How Quality Can Adapt to Supply Chain Disruption

Frances Donnelly Supply Chain Leave a Comment

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Supply chains all around us have been traumatically disrupted, placing extraordinary pressures on production resources globally.

Quality Systems and Supply Chain Disruption

Quality departments, as contributors to those resources, are not often the first area of concern when supply chain disruption occurs. Don’t mistake that lack of attention, however, as a belief that the Quality System is unimportant. In crises like these, companies WILL be relying upon the strength of their Quality departments to successfully meet production challenges and avoid mistakes.

How Does Quality Affect Operations and the Supply Chain?

We know that not everyone working in Quality has experience with this kind of disruption. Nor does everyone have a common base of knowledge to help them plan or forecast problems and solutions for such a crisis.

In an effort to be of service, we have put together a series of articles that we hope can aid Quality departments with effective execution in this time of crisis. Our goal, in this four part series, is to bring you content that will help you model the impacts of disruption and equip you to plan ahead.

In our four part series you will learn how to:

Part 1. Define models of disruption so you can better forecast what impacts will most likely hit your organization.

Part 2. Devise solutions to problems when your Quality department has too much to do.

Part 3. Develop routines to help defuse the crisis atmosphere.

Part 4. Execute a graceful shut down to support a graceful startup.

Models of Disruption:

We see four models of disruption in the current crisis. By defining these models, our goal is to help you recognize factors that could affect your organization so you can use that information to plan your own responses. Developing a shared understanding of the model will help you and your team make consistent decisions that align with your circumstances.

Spiked Demand:

In this model you belong to one of those essential product supply chains that need to ramp up by multipliers previously unseen or unconsidered. Not only do you have all hands on deck, but you may also have to expand the number of hands precipitously. Your existing supply chain processes are unprepared and will have to be carefully husbanded to ensure the needed flow of materials. ResMed of San Diego, who is ramping up global production of ventilators, and API Plastics of Gainesville, who supply parts for Sea Long Medical Systems, are great examples of this model. Organizations like these will be relying on their Quality systems to ensure that they have properly qualified materials for inputs and outputs so that no production resource goes to waste.


You could be an organization that has the ability to retool or repurpose manufacturing resources to help deliver products that are in critical need. The products you are about to work with may not be in your normal wheelhouse or documented in your QMS. Not only might you have to build systems to accommodate unknown materials, but you may have to adapt to an outside organization’s QMS to ensure outcomes are low-risk. We see examples of repurposing in distilleries like Pernod Ricard, who has switched to producing hand sanitizers. There are other examples, like GM and Ford, who are transforming facilities to produce ventilators through agreements with producers like Ventec Life Systems.

Stretched Erratic Supply Lines:

The signature indication that you belong in this model is that disruption is not caused by spikes in demand but rather by delays in supply. Your planning team is constantly massaging the needs of your customers against the capacity of your suppliers and allocating resources accordingly. Your organization might not be part of a supply chain for critical materials; instead, you build maintenance parts for emergency vehicles or other mechanical devices like store refrigeration units. You could be part of the pet food distribution network. You might produce over-the-counter medications, and some significant part of your components come from China or elsewhere overseas. What you will notice is that internal planning horizons are not long and flexibility is paramount. You could be a large producer like Apple or a small business in a niche market.

Production Pause:

Your products or organization don’t fit the bill for essential needs or your markets have closed due to stay-at-home orders. That doesn’t mean that your products aren’t valued - it simply means that, in the face of social distancing and other requirements, being fully operational is not required. Your tasks have to do with completing a graceful shut down and ensuring all products are correctly stored so that no materials are lost. In shutting down, you are focused on what needs to be maintained and in what state to enable a graceful start up.

Avoiding Surprises

No matter which of these models or combination of models applies to your organization, understanding them won’t mean you will avoid all surprises. Our hope is that by reviewing these suggested models, you are inspired to think about the challenges you may face so you can devise solutions before some of the problems show up. To further your preparedness, we encourage you to check back with us on Thursday, 23 April, so you can read Quality Assurance During Supply Chain Disruption, the second article in our four part series. In it, we provide some specific recommendations on actions the Quality department can take to begin addressing this crisis.

How Are You Preparing?

In the meantime, we’d like to hear from you. How has your company begun to pivot in the face of new demands? How is your team holding up and how do you keep them energized and engaged? Use our Contact Us form to drop us a note.

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