While the importance of controlling the quality of the products coming from Chinese suppliers is now obvious to most international buyers, questions remain on just how to do it.
First you need to think about what exactly you want to control. It is ideally coming from your own definition of what is critical for your products and your business. To help you with defining the test plan, try to consider what are the past quality issues you faced, ones that brought you to call for inspections; or go through the specifications of the product and pick the ones that could have the greatest impact on your customers. Keep in mind that the inspection plan should be made in line with what is at stake: the value and criticality of the product. Obviously, you might not want to test rolls of paper tissues as extensively as medical respiratory equipment. A typical testing plan includes several cosmetic and functional items to check, with pass and fail criteria. Most of them will be based on visual checks or basic instrument measurements (ruler, caliper, weighing scale, etc.).
Professional inspection companies should be able to assist you in defining your test plan, according to the industry you are in, the profile of your customers and, of course, the type of product you source from China. By experience they know what to look for specifically in toys, IT equipment, raw materials, textiles and automotive parts, for examples.
Your inspection plan should also cover the expected confidence level you want to achieve. It is usually defined in percentage of defects you can accept, using the standard statistical AQL (Acceptable Quality Level) approach. An AQL level of 0.4 means you accept to receive a shipment with potentially up to 0.4% defects (that means 99.6% good). 100% confidence can only be achieved by 100% testing, the AQL approach greatly reducing the number of units to be tested (to around 5% to 10%) and the associated costs.
Once you have your inspection plan in hand, you need to define where to have it performed. Unless specific reasons dictate, inspections should take place at the supplier's site, after production is finished and before products leave the factory. That is where you can get the highest benefits in terms of reaction time and cost. If you are on a very tight schedule, inspections can also be performed during the production cycle. Inspections at a later stage, before loading at the port of departure, or even upon arrival in the country of destinations, are quite specific and can be justified for various reasons, like sensitivity to transportation, impossibility to access the manufacturing site or consolidation with other materials, availability of special testing equipments.
Planning and ordering
Take into account that an inspection company needs a few days to organize themselves to validate your testing plan and send inspectors to the supplier site. The sooner you do it the better, but not later than two to three days before the expected date for shipment from the factory. Finalize all arrangements beforehand.
Before placing an order, make sure that you have your detailed testing plan defined and that you know the total quantities to be shipped, the expected shipment date and the exact location (detailed address and contact information of your supplier). This will have to be communicated to the inspection company, who will confirm the booking price, for you to make your final decision. Most shipments just require a one day inspection, but it all depends on the number of samples tested (AQL level vs. total quantity) and the number/complexity of parameters to check (testing plan), it should be confirmed to you in advance by the inspection company.
If you have a business with a continuous flow of shipments from the same locations, a specific organization can be set up to support it and, thanks to economies of scale, costs can be contained.
After the inspectors go on site to perform their duty, you will quickly receive an inspection certificate with administrative information and the results of their findings: how many units they checked, what results they recorded and whether the lot(s) pass or fail. The ideal way is to hold the shipment until you receive the report, so that you can decide if any containment actions are necessary prior to shipment. Therefore, add on one to one and a half days to your regular schedule before shipment to allow for inspection. You should keep the records of the inspection reports for future reference.
Relying on an independent party to inspect on your behalf will not only help you to control your costs. It will also bring impartiality, efficiency and peace of mind in your relationship with your Chinese suppliers.
From: Discussion Forums