You Can't Test In Safety
As I follow up on the many conversations that were started at the recent PPAI North American Leadership Conference and the PPAI Product Safety Summit, my belief that the rate of change in our industry is accelerating continues to be confirmed. (See my previous blog post, Surf's Up - Our Industry is at a Tipping Point, for details.) More companies are embracing product safety as an integral part of their business strategy, and they are beginning to understand they can use compliance to differentiate their offerings from those companies who continue to resist adapting to the changing marketplace.
To help companies better understand the product safety testing requirements for their products, PPAI has introduced a brilliant new tool: the TurboTest. Kudos to the PPAI team responsible for creating this tool. With the wealth of information and many variables involved, I'm sure it was a daunting task.
Like any new tool, it's essential to know how and when to use it in order to get the most benefit from its capabilities. While TurboTest is a fantastic tool to help uncover the testing requirements for a particular product, it does not test safety into your products.
Testing, like auditing, is a valuable component of a compliance program-but it is not a compliance program in and of itself. The TurboTest tool helps suppliers and distributors identify the required or suggested tests for a particular product, which comes in very handy at the product development stage or for large, long lead-time orders. But it is of little use for the low quantity, short lead-time orders of less than $400 that make up so much of our industry's volume.
For these smaller orders, any required testing must take place well in advance to hit the delivery timelines clients demand. Additionally, the testing costs would also have to be amortized over many units to keep the product reasonably priced. Thus, if the supplier has not already tested the blank inventory and decoration inks, distributors will not have the time or the money to test before the end-buyer's deadline.
To meet end-buyer safety and compliance requirements, distributors must use suppliers that have a proactive, comprehensive compliance program that includes testing as a component of the program. Suppliers must not only understand the regulations for both products and the decoration methods but also do the required testing before those items hit their inventories.
Suppliers must also have supply chain transparency and control along with checks and balances to ensure that the actual product manufactured matches the product submitted for testing. Don't fall prey to a "Golden Sample"-that perfect sample item a factory submits for testing to ensure passing test results.
In any quality or compliance program, it's your process and the ability to control this process that gives you your desired results-safe quality products. In sourcing as well as manufacturing, there is truth to the old adage, "Garbage In, Garbage Out." You cannot test product safety into a item; you must have a process that manages product safety in your products from the beginning.
Brent Stone is executive director - operations for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional products industry's only independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. A Six Sigma Black Belt, Stone has more than 25 years of in-depth supply chain management experience with extensive expertise in process design, development, improvement and management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.