Managing production & QC
Regular, consistent and independent QC is possibly the single most important part of the buying-from-China experience. Some key points:
- Never vary from your contracted standards. If you do, you authorize your factory to do the same-and they will.
- Write it, confirm it, repeat it, and confirm it again with someone in authority. Get things repeated back to you from the people responsible for each step.
- Get things signed and stamped from someone in a position of authority.
Determine what is essential, what should happen, and what would be nice to have. But do not tell your supplier anything is less than mandatory.
- Safety, industry and customs standards are mandatory.
- Product features are probably mandatory too.
- Specific attributes that are not defined by law or function are important.
- Contract in penalties for missed dates and confirm milestones BEFORE you get to the end.
- In-house QC is not independent. It is profit insurance for the supplier. Either do QC yourself or pay a third party to do it for you. But do it no matter what.
- Check incoming materials/components, partially completed goods, packaging and finished goods. Suppliers rarely do QC on incoming goods.
- Unless you can wait for a complete product re-do with no financial penalties, final QC on the last day before product is to be shipped is a complete waste of time and money.
- 3PQC is not a quality guarantee but it is preventive action to identify small problems before they become critical. Have 3PQC independently verify everything.
- Your payments, penalties and shipping dates should be contractually tied to QC reports.
- Give your supplier a copy of all QC reports and have a manager sign and date each inspection report.
Who must be involved
- Engineers-these are typically the only people that really know what the machines can do and what they can get out of them.
- QC and line managers-they have the most direct impact on the daily quality of your order.
- Managers-include them or everything else is a waste of time. They have to be the ones to sign off and enforce agreements when you are gone.
- Salespeople-they will need face from you when you find out they do not know what they are talking about. You will need to keep them happy since they are the ones that control the price.
What to look for in a factory's QC plan
- Clear revision management procedures.
- Bilingual at page level.
- Approved vendor list-total transparency regarding identity of subsuppliers.
- All internal QC data/results are made available for client review.
- Their FQC = Your IQC.
- Unit and lot traceability in terms of bill of materials used, dates and personnel involved in the assembly/inspection process.
- Bill of materials include packaging specifications (air vs. sea, unit vs. master vs. pallet vs. container)
- Container check.
- The only thing worse than no product is bad product. Negotiate accordingly and have a back up, just in case.
There will be problems-count on it.
- Allow the supplier to fix it before you step in-but make sure you are aware of problems AND solutions.
- Do not wait too long to stop problems.
- To find the real problem: Listen, ask, take notes and ask again-there is almost always a public story and a real issue.
- Keep detailed notes of every conversation.
- Just because you know who is to blame does not mean that you can now solve the problem.
- Admit when the problems are your fault and hold the factory to the same standard. Be fair and never be punitive.
- The goal is to get finished quality product. Do not go too far in your anger or demands.
- Lose a deposit instead of an entire order.
- The end of a production run can be especially risky.
With other orders waiting to be filled and your deadline approaching, your supplier may:
- Rush through your final units to finish on time.
- Run out of approved materials and use a substandard substitute.
- Tell you production is complete to get final payment.
- Before your order is completed and packed, perform a preshipment inspection to ensure there will not be last-minute, nonconforming products on board.
- Ship safely. You cannot sell damaged or missing products.
Perform a container loading check to ensure:
- Cartons contain the proper quantity, size, assortment, etc.
- All products are packed safely and loaded carefully.
- The container is sealed against tampering.
The following sourcing experts contributed to this article:
Mike Bellamy - chair of the China Sourcing Information Center's advisory panel and founder of PassageMaker
David Dayton - owner of Silk Road International, founding member of the China Sourcing Information Center and lead editor of CSIC's China Sourcer magazine
Stuart Miller - key account manager at AsiaInspection, in charge of managing the company's most strategic clients