Limit returns, SAP procurement expenses with a stability study

Stability studies, which measure how different materials respond to various conditions, can save companies huge amounts of money, writes Jawad Akhtar.

Companies can implement a stability study in the SAP Quality Management (QM) module to gain extensive data on the physical and chemical conditions of a product and reduce the number of unnecessary SAP procurement purchases and customer returns.

The objective of a stability study is to assess the physical and chemical conditions of a sample in various storage conditions. Manufacturers in general, and process manufacturers in particular, routinely conduct stability studies on raw material from vendors to ascertain whether the shelf life and other physical and chemical parameters meet the company's needs. Companies also conduct stability studies on their own produced goods to evaluate the product's change in physical or chemical properties over an extended period.

Companies embarking on a New Product Development and Introduction (NPDI) initiative also need comprehensive data that can come from a stability study on product storage and handling conditions. 

Implementing a stability study can bring about significant savings in terms of time and cost. Consider the following:

  • The raw material in the warehouse has exceeded its expiration date. As a procurement planner, you need to know if it can still be used, or if new materials need to be ordered. Most raw materials are still good to use within a limited time after their expiration date. The expired raw material can undergo a stability study. If the results reveal you can still use it, you save the time and cost involved in reordering the material and avoid rush deliveries.
  • As a quality control manager, you are tasked to find out the reasons for customer returns. The causes can be related to storage and other physical conditions in which the product was kept. But you lack the comprehensive data and details to ascertain the reasons the product became defective. You proceed to evaluate each step of the supply chain and conclude that the product left the company's warehouse as quality-cleared and in perfect condition. It is somewhere along the supply chain, be it during transportation, storage at a distributor warehouse or customer site, or handling that the quality suffered. You conduct a stability study on various parameters, both physical and chemical, and replicate these conditions to ascertain which conditions hurt the product's quality. You then recommend suggestions for improvement. 
  • As a maintenance planner, you are asked by the company to schedule how often products are kept in a given environment.
  • You are in charge of developing a new product and would like to test the physical, chemical and storage conditions needed to maintain the product in excellent condition. The company will eventually print some of the relevant conditions on the product's label to avoid or minimize returns. 

When conducting a stability study, it is important to create an initial sample, which goes through certain steps to confirm that you can proceed with the entire study. Reasons for not being able to complete the study can vary from incorrect components compositions to unfavorable storage condition to store the initial sample, which results in the sample losing its physical or chemical properties. 

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In SAP, you can conduct a stability study with or without using product material, although the option to do it without material offers fewer features.

Conducting a stability study requires a decent knowledge and understanding of four different SAP modules: Quality Management (QM), Production Planning (PP), Plant Maintenance (PM) and Materials Management (MM). You begin the stability study in the QM module, and proceed to perform activities such as results recording and usage decisions. The PM module plays a role in creating a schedule for testing the physical sample within those storage conditions. You use the PP module to manage the components used in the stability study. Within the MM module, the required settings for a stability study are kept in the material master and the batch-management details for the material.

All the related departments of the company come together to contribute to the study. This collaborative process can help department heads decide whether to:

  • proceed with a full-fledged study or cancel it after the initial test;
  • revise the testing schedule, including shortening or prolonging it; or
  • cancel the study, or simply 'deactivate' it for a time for possible reactivation later on.

The stability study is a core QM process, while other modules, like MM, PM and PP, play a supporting role. In fact, the first step toward creating a stability study in SAP begins by creating a special QM notification, which can only be used in conjunction with stability studies. To implement an SAP stability study in your company, you may need to engage a SAP QM consultant, who also should have sufficient cross-modular knowledge or experience in managing the end-to-end business process.

Jawad Akhtar is an assistant vice president and SAP project manager for AbacusConsulting, where he focuses on supply chain management issues. AbacusConsulting is based in Pakistan.

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