Leveraging Supplier Sample Parts for Design Efficiency

As a component engineer, I am often the target of interest for visiting suppliers bearing their goods in sample cases. I have to admit, I enjoy these visits, as it helps me stay up-to-date with new component developments and alternate source potentials.

However, I find that if I have prepared and sent a spreadsheet of current manufacturer's part numbers that are relevant to the new supplier's product offerings, I am more likely to see the products that are the best fit for my company. As an example, I might send a list of Coilcraft inductors to a potential inductor alternate source supplier to match the original Coilcraft specifications, and bring in samples on the next scheduled visit.

I have also pre-sent them a sample part request information form that they are to complete before submitting the actual parts to me. That way, when they bring in the parts and the matching completed form, I can assign a sample traveler number to track progress while the parts are moving through the various qualification processes.

When the supplier calls a week later to see how the qualification is proceeding, I can pull the traveler paperwork and see where the parts are and what testing results are listed to date. This rapid response system is very gratifying to the prospective supplier as it tells him that his time spent at our company was not in vain. It also builds confidence towards our company as the supplier can appreciate the resident organization tools that speak well of our sincerity, integrity, and business maturity.

Offloading the completion of the form to the supplier means that because the information required includes concerns about availability, lead time, budgetary cost at various quantities, and technical specifications, purchasing does not have to make a secondary research effort to ascertain whether the prospective parts fit into the cost, and can schedule expectations that are consistent with the company's targets. The time and effort savings are significant, because most of the information needed about the parts are included on the form and attachments as requested.

While the parts are being cycled through the qualification process, be sure to hold back one or two for reference parts. That way, if the parts are lost in the mill somewhere, you can quickly retrieve your held-back parts to reinsert into the qualification efforts.

Always file away at least one part to use as the gold standard for future comparison studies. I have seen where we have qualified some items, and when the supplier has started shipping, they are different from the parts we tested. That is why you will need to have a sample file cabinet that houses your samples identified by the original traveler number for easy retrieval. It's not just a protective move. It's the only way you will be able to prove to the supplier that the parts you qualified were not the same as the ones they are shipping in volume.

After a year or two, your sample files will be extensive, but will never become obsolete. As long as you are repairing return products, you will need to check to see if the failed components on the boards match your sample cabinet parts. If they do, then you will need to understand the root cause of the failure to determine if your qualification test needs to be modified to cover the newly discovered failure mode.

If you have at least one original part, you can stress the part with the new qualification parametric so you can learn how to prevent future field failures.

Getting the most benefit from your new part or sample part introductions will entail best-practices management procedures, including the maintenance of your gold standard cabinets, with all of the supporting paperwork easily and quickly retrievable.

The effort to put this practice in place will pay for itself many times over in good supplier relationships, yielding better and faster new part introductions, and a deeper Approved Vendors List.

4 comments on “Leveraging Supplier Sample Parts for Design Efficiency

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 8, 2012

    Douglas: I have no doubt suppliers love customers like you. Suppliers tell me all the time they want to hear from their customers and this helps them in the design of their next product. Let's face it: nobody has the time to test market a bunch of parts and hope one of them sticks. I'm interested to hear if this has become a more common practice or if suppliers that sample what you actually want are in the minority.

  2. dalexander
    November 9, 2012

    @Barbara, I did enjoy my relationships with suppliers. I had some excellent outside sales and manufacturer 's reps come visit. Often times, they put a friendly human face back on my otherwise completely tactical day. The symbiotic relationship extended to incredible educational opportunities as these folks were the experts in their respective businesses. If I had a neophyte sales person visit, I would educate them on the technical aspect of their wares. If I was new to a product, I would milk them dry for all they knew and would ask them to follow up with technical referrals. The gain and enjoyment was truly mutual. I thoroughly enjoyed my work opportunities and the great people I worked with and for. I realize I was and continue to be very blessed to have known and worked with great outside sales people and application engineers who really knew their stuff. Very, very fortunate indeed.

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 9, 2012

    Douglas: I hear from reps, in particular, how valuable that two-way communication is. With everyone fighting to prove their value, a rep (or distributor) that can go back to the supplier with customer feedback is gold. Unfortunately, too many suppliers have put layers between them and the designer and may not always get that feedback. It's tough to find a balance between the face-to-face and the automated processes that drive many supply chain transactions.

  4. _hm
    November 11, 2012

    This is a very good approach. However, it takes lots and lots of effort on part of desgin/test engineer. It may happen that same inductor is used in 50 to 100 different dc/dc converters in complex assemblies. It is very difficult to test all of them and test them in good sample quantity.

    It is not only that. You may have full assembly go trough new qualification procedure for EMI/EMC and like.


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