1. Canvass the field. Even before you write your requirements document, you can start informally canvassing suppliers to get a rough idea of budget, timeline, and ability to meet your requirements. A simple checklist of requirements will suffice at this stage. You’re just looking for a rough guide—don’t hold them to it without furnishing a formal request for quote (RFQ).
2. Write a requirements document. While this is nearly always done for critical machines on the line (such as fillers and cappers), companies tend to mistakenly skip this step when it comes to labeling equipment. It’s impossible to perform even the simplest of Vendor Evaluation Analysis without thinking through your requirements and writing them down. This exercise forces you to really think through what you need this equipment to accomplish for you and the unique (or not so unique) constraints of this project. This document can be used when canvassing the initial universe of suppliers, and can also serve as the basis for your RFQ.
3. Issue the RFQ. You’ll want to issue your RFQ to ideally three, but no more than six, packaging suppliers. With the responses you get back, rate them using the Intermediate Vendor Evaluation Analysis form (see download link, left).
4. Conduct the Vendor Evaluation Analysis. If you’re spending US$200,000 or less on your labeling machine, use the simple VEA spreadsheet link at left to evaluate the responses from suppliers. This form contains 22 sample criteria to evaluate both the vendor and the machine—which you should feel free to add, modify, or remove to suit your specific needs. (For higher-cost machines, more sophisticated VEA should be used, separately evaluating the vendor and the equipment.)
The spreadsheet uses a simple weighted scoring mechanism. To mitigate against the tendency of giving a middle-of-the-road “5” score to ambiguous criteria, restrict your scores to a 1, 3, 6, or 9 (on a hypothetical scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best), which forces differentiation. If you don’t have prior experience with the vendor, it helps to speak to the vendor’s other customers who have similar products, and use that as the basis for your scores.
The spreadsheet adds the individual rows and then provides a total weighted score for each vendor. While the spreadsheet can’t pick the vendor for you, it can be a system for helping to make sense of and evaluate the mass of information you’re receiving from vendors.