Lessons Learned During Manufacturer Audits in 2017

By Bob Smith, Director, Quality and Bob Krenzer, Manager, Quality
May 23, 2018 Tags: Quality Process, Manufacturer Identification, Approved Manufacturer List, Audit
MRC Global
Bob Smith
MRC Global
Bob Krenzer

One of the most common questions that MRC Global receives is how a manufacturer can be included on our Approved Manufacturer List (AML). It is not a quick or easy process.

After an initial evaluation including commercial aspects and product testing, the final step towards earning a place on MRC Global’s AML is an on-site assessment of the manufacturer’s facilities.

That is where we come in. Both of us have more than 30 years of experience in the manufacturing and quality realm.

In 2017 alone, the two of us spent more than 200 days on the road each and audited 81 different manufacturer locations in 19 countries. And that doesn’t include the countless customer and manufacturer meetings we attended in between audits. It also doesn’t include audits performed by other MRC Global quality team members.

Through our careers working in this area, we have learned that there are many myths about what makes a quality manufacturer and the industry is constantly changing. Just because a manufacturer’s building and equipment looks new and modern, does not mean their processes or, more importantly, their material source is not problematic.

Sometimes, it is really obvious if the manufacturer will be a reliable source and other times you have to dig for it. Like we said earlier, looks can be deceiving. A valve can be painted and identified with the correct specifications – that doesn’t always mean that the material is in fact, what it says it is. It can be very misleading to make quick, broad judgements.

When we visit a manufacturer, we review all of the manufacturing steps in detail. There are a lot of properties of the material MRC Global buys that are impossible to inspect or test for once the product is complete, especially with valves. We need to know where the raw materials were made and then actually see the processes and procedures being used to create the products.

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On a recent trip to several potential manufacturers in Asia, we visited the manufacturer’s facilities, and the first part of the manufacturer’s production process was outstanding. The manufacturer had modern facilities and equipment that could consistently handle high volumes. Wonderful. From there, because we know not to only look at one part of the process, we focused on the manufacturer’s machining processes, which it subcontracted. Unfortunately, the subcontractor was not following the processes necessary to ensure the product would meet the required specifications. On the surface, the manufacturer looked like an ideal fit, but when we started to dig we recognized that the material would not meet its specifications in the end product. If we would not have gone to physically review the subcontractor, we would not have known that they were sub-standard.

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In the past year, we have noticed an increase of non-compliances surrounding several key processes for the valve manufacturers we have audited. These common issues are detailed below.

Valve Testing in Accordance with Specifications

Not performing the required valve testing exactly as laid out in the specifications for a specific valve is a serious and seemingly widespread problem. Testing is a functional aspect of the requirements that cannot be avoided or changed.

This is one of our more common corrective issues on an audit and is often the result of a lack of overall understanding of the governing specifications for the product.

Material Identification & Control

Another potentially serious, but correctable, issue is the lack of proper material traceability. Manufacturers must be able to demonstrate the final content of the end product. Origin material comes in with heat numbers and other identifications, but during the process, those markings are often removed during machining. The lack of sound, organized processes to trace the material itself from the mill to the final product is a red flag that will stop our audit approval until it is corrected.

Below is an example of one manufacturer’s raw material storage area on our first visit and after they took corrective action and put a new process in place. Like we said, it’s a deal breaker, but one that can be avoided and corrected entirely through several different control processes.

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MRC Global

MRC Global

Casting/Forging & the Heat Treatment Process

We never approve a valve manufacturer without visiting and reviewing the foundry or forging facilities. That means working the night shift when they pour the castings. That’s where the entire process starts.

The heat treatment process is critical for either cast or forged valves. Respecting the heat treatment requirements is vital because it changes the characteristics of the material. For forged valves in particular, if a manufacturer doesn’t normalize the material to the specification but considers it “heat treated” because the metal had been heated during processing but not to the specification, it is impossible to correct later in the process.

While the on-site audit is only part of an in depth process that we use to qualify our manufacturers, it is one of the most telling. We have some terrific manufacturers, and we truly believe MRC Global’s AML represents the best of the best. To be included on our AML is a significant accomplishment and we take pride in the manufacturers we connect to our customers every day. To learn more about MRC Global’s quality program, contact us today.

About the Authors

Bob Smith has been with MRC Global since 2000. Prior to that, Bob spent 5 years at Columbia Gas Transmission and more than 20 years at US Steel. Throughout his career, Bob has seen the evolution of the PVF manufacturing industry from what was primarily domestic regional market to a global field of possibilities. In his current role, he travels the world identifying new, high quality sources for our supply chain while maintaining relationships with our many long-standing manufacturers.

Bob Krenzer has been with MRC Global since 2017. His more than 30 year career includes nearly 20 years at Bonney Forge, where he was ultimately responsible for their global quality process as the EVP of Manufacturing Operations. He believes in a proactive approach to the quality process in manufacturing and enjoys providing solutions rather than simply identifying problems. He now uses that proactive mindset to analyze manufacturers’ processes and potential improvements as part of the MRC Global quality team.