Delta Faucet’s buyers are on the quality team

Despite a decade of corporate attention to quality, many companies don’t yet satisfy their customers. That’s what consumers tell the American Society for Quality Control. And that’s a call to arms for George Milne, VP/purchasing at Delta Faucet. “This just proves that productivity gains don’t always equate to product-quality gains,” he says. “It takes teamwork because a lot of people have to be involved in creating quality products that satisfy the final customers.”

Although purchasing is totally responsible for parts and materials quality, Delta Faucet’s buyers are allied on a day-to-day basis with production control and business development staff. “In that way, the team is united in making sure the parts, the products, and the marketing all mesh to make products that satisfy the customers,” Milne explains. Lately, raw materials and components suppliers have been brought onto the team by the Indianapolis plumbing equipment firm.

Quality from the ground up. There still are teething problems implementing the three-pronged approach to quality supply management. “But, after two years, we think its working beautifully,” Milne says, “because quality parts can be used immediately.” He believes that’s important because “after all is said and done, quality starts at the source and that’s still the buying community’s responsibility.”

“Because of staff downsizing, we all have to work harder and smarter,” he says. “That means our buyers have to have total vision of what parts or materials they are buying and where they eventually go in the production cycle.”

Over the past five years or so, Delta Faucet also has downsized its supplier base. “But, we just didn’t go in and shop around. We based any decisions on performance and cost-competitiveness,” Milne explains. Upshot: 90% of the firm’s suppliers have 25 years’ tenure with the firm. Virtually all of them are pursuing ISO 9000 certification, as is Delta Faucet’s manufacturing operation.

Delta Faucet has taken total quality management seriously, Milne says, because executives realized that quality paid for itself. “By eliminating defects, we eliminated rework, reduced inspection, and cut inventory,” he says. “But none of that was possible unless we educated our suppliers that things had changed and we could help them be part of that change.”

Milne says “buyers and production planners have become more flexible; they now explain `what’s up’ to the suppliers, and in detail.” He notes that “the third leg of the stool, the marketing personnel, is doing the same with retailers.” Retail is becoming Delta Faucet’s biggest end market, because “construction isn’t where it used to be,” notes Milne. “Yet high product quality is just as important in retail as it is in construction markets.”

All this because of what is known as “modular retailing,” which has changed the way Delta Faucet markets its products. “Downstream has, changed,” he explains. In the past, the firm would make and package a dozen items, box them, and ship them. Today, retailers want three of one item, four of another, five of another, all packaged for easy display. “This kind of modular retail thinking affects the parts we buy, the way our products are produced, and the way they are packaged for display and sale.”

Working within windows. One of the changes from this new style of market supply has been 30-day predetermined production cycles. “Business now requires us to assemble to order with shipping fulfillment 5-7 days after order placement,” Milne explains. “Fulfillment turnaround is almost instantaneous.” And how’s Delta doing? “We’re getting our act together,” he says, noting that 98% of the orders are completed and shipped in the time required. To accomplish that, buyers now provide suppliers with forecasts of production schedules and parts or materials required. “It’s done either weekly or monthly, depending on what suppliers need to be comfortable,” says Milne.

Supplier selection also is a team approach. Purchasing is responsible for selection of suppliers, working with engineering and accounting personnel, Milne explains. And, since parts certification is a key element of the buy, that’s also a purchasing responsibility. In fact, early supplier and buyer involvement goes all the way back to tooling. “That’s why oversight of the suppliers’ quality department also is a purchasing responsibility.”

Purchasing and its key internal partners also handle major-supplier negotiations for key raw materials like brass and other coppermetals. After all, Delta Faucet still is one of the largest buyers of free-cutting brass rods and one of largest U.S. consumers of nonferrous cast parts. Of course, that’s been complicated by supplier downsizing, “but the use of buyers with engineering backgrounds to liason with engineering helps,” Milne adds.

“One of the biggest issues in cast parts required by Delta Faucet is the aesthetics,” Milne says. “That’s why inspections still are required. We assume the metal is going to do what the suppliers agreed it would do,” Milne says, “but because consumer acceptance of the product is imperative, cosmetic issues still require off-quality product inspections.”

For example, in a recent month purchasing received 24 million parts–highly decorative chrome-plated zinc and copper-nickel chrome. The acceptance rate was 96.59%. “And that was for parts that will become lavoratory or kitchen sink pieces that everyone will see once the faucet is installed,” says Milne. “In other words, where consumer acceptance is critical.”

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