Toyota Woes Highlight Importance of Supplier Quality Management
Welcome to the 894,302nd and counting piece about Toyota’s fall from manufacturing grace.
We don’t need to devote a lot of space here to recounting Toyota’s problems. You probably know the story: After months of hemming and hawing, the once-proud carmaker finally acknowledged the obvious this month and said it was recalling a boatload of cars that have accelerator pedal problems.
But it gets worse: Yesterday (February 9, 2010) Toyota added that it was also recalling over 400,000 Prius, Lexus because of a brake problem as well as additional problems with the Camry and possibly the Corolla, too. For now, the jury is still out on exactly what went wrong (beyond how badly Toyota handled the PR side of this).
Yet we’re writing about this today because, even as Toyota’s massive problems are being probed, analyzed and dissected by experts from various industries, the issue of supplier quality management (SQM) doesn’t seem to be coming up much.
That’s too bad, because one of the few good things that could come out of all of this is reminding car manufacturers, medical device makers, pharmaceutical companies, food manufacturers and a host of other businesses that supplier quality management is key to being a profitable, effective company that only gets good headlines (See box below, Sal’s Tips).
“Gone are the days when manufacturers can say suppliers can’t have an impact on their success” or, perhaps in the case of Toyota, a spectacular failure, says Dun & Bradstreet analyst Jim Lawton. He also has a background working on medical device issues with Hewlett Packard.
Lawton’s first lesson gleaned from Toyota is that companies should strongly consider focusing on their core competencies and outsourcing other stuff. For example, companies should work hard with partners to understand risk and develop procedures and programs to mitigate it.
“Unfortunately, the medical device industry is not out in front when it comes to managing supplier quality,” worries Jim. “They are all about taking out costs,” he adds. For more of his excellent insights, check out his recent interview with Industry Week.
That can be a case of being penny wise and pound foolish, agrees Sal Lucido at AssurX. ‘Supplier quality management has not gotten the attention it should, because it’s complicated; involving the processes and politics of other companies. It’s hard enough to manage your own company’s issues let alone those of your global suppliers,” Sal says, adding that he believes lessons can be learned from Toyota’s missteps.
Sal’s Tips: Lessons Learned From The Toyota Fiasco
Toyota’s pain could be others gain, IF they learn from what happened to a once-lauded manufacturer. Sal lists some lessons:
- The costs associated with the loss of your company’s reputation are incalculable.
- Product quality includes both the actual and the PERCEIVED view customers hold of your product.
- Ensure you have visibility to the data you need to detect problems early. Prevention is an order of magnitude less costly than late reaction.
- Don’t rely solely on return on investment calculations to direct your process improvement efforts. Sal states as an example that, “ROI calculations are effective when it comes to making decisions such as purchasing automation equipment, but they can fall short when it comes to upstream process improvement investments such as SQM.”
SQM often also gets short shrift because it is harder to calculate in terms of the return on investment (ROI), Sal notes. “When supplier issues are addressed with band aids and tape, they can be hidden from view – for a while. But the day of reckoning always comes.” This is one of the lessons we all may be able to learn from Toyota’s predicament. “The further back in the supply chain, the less attention it gets,” says Sal.
But the Toyota case might make it easier for others to calculate their return on investment in supplier quality. “Decades of reputation building (not to mention billions of dollars) by Toyota has been washed away in a matter of days! It’s very sobering if you are a manufacturer,” Sal points out.
Some good can come out of Toyota’s very public problem if we use it as a wake up call to look at our own house and make sure the processes are sound throughout, starting with supplier quality.