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How to Make the Most of a Plant Tour

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Maximize your investment in conducting a good quality plant tour by following these four critical steps.

If you're in manufacturing, you've probably experienced the process of a plant tour either as a buyer assessing a potential supplier facility, or as part of a plant operation hosting potential clients and business partners. Our experience shows that plant tours vary greatly in both the way they are conducted and how findings are measured.

Conducting a plant tour of an existing or potential supplier can be costly in terms of travel and time, but handled properly, it can be an invaluable tool to starting a new business relationship. Maximizing your investment requires preparation of a well-developed plan for conducting the tour well in advance of the actual date.

In conducting supplier evaluations worldwide, with facility reviews as a critical component, SupplierInsight has found that there are four critical steps to conducting a good quality plant tour:

  1. Pre-visit Questionnaire
    A brief telephone conversation with plant management is a good place to start in order to understand product characteristics, identify key aspects of the manufacturing environment, and help to prepare an appropriate questionnaire.

    Prepare and fax a preliminary questionnaire to plant management to acquire basic product and operational data prior to the actual facility tour. Once the questionnaire is completed and returned, a more detailed set of questions can be developed for the actual on-site interviews. Plant representatives can then review the specific questions in advance to be fully prepared for the visit.

  2. Planned Attendance
    The next step in preparing for a well-executed plant tour is to schedule the tour with sufficient notice to assure that the plant operator can arrange for critical personnel to attend. A thorough tour always requires interaction with key plant operations personnel, quality managers, and senior-management executives. Be sure to send representatives from your organization in parallel job functions and request enough time for your people to interact and assess their potential supplier. In addition to collecting required plant operation data and information, the face-to-face interaction provides invaluable insight and can be a good starting point in creating a strong relationship between the buyer and supplier organizations.

    Example of Agenda and Appropriate Representatives for Plant Tour
    Agenda Item Areas to Cover Appropriate Supplier Representatives
    1. Review Overall Supplier Capabilities Provide operational overview of plant Senior management
    Discuss supplier's organizational structure and meet appropriate personnel Sales and customer service
    Discuss overall business options Operations, Quality
    2. Review Supplier Procedures Review safety, quality and hazardous materials documentation Quality, safety, training and operations
    Discuss training and personnel issues  
    3. Review Operations Conduct physical review of facility Operations
    Examine conformance to procedures Quality
    Assess plant capabilities Safety
    Testing, environmental,etc.  

  3. Collecting Information and Scoring Results
    The results of a plant tour can be quite subjective and little more than a "general feeling" that includes everything from a plant's appearance (clean or dirty) to its capabilities (can handle large diameter machining). Best-practice plant tours need to go beyond this "general feeling" into a more detailed data collection and performance measurement process that results in a thorough evaluation of a potential supplier.

    SupplierInsight has developed a framework for collecting information during a plant tour. We categorize information collection into the following four areas:

    • People - an assessment of a facility's personnel including plant leadership, safety and training, labor relationships, and employee development programs.
    • Innovation - a review of the quality control, continuous process improvement, capital deployment, and supply chain management aspects of a plant operation.
    • Process - an understanding of the plant's overall manufacturing process including inventory, process layout, materials flow and management.
    • Infrastructure - the physical condition of the plant including the buildings, type and age of machinery, machine maintenance program, housekeeping, and environmental aspects.

    For each area, specific questions should be asked and the results should be quantified. Weightings can be applied for each area and a resulting overall score can then be calculated.

  4. Sharing the Information
    Once the plant tour is complete, there is tremendous value in sharing the results. Since the report may represent an overall bill of health for the plant, a detailed scorecard should be made available. Once the results are shared with a supplier along with recommendations and options, a supplier may propose improvement plans and modifications that match the requirements for a future relationship. At the very least, a better supplier can always result from this outside perspective on a plant's strengths and weaknesses.

See a sample SupplierInsight facility review report: Click Here! Facility Review Report Sample

SupplierInsight evaluates suppliers worldwide in a brand new way. We offer buyers the SupplierSeal(TM), an online report that a buyer can use to evaluate a supplier. We create it quickly, deliver it online, and update it regularly. It is the best way for buyers to get the supplier information they need, when they need it and how they need it.

SupplierInsight also provides the Supplier Scoreboard(TM), a web-based system for managing supplier scorecards across a company's supply base.

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