What quality controls should your warehouse provider offer?

This question is often asked when selecting a 3PL provider to handle the storage and distribution of products.  Before I can answer this question, I must start by defining quality controls.

Quality control (QC) is a process by which entities review the quality of all factors involved or an aggregate of activities (such as design analysis and inspection for defects) designed to ensure adequate quality in product production or distribution. ISO 9000., a series of international quality standards, defines quality control as “a part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements”.

In summary, it’s a system for verifying and maintaining a desired level of quality.

So, why is this important when evaluating providers?

Obviously, you want to make sure whoever is managing your inventory is making sure they handle your products in a way that doesn’t create damage, losses, mis-ships, or compromise the integrity of your products while in their care.  You want your service provider to successfully catch issues early on and limit any future mistakes. This can help tighten up inefficient processes or aid in diagnosing a specific problem and improve warehouse efficiency, which should save you money in the long run.

What should you look for when evaluating providers?

My first question to a would-be provider:   What type of Warehouse Management System (WMS) is in place?  The most effective way to ensure quality control is to build it into the process.  This can be done by implementing a WMS that requires some form of scanning, audit trail capturing and location and storage unit barcoding.  In many WMS, such as the one we use, pickers are required to confirm remaining location quantities after each pick.  If used properly, a WMS can drastically reduce the error rate and help identify and document many non-conformities.  However, it won’t eliminate them if there are manual tasks within the processes.  There will always be opportunities for deviations.

Hence the need to verify the provider has procedures in place for unloading, receiving, inspecting, putaway, auditing, and shipping.  These procedures should identify non-conformances using trailer/carrier inspection (unloading/loading) forms, capturing inventory discrepancies during receiving, storage, and shipping, and damage/returns reporting processes.  In many cases, these procedures will describe the inspection steps for checking or double-checking and any other value-added services such as cycle counting or physical inventory programs.  There should be a system for making sure the procedures are reviewed frequently for accuracy.

Are there employees trained on these procedures or work instructions?  There should be a system in place for documenting training and making sure training is being completed and tracked for all activities from safety to routine inspections.

Finally, do they have a quality system in place for capturing and tracking errors and providing corrective action and preventive actions (CAPA)?  Any quality control system should provide a venue for capturing and reporting metrics around the effectiveness of their program.

If your provider doesn’t offer any or most of these services, you should start looking for a new provider.  Here at Riverside, many of our customer’s products are regulated by the FDA or some other governmental agency.  These agencies require strict adherence to many, if not all, of the items that I mentioned above.

As a result, we have met the audit expectations from our ISO certified customers and our largest facility location is NSF Food Grade certified.  Even if your products don’t need to meet the more stringent requirements, you can benefit from the best practices these requirements provide as we hold all our facilities to similar high standards for quality control.

Michael Kenny

Director, Warehouse Operations