The modest workhorses, Certificates of Analysis (and their cousins, Certificates of Conformance, and Country of Origin Certificates) that, to some, seem to be nothing more than necessary evils, are looking like Arabian racehorses in recent times.
The enormous package of new laws and regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law in 2011, is continuing to unfold into the day-to-day reality of manufacturing.
Along with new pressures from governments, there are new pressures from consumers. Both are demanding changes in how quality is managed as well as a reassessment of the tools companies use to do so.
Of course, this adds yet another pressure: the need to meet these growing requirements, while limiting costs and preserving or even increasing profits, with the ultimate goal of securing a stable competitive position. One approach to consider is how to do more with existing resources by increasing efficiency. The following discussion uses our product GSQA® as an example of a tool to support this initiative.
Inbound COA, the Workhorse
The most familiar COA is the documentation produced by each supplier in your supply chain to document quality assurance of material lots in a shipment. Depending on how you manage this documentation, your company may have a stream of COAs flowing in, all using different formats, whose usefulness to you in actual practice expires when the shipment is received and the material is incorporated into your manufacturing process. Of course, it is filed away according to various rules and is brought out in the case of a recall. When a COA is produced in a simple format (separate documents) that is the extent of its usefulness. What is missing when the COA is administered using this method is the opportunity to analyze and aggregate the information so that it turns into knowledge that you can use to manage the overall health of your supply chain.
Upgrading the workhorse to an Arabian means turning it into a standardized electronic document. In this form, your company can quickly manage acceptance of the material at the supplier’s location, link to purchase orders, compare to tests done at receiving, and see trends that allow you to visualize whether a material is approaching an outside boundary of a specification, or is improving. Sometimes the accumulation of very small variations that by themselves mean little, can lead to a breakdown when aggregated. Early warnings/alerts can prevent this. They can also give you the opportunity to reward suppliers who are improving their performance and help those who are riding along the edge of the cliff before they go over.
Let’s now reverse the company configuration: your firm is the supplier. You must generate the COA. The implementation of a system like GSQA® provides a platform for producing an outbound COA as an e-mail with a PDF COA attached. The outbound COA can be generated automatically from production data, or keyed-in. It is a streamlined solution that can quickly turn COA test info into a competitive advantage. Your customers may not be demanding it, but they may be delighted when they receive it.
When Morton Salt adopted GSQA®, the primary motivation was to reduce the costs and time associated with the production of customer (outbound) certificates. The diversity of products made the process of manually creating and distributing certificates complex and time-consuming. For example, pharmaceutical grade material required 15 chemical tests and 4 visual tests. The advantages of implementing GSQA’s e-COA Outbound module led to the improvement of material reliability. This configurable tool allowed for format flexibility and customer profile definition. Automation of e-COA® generation provided data on trending of test analyses for finished product performance by customer, by plant, by time frame, and by lot.
Because GSQA® is a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, locally dedicated hardware and software were eliminated. GSQA® was deployed across 24 locations in the United States and Canada, which included 17 manufacturing plants and 7 warehouses. According to the company, improvements were significant.
With a reduction of 15 minutes of processing time for each certificate, they saved between 8,000 and 8,750 man-hours per year.
Visibility and Manageability
They were able to analyze material data from all facilities, thereby showing trends quickly, adjusting specifications in close to real time.
By making the data of plants transparent and available to all users 24/7, the process became, quite literally, manageable.
Although Morton’s customers went through a period of adjustment when they began receiving certificates in a new format (rather than their own format), they quickly came to the conclusion that the e-COA® certificates were of better quality.
The certificate standardization also led to the further standardization of Morton’s processes. For example, not only were product specifications and certificate formats inconsistent, but even some testing parameters were inconsistent among plants. Sound familiar?
Deploying GSQA® to automatically generate certificates resulted in continuous improvement based on a process of ongoing standardization of testing protocols. This standardization, resulting in more consistency, spread to other parts of the organization:
Customer satisfaction increased since the same material received from different Morton plants around the world looked/behaved exactly the same.
The previous (manual) system allowed each individual plant to eventually analyze materials that were slowly trending toward out-of-specification conditions within their own locations. With the adoption of GSQA® and the insights it provided into product trending, Morton was able to intervene quickly and effectively. Having a generic specification for products across the company (rather than tied to specific locations) allowed the sales force to declare how a product would look coming from any facility, something they had not been able to do before implementing GSQA®. In fact, “Sales” was the second biggest benefit to the company both in facilitating communication within the sales force and in acquiring new business.
A piece of paper, a chore, a necessary evil, or is it actually a best practice?
The COA, as the only supply chain QA document, may seem like a modest workhorse, but in the supply chain QA arena, it’s an Arabian if approached correctly and handled wisely. It can help your company (both as a receiving enterprise, and a supplier to the world) reach the finish line ahead of the competition.