualification or correction to AVL or item master information, including:
    1. Change manufacturer part number/description or correct item master
    2. Reason for disqualification (attach failure report or drawing, if applicable)
  • Part qualification methods and approvals with responsible operator's signature. This section lists numerous qualification procedures. The initiator should determine what level of testing is required and check the corresponding task boxes. Not every procedure has to be assigned to every component under examination. Some operations may be waived at the discretion of the initiator or the responsible engineer. The test results are designated as “P” for pass and “F” for fail. The test operator signs and dates the form opposite the test description.
    1. Documentation review
    2. In-circuit testing (ICT) if the part is on a production assembly that uses an ICT fixture
    3. Prototype assembly or bench level testing
    4. In-house test fixture
    5. Mechanical (physically place the new part in the assembly to guarantee fit)
    6. Environmental (may include shock and vibration and other required tests)
    7. Operational temperature range (cycle the part to the datasheet's limits)
    8. Tested by manufacturer with certifications
    9. Licensee approved
    10. Regulatory approval
  • Final disposition and approval check boxes and overall signatures, including:
    1. Pass: Add to AVL and/or item master
    2. Fail: Do not add to AVL or item master
    3. Remove: Remove from AVL and purge stock/WIP if applicable
    4. Signatures required to institute incorporate qualification results, including from purchasing, component engineer, documentation services, or responsible design or sustaining engineer

The CER form can be referenced to generate the Engineering Change Order, if required, and is attached to the ECO for archival purposes. For an alternate source request made by a vendor, the information on the CER can be quickly accessed to inform the vendor if its part has been qualified or disqualified. The vendor will want to know why the part has been disallowed for the AVL.

Now, with the CER easily retrievable, being filed by the CER number, the vendor can be given a quick summary of how its part failed the qualification process. The cycle is complete and the vendor gains respect for your company's disciplined follow-through while you have demonstrated consideration and appreciation for the vendor's research time and effort invested in completing the original Sample Part Request form.

11 comments on “Getting the Vendor Part Approval Process Right

  1. Anna Young
    February 29, 2012

    Douglas, You described the process very well even though it is very complex. The details provided tells me there are many moving parts, almost like parts of an orchestra. The conductor is at the center of the traditional orchestra. Who is at the heart of this process in the design and manufacturing environment?

  2. dalexander
    February 29, 2012


    The person most often assigned to these processes is the Component Engineer. But, ultimately, the Design or Sustaining Engineer has to take responsibility for all aspects of the design. So when parts are added, the DE is always on the approval list. Anyone can initiate the Component Evaluation Request because the request initiates many processes for the various part management tasks. Most often the CE will be the follow through guy and make sure all the signatures that are required are in place. The CE may also take the results of the CER and formalize it via an Engineering Change Order so all company documents and records are modified as needed. The CER is a record of what steps were taken to either qualify of disqualify a part for the AVL. It can be scanned and included in the attachments to the ECO/ECN. That way, down the road, if someone wants to know how the part was added to the AVL, there is a record of it. If the CER was initiated as a vendor sample part request, then the record is ready to recall if the vendor enquiresa as to the status of his/her sample part qualification request.

  3. Anna Young
    February 29, 2012

    Douglas, Thanks for the prompt and detailed response. It seems to me also that the level of responsibility required for all of the approval processes you described requires that the component engineer be high up in the supply chain management. Is this always the case or does the CE have to refer to another party in the organization? What are the safeguards in place to ensure this person takes the right decisions and as fast as possible?

  4. dalexander
    March 1, 2012

    Good questions. The speed of any process is determined mainly by three parameters. First, the perception of the urgency level, second, how much cooperation or support is offered or in place for the required activity., and third, the efficiency of the operation based upon good procedures and guidelines for the required execution. So, if the urgency is easily recognized, ie, line down or Purchasing's immediate request for support, then the CE drops everything and jumps right on it, often shepherding the entire process through all the signatories responsibilities. Now we are back to procedures and guidelines. The more SOPs are written down and recognized by Quality Assurance, the less confusion with minimal arbitration is required. If the evaluation isn't an emergency, then the procedures are still followed but without everyone involved taking a firefighting approach. In an actual fire, all the firefighters are managed and assigned positions ahead of going into the building. They are all trained and so the fire is put out using guidelines, acknowledging safety, individual capabilities, and management authority. A good procedure will work in the worst case scenarios, just like a qualified component works in the worst case environmental conditions. That is why I am pro procedures and supporting documentation.

  5. Brian775137
    March 1, 2012

    This is one of the best descriptions of what a CE does and how important the CE is within an organization.

    In response to where a CE should rank within  an organization, I believe he/she should be at a level which is comparable to a Program Manager.  The CE's input within a company is critical to the success of a product, since the CE's decisions affect the ultimate cost to produce the product.  The CE must determine the vendor and the vendor's ability to provide the exact part needed, which is available in sufficient quantities, within the needed time frame, and at the reliability level needed.  These are critical, in order to assure that the “right” part is available.

    The CE should also be an important partner in the price negotiations for the part, so the CE's role is very important and the CE should have the “horsepower” to determine the use of the part with “veto” power as required, for incorrect parts or parts which will not “work” properly in the intended usage.

    My perception is that unless a company has a strong CE person or group within the organization, they are playing with fire and may waste many dollars on a product which might even destroy the company's reputation within the realm of its intended use.  Having a competant CE within any company is mandatory as part of producing a reliable product at a reasonable cost.

  6. bolaji ojo
    March 1, 2012

    Brian, I read Douglas' article and couldn't but reflect on the extensive work the components engineer has to do and the different segments of the organization he/she must interact with in addition to outside parties. The wide extent of functions and responsibilities make me wonder too if this is typically a management level position at organizations. Is it? If it isn't do you think it should be?

  7. Brian775137
    March 1, 2012


    In response to your question, the answer is: usually not, but probably should be. 

    Traditionally within the aerospace community, where most of my experience is, ther has always been at least one level of supervision above the CE position and the supervisor of the group has been the one who assumes the responsibility of assuring that the CE's recommendations are implemented (if, of course, the spvsr agrees with the CE).  I understand, though, that within the commercial world, the CE usually reports to the VP of Engineering.

    While this takes the “heat” off the CE in the aerospace world, it does not give the recognition for the effort involved by the CE to the upper mnagement.  In the commercial world, the CE's efforts (or lack therefo) are much more apparent to upper management. 

    I am reassured by the fact that you have seen the vast variety of tasks for which a CE is, ultimately, responsible or has inputs for.  It frustrates me to have the enginering community (and others) not recognize that being a CE is as much of a specialty as being an EE or an ME.  Perhaps this will change in he future – I hope so.

  8. tioluwa
    March 1, 2012

    Very educative.

    Just one clearification: I beleive all these is done when a product that is already in the market needs to be modified, or does the process also follow during the design and prototyping stage, where alot of changes are likely to take place before a final design is brought to the table?

  9. tioluwa
    March 1, 2012

    And one more question: What would you say in your experience is the best highracky for design/manufacturing setup?

    I think the Design Engineer is at the bottom of the chain, where does the CE come in, and who else needs to be in the chain, for an efficient system?

  10. dalexander
    March 1, 2012

    Tioluwa, Here is an overview for CE actions in a product development cycle.


    Design Concept:



    Determine if the component is based upon new or existing technologies to establish risk for volume production and/or special handling or assembly requirements.


    2.           Obtain specifications and review for critical information availability. Preliminary specifications often do not contain power dissipation or thermal data. Establish with manufacturer all parametric requirements before design can proceed.


    3.           Determine component availability for sample and volume quantity


    4.           Investigate possible substitutions and or second sources of key components


    5.           Determine if two or more components can be substituted by fewer components either through standard industry offerings or custom hybrids.


    6.           Define maximum system operating limits based upon critical component limitations and analyze against customer requirement.


    7.           Early cost predictions


    8.           Help determine design guidelines by implementation of preferred parts use


    Schematic and Prototype Build Stage : Major and minor components identified


    1.           Provide sample quantities of parts

    2.           Build and resource from manufacturer supplied component kits

    3.           Research details of specified components to determine possible exclusion for use

    4.           Build components specifications library to include all parts on BOM

    5.           Early identification of alternate sources

    6.           Heads up for Purchasing on long lead, higher cost components

    7.           Initial part derating study

    8.           Initial reliability study based upon part count method

    9.           Assign new part numbers with attributes

    10.        Perform or guide and monitor failure analysis studies on part failures

    11.        Suggest part changes if performance or reliability improvements are evident

    12.        Generate ECOs

    13.        Work with Mechanical and PCB design to ensure all parts meet requirements for design for manufacturability (DFM), and design for test (DFT)

    14.        Maintain AVL revision levels to track changes in specifications from manufacturer




    1.           Everything included in 1-14 above for all modifications to current build revision

    2.           Ensure that no manufacturer supplied component specification is preliminary

    3.           Work with Product Design group to selectively stress suspect components via temperature testing




    1.           Final derating test and preparation of component derating report

    2.           Final reliability analysis and preparation of MTBF report

    3.           Support last minute design or component changes




    Work with subcontractor(s) and Manufacturing Engineering to support the manufacturing effort by:


                         Failure Effect and Mode Analysis (FEMA)


    Processing component changes due to Corrective Action Requests (CARS)


    Participating in ECO/ECN activities including Material Review Board (MRB) representation


    Determining if parts used by OEMs are the same as parts qualified by Component Engineering, and if not work with the Materials Management group to determine best course of action.

  11. dalexander
    March 1, 2012

    Yipes! I don't know what happened with that last formating. For Engineering, it think you want a VP and a CTO. Sometimes they are the same person. Next you have a Director of Systems Engineering and perhaps a Director of Software Engineering. The Design Engineers report to the Director of Systems Engineering, but in smaller companies the DE's can report directly to the VP. From there a company may have a matrix format where the Senior DE also becomes the Project Manager who may in turn have techs and  proto assembly people reporting to him. The Mechanical Cad people usually report to a head ME who reports to the VP. Component Engineering may report to the Director of Engineering Support Services or to the VP. Under the Director of Engineering Support, there usually is a Doc Control department and in some companies where there is an Engineering stockroom and lab, that falls under the support services mantel as well. Program Management reports to the VP and is lent to the various Project Managers on an as needed basis. PCB Cad layout serves all the engineers, so that function could report to the VP or the Director of Engineering Services. I served as Engineering/Operations Manager where I had a little piece of all the action including NPI when concurrent engineering was in vogue.

    I would never put Design Engineers at the bottom of any chain as they are absolutely essential throughout the Product's life cycle. So, having said that, you need the DE at not just the design stage, but system level integration and testing, part selection, BOM reviews and approval, ECO/ECN generation and approvals, NPI, Support after the product is released to Manufacturing, Customer Service product education and support, and sometimes they are right out there with the VP of Engineering and CEO at trade booths selling the product from a technical standpoint. In fact, if any one individual can be credit for the viability and product integrity of a company's product, it is most certainly the Design Engineer.

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