Pre-shipment quality control inspections are an absolute must. The benefits of a quality inspection are three-fold: it ensures product quality, it helps avoid supply chain disruptions, and it protects your brand’s reputation.[i]
China is Asia’s major manufacturing powerhouse and a prime sourcing destination for brands and retailers worldwide. Great quality products can be and currently are being made in China daily, but manufacturing is not an exact science. Even the best factories must be kept on their toes. There are some that will take short-cuts and substitute cheaper components to try and reduce their costs. But even the most ethical factories have lapsed and product quality can suffer if not constantly monitored.
While there are a number of different types of quality audits, we suggest you keep three in mind:
Vendor Selection. First, there is an audit before you select a factory as one of your manufacturing sources. Ideally, the factories you work with should have been referred to you by trusted sources. And then you or your representatives in China should thoroughly vet them. This includes in-depth interviews with their sales, engineering, manufacturing and senior management. Research into secondary sources to learn of their reputation, creditworthiness, reliability, quality, pricing policies and a host of other things. An on-site inspection is very important to witness first-hand manufacturing practices, sophistication, employee attitudes, cleanliness, names of others they are working for and in general getting the “vibe” of the factory. If your staff does not have a great deal of experience in working with Chinese factories it is important for you to have an agent or representative working on your behalf who does.
At your initial factory visits, you should investigate all of their quality control practices from inspection of incoming raw materials to in-process inspections to inspection of the finally assembled goods. Determine if line manufacturing employees are empowered to uphold quality or if only management and inspectors are. Clearly, quality practices should be stressed for all levels of employment.
In-Process Audits. When your particular product, especially if it is fairly complex or requires fine tolerances, begins its initial production run in a new factory, if, at all possible, you or your agents should be present to witness it and offer suggestions as needed. Before production you will have established mutually agreed-upon standards for quality and your engineers and outside inspection firm can review them to make sure they are appropriate based on actual production. Even after a product has had several production runs over several months, it can be useful to have your inspection firm conduct an in-process audit to make suggestions for minimizing defects and improving overall quality.
Finished Goods Inspection. The final and critically important step is in providing inspections of finished goods to assure they meet your standards and expectations. First, your independent inspection firm should review all the company’s internal inspection and quality control reports. That will ensure that the company is abiding by good quality practices internally and give clues as to where problems may lie.
Your inspectors will then perform their official pre-shipment inspection to make sure that your goods are absolutely first class and meet all standards and are ready for shipment. This is typically done by sampling the production lot and doing detailed inspections on a statistically determined quantity whose results can be projected to the entire shipment. In another article, we will go into more depth on the actual inspection.
A comprehensive inspection ensures you’re working with capable and ethical businesses. It’s important to protect your business against operational and ethical risks. A quality inspection ensures every link in your supply chain runs smoothly by inspecting the product prior to shipment. And, it protects your investment because most shipments are not released and funds for their payment are not released until a pre-shipment inspection has been certified as acceptable.
While quality issues are not unique to China, what is unique to China, and most other countries in Asia is that you cannot return goods if you find quality issues in your own country.[ii] For this reason, you simply cannot skip this part of the process. In fact, you should get every single order inspected. Consequences for defects are grave. For example, one defective batch can ruin your reputation, or even get your account suspended from major retail and eCommerce sites.[iii] The goal of an inspection is to verify that the product matches all specifications and quality requirements every time.
Inspections are planned; you should inform your supplier that you intend to get the order quality control as early as possible, even before you have placed a sample order. This way, the supplier will understand that you are a buyer with a serious quality assurance process in place. This alone can increase production quality and consistency.
Quality inspections range in cost, often from $100 to $600, depending on the details of the inspection and the distance to the production site.[iv] A quality inspection company should provide you with a quote on a case-by-case basis. They will use a mutually agreed-upon quality specification for each product noting potential minor, major, and catastrophic defects. The more specific you can be, the more likely the inspection is to cover your company’s unique needs and concerns.
As always, communication is key. Once your company determines that the manufacturer has high-quality standards, you should develop and maintain a good relationship with the manufacturer. This relationship will make it easier for both companies to understand each other’s business culture, help everything run smoothly, and to resolve problems in case they arise.[v]
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