Supplier documentation, vendor documentation, or sometimes even manufacturer documentation – three different terms, and yet they all mean the same thing. In mechanical and plant engineering, the technical documentation for the end-customer is, to a large extent, comprised of the documentation provided by individual suppliers. This documentation then must be reviewed, validated, and then finally integrated into the overall documentation set. Sound familiar? Chaos may very well ensue: Incorrect language, non-editable formats, and possibly maintenance information are all hidden throughout the body text.
It’s much too simple to point the finger of blame on the supplier alone. Because the overall degree of integration of the documentation is determined by the manufacturer. This results in special requirements; for example, the structure and depth of information, or the delivery date and the publication type of the supplier documentation. In practice, these requirements are often only vaguely or not even defined at all by the supplier, so that they have no other option but to guess at setting their own standard. Regardless of whether manufacturer, supplier, or service provider – we can all benefit from a successful handling of supplier documentation and therefore we may also sit in the same boat.
Smooth process through early adjustments
Experience has shown that documentation is often prepared very late in the order process. We therefore recommend detailed up-front coordination between manufacturer and supplier, in order to avoid time pressure at the end of the project.
In addition, these three steps will help you to run your process more smoothly:
- Define standards and communicate
Each company has specific requirements for operating instructions and product documentation. The issue is, few companies have specifications that define these requirements. And those who are unsure as to what their own company provides as standard documentation cannot possibly create clear specifications for their suppliers. For a plant project or serial product, a simple Excel spreadsheet can already help. Here you can find individual documents where their target groups, publication types and delivery dates are assigned. In addition, it can help to define standards regarding structure or informational content: If content is integrated into the overall manual, there may be special requirements. For example, maintenance information may be requested as a spreadsheet, in order to be integrated into an overall maintenance plan. If reference is made to content in the supplier documentation, it may be, for example, that there are requirements for their structure so that the information can be more easily found. If referring to standards, few may lead to better results than most of them with overly complicated requirements.
It is worthwhile to clarify the standards for the documentation with suppliers, in principle before executing the contract, in order to minimise additional effort and to be able to deliver a timely and complete documentation set.
Checklist as Test Report
Once the standard has been defined, it can be used to create a checklist that can be used both as a test report and for the overall supplier evaluation. As with the standard, these checklists can be supplemented with special requirements for very contract-specific (i.e. scope of work) projects.
Guidance for Employees
A short guide to implementing the first two steps can ensure that new employees can quickly become familiar with the review process. For example, such a quick guide could also include a process diagram. Internal training completes the process and ensures that the same requirements are met for document deliverables throughout the company.
Based on our experience, we can report that the management of supplier documentation is made much easier if we follow these three steps, so we can recommend the procedure whole-heartedly.