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How to Properly Use or Request a Certificate of Conformance
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How to Properly Use or Request a Certificate of Conformance

A Step-by-Step Guide

Written by Charlie Tuozzolo, ATC Industrial Supply Chain

There is an agreed upon understanding in supply chain management. It is that whatever you order meets the specifications you provided. It’s backed by a Certificate of Conformance (COC). Say, for example, that you order a drive shaft with the following specification:

304 Stainless Steel

You receive the delivery. Along with the packing list, you are handed a signed COC that states:
All items furnished on this contract are in full compliance with all specification and contract requirements.

While starting to work on it, you notice that the magnet on your inspection mirror is attracted to the shaft. What? Type 304 SS (austenitic) is not magnetic. You do some research, then you contact the supplier and you find out that they sent Type 403 SS (martensitic)—which is magnetic.

You re-read the COC and it states that your delivery met all specifications.

What went wrong?

The Value of a Certificate of Conformance

A Certificate of Conformance, also known as a Certificate of Compliance, is a document certified by a competent authority that the good or service they supplied meets the required specifications. Most require a signature.

As a provider of goods you may be requested by your customer to provide a COC. As a purchaser of goods you may want your supplier to provide one.

They have value. Many activities request COCs because they have eliminated receipt inspections or document reviews, so the COC is in lieu of inspection. Suppliers use COCs to reduce the amount of certification paperwork that they need to provide to the customer. Furthermore, a COC may be used in a legal proceeding if a part causes damage because it did not meet specifications.

The COC addresses multiple stakeholder interests. Not only does it need to meet with your customer’s satisfaction, but it may be used to verify governance, risk, and compliance. In a regulatory setting, they are the basis for meeting every level of review to ensure all technical requirements have been met.

Issuing or Receiving a COC: A Step-by-Step Approach

So how should you approach using or issuing a COC to prevent it from being a useless piece of paper?

Issuer: Adhere to the following steps:

  1. Understand the specs

    Understand what the customer’s actual specification is. For example, if an ASME 18.3 bolt is specified—that is what you must provide. An equivalent is unacceptable.
  2. Review the specs

    Take the time to see exactly what it says. You may need to obtain a Mill Certification to ensure the correct material was used—even though it may be unnecessary to forward the Mill Certification to your customer.
  3. Certify with certitude

    Make sure you are certifying the correct part.
  4. Keep wording clear and concise

    Look at your COC wording to ensure it says what you need to say—no more or less. If you only need to certify that the part was bought in the United States, then that is all your COC should say.
  5. Test for integrity

    Lastly there is the integrity test. Would you feel comfortable hanging off the side of a mountain with a rope that was certified according to the way you certified the part? If the answer is NO, then don’t sign it and don’t send it.

Receiver: Adhere to the following steps:

  1. Understand the specs

    Closely examine the specification you provided to the supplier.
  2. Review exceptions

    Did the supplier provide you with any exceptions prior to accepting the order, and if so, were they previously agreed to?
  3. Audit

    Has this supplier been audited by you or an industry group? This ensures that there is a higher confidence level in what the supplier does.
  4. Examine wording

    Read the wording on the supplier’s COC. Did the supplier certify what you were looking for?
  5. Question authority

    Who was the certifying authority? Are you satisfied with the position of the person making the certification?
  6. History matters

    Finally, if available, determine if there were nonconformance issues in the past.

Under many circumstances the COC is a convenient, efficient tool to document conformance to a specification. However, it must be backed up with the supporting information and confidence that the appropriate specification was followed. In business, the COC is the basis for how a supplied good or service meets the specs throughout the supply chain.

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