Auditing a PCB Supplier

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Rush PCB understands the importance of customers auditing the PCB supplier—an effective tool that potential customers use for assessing the qualifications of a supplier, one that helps build a stronger relationship between the OEM’s and the supplier’s teams. As OEMs are experts in their respective fields, and may not have extensive knowledge and information about the design and fabrication of Printed Circuit Board or PCB, Rush PCB offers an effective method by which OEMs can qualify their PCB suppliers.

Companies typically use three tools to qualify suppliers—ISO Certification, Quality Manuals, and routine questionnaires. However, this is not adequate, since ISO certification proves to be a weak tool, as the certification is only as good as the worst client the registrar has. Quality Manuals serve only to define the intent of the supplier towards their Quality Management System, with the details located mostly in the procedures. However, the Quality Manual of the supplier may be required to help plan the audit.

Although routine questionnaires are very popular as a tool, most questions merit only a yes or no response that rarely bring out the actual information to help qualify a potential supplier effectively. Instead, Rush PCB recommends use of the following three tools for getting the most out of a PCB supplier:

  1. Audit the Supplier
  2. Validate the Processes used
  3. Use Statistical Process Control during Prototype Production

Auditing the PCB Supplier

An effective tool for assessing a supplier’s qualification usually requires an audit from a multi-disciplinary team. This helps to build a stronger bond or relationship between the team of the OEM and that of the supplier. For the OEM, it is necessary to plan the audit for getting the greatest possible value. Rush PCB recommends the following approach for OEMs to use when they audit potential suppliers:

  • Using a risk-based approach
  • Selecting auditors strategically
  • Plan the audit goals and objectives beforehand
  • Generate an agenda to define the processes each auditor will focus on

Usually, OEMs audit PCB suppliers to assess them qualitatively and quantitatively for determining if the supplier meets the standards of the OEM. Although most OEMs conduct audits before they start doing business with the supplier, some may conduct regular periodic audits even after an agreement. Whatever be the approach, each business has the goal of ensuring they get a quality product. Therefore, all links of the supply chain need to be evaluated.

While verifying the quality and reliability of a supplier during an audit, it is usual for OEMs to evaluate the supplier with a process of quality assurance before considering them qualified. During the audit, Rush PCB recommends OEMs to determine:

  • The business performance of the supplier
  • Potential risks to the OEM when working with the supplier
  • Hidden cost drivers when working with the supplier
  • Business practices and values of the supplier
  • Possible competitive advantages the OEM will gain

Planning Audit Goals and Objectives

Every company has its own definition for quality, just as it has its own set of priorities and values. However, for a supplier audit, Rush PCB recommends OEMs plan their goals and objectives beforehand. For instance, some pertinent concerns that OEMs may need to address could be:

  • The products, services, or features that the OEMs would specifically want to offer their customers
  • The manner OEMs would be using the PCBs in their production process
  • Any special specifications of their PCBs
  • The performance metrics the OEM looks for from their PCB supplier

It is possible a company may not have ready answers to all the above, but collecting information for them may help the OEM create the base criteria for their audit. In addition, to the above, general factors such as the company size of the supplier, their physical location, and their reputation in the industry must also be part of the audit.


Gathering Information

Based on the performance metrics the OEM establishes, their auditors will need to record objective evidence for supporting whether the supplier meets their requirements.  Rush PCB understands that the highest quality of evidence comes from information collected from outside the organization. Therefore, we recommend OEMs collect information from existing business partners and customers of Rush PCB, as this can provide the most reliable information and evidence on the quality we offer.

During the audit, auditors must also ensure that facts about the supplier match the claims made by the supplier, specifically those the supplier makes on their websites.

Why Audit the PCB Supplier?

Auditing the PCB supplier results in a win-win situation for both the supplier and the OEM. From past experience, Rush PCB knows that OEMs who thoroughly assess their supplier before they start doing business, not only bring in a greater volume of business, but also result in an improvement in performance metrics by up to about 20%. This ultimately results in benefits of cost and quality for both. Additional benefits can come from:

Alignment of practices and values: Audits offer a direct look at the processes used by the supplier, and they can share ethical values and or mutually beneficial work practices. Ultimately, this leads to a mutual alignment of practices and values.

Improving the supplier’s performance: The mere fact that an OEM conducts regular audits is often enough to improve a supplier’s performance. Experienced OEMs offer performance incentives and training for encouraging and enhancing the performance of a quality supplier.

Increasing the visibility of performance: Initial audits, followed by routine assessments are a fool-proof method of increasing the visibility of the supplier’s performance. This is of advantage to both, the supplier as well as the OEM. While the supplier has a direct measure of the customer’s satisfaction, the OEM ensures the PCBs it receives are of the quality they expect.

About Rush PCB

If you are looking for a quality PCB supplier, Rush PCB can fulfil your requirements. Audit us to make sure we can deliver to your standards, and we will go out of our way to make your product a success.