In Process Quality Inspection: Advantages and Tips

2022-06-07

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Quality inspection of goods manufactured at China factories usually occurs during the production cycle and before the shipment is transported to the port. The goal is ensuring that customers receive goods free of defects. It is easier to rectify defects earlier in the production cycle. This is when the factory has started making your product based on the approved sample. Known as in process inspection, the procedures are helpful in preventing a shipment of defective or low-quality products that disappoint your customers and hurt your business.

Is in process quality inspection for manufacturing necessary?

Amazon is a competitive marketplace. To sell more and build a good reputation, your products need to match customers' quality expectations for the price. If not, bad reviews and ratings will flood your page, and affect your chances of acquiring new customers. For a new business, an early flurry of negative reviews can be devastating.

Choosing a reliable factory that specializes in making your product helps prevent quality problems to a large extent. Quality inspection further mitigates the risk of receiving defective items. It's simple to understand but crucial to reiterate.

Even if you've been impressed by the initial sample, the mass-produced items may not be of uniformly high quality. You can live with a minuscule percentage of defective products, but when it is clear that the factory has been sloppy, you will need a way to resolve the matter quickly.

Such problems are preventable with in process quality inspection. Attention to quality and adherence to product specifications at all stages of the production cycle lead to uniformly good product quality. The factory stays on their toes and any clarification they need but may not have asked for earlier, is sorted.

Advantages for you

Quality is paramount when you're looking to establish a sustainable Amazon business for consumer products. Research suggests that proper in quality inspections result in products that satisfy their intended use. Over time, making quality products available to customers offers advantages such as:

• Increased loyalty

• Repeat business

• New customers from referrals

• Fewer liability risks

• Positive seller reputation

Managing product quality is easier than raising quality issues after receiving a bad shipment. You can, of course, withhold the remaining payment to the supplier. But you will have made a loss anyway, from paying an intial amount and getting stuck with an inventory that's of no use and that you may or may not be able to write-off.

Chinese factories will make new products in place of the defective ones. Negotiating a deal without spoiling your relationship with the factory, especially if you want to continue placing orders with them, isn't easy for novice importers that aren't fluent in conversational Chinese. Often, what happens in such cases is that the buyer's sourcing agent steps in to resolve the matter.

Who does in process quality inspection?

Generally, the buyer hires an external agency to perform in process quality inspection. Or the supplier has their own quality controllers to keep a tab on product quality. 

Which is the better option? All factories have in-house quality control but it can miss the mark sometimes. Busy quality controllers may miss out on identifying defects or pay more attention to clients that have placed large orders. Whether in-house quality control does its job is anyone's guess. If you have chosen a supplier that takes quality control strictly, you should have no problem. That said, sourcing agent’s QC gives you more control, with the inspector checking for all the right things throughout the production cycle.

What does quality inspection in manufacturing look like?

The quality control used is dependent on the product or industry. In process quality inspection involves reviewing the raw materials and components pre-production. Inspectors then assess the partially produced parts or randomly check a few pieces from the initial batches.

You will provide the checklist of specifications against which the finished items need to be compared to determine conformity. Usually, the checklist includes aspects such as materials, appearance, workmanship, labelling, inner packing and outer packaging. The criteria for inspection should be objective, and contain the standards and requirements discussed with the supplier and/or outlined in the manufacturing agreement. Whatever expectations you set should ideally bear out once work on your order begins.

How are QC findings reported?

The QC report is the document containing the inspector's findings and result - a 'Pass' or 'Fail'. Quality inspection agencies will have their own template, and you can request to see a sample report. They're also amenable to using a template provided by the client. Mostly, though, clients use the agency's template to view the results of in process quality checks.

The template is shared in a PDF format. The finding and corresponding result is recorded in the table for that section. For example, when you need to source metal products, the 'Dimensions' section will contain the expected length, width, height and weight for the product, and the actual findings, along with the 'Pass' or 'Fail' remark. A column documenting any additional information may also be present.

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Elements of a QC checklist

It is important to first mention that the very first formal evaluation of manufacturing quality is the factory audit. This is usually done by an external professional party, such as a factory audit service. Some importers may personally visit the factory to conduct the checks. The audit makes clear the factory's capability to make your order to your requirements.

Initial Audit: This is a general audit that looks at:

• Production processes

• Equipment and machinery

• Staff count

• Quality control procedures

• Workshop/warehouse/control room

• Official documents (business license, export license, certificates)

Technical Audit: This is a more detailed investigation of manufacturing processes and quality control systems, and includes:

• Quality management system

• Production capacity

• Internal quality control procedures

• Sub-supplier selection process

• Equipment maintenance

• Employee training

Social Compliance Audit: An idea of how the supplier treats its employees, the environment and meets its legal obligations is useful to reduce risk to your brand reputation. This audit evaluates aspects such as:

• Labour policies (ex: child labour)

• Safety policies (ex: evacuation plan)

• Environmental policies

• Employee health and safety

• Remuneration (ex: minimum wages)

After the factory has satisfied your expectations and the order is placed, quality monitoring should continue. The in process quality inspection includes the essential elements explained below:

Verifying raw material quality

The quality of raw materials your manufacturer is using will affect product appearance, strength, durability and safety. Quality can be ascertained in a couple of ways, as explained below:

• Through a quality audit: An audit is different from a quality inspection as it provides a view into how the factory verifies raw material quality. This can be in the form of documented processes and a walk around the factory floor to observe its operations.

• On-site raw material inspection: The quality inspection agency sends their inspector to the factory to verify if the raw materials received match your specifications. This check occurs before production has started. It is usually done when the importer is working with a new supplier, or when there are concerns that the supplier may be economising on money (cheap quality) or materials (managing with lesser material than required).

• The quality of raw materials is especially important for pharmaceutical and food product manufacturing. The products will require raw material testing from a lab to ensure compliance. To be on the safe side, you can request your supplier to provide a testing certificate for each incoming batch of raw materials.

The raw materials have to be transformed to the final product you want. Defects during the making of the product usually occur from a misunderstanding around your expectations. So, not only is it important to share a detailed and precise specification sheet with the factory, but also monitor the products during the production cycle.

Verifying product requirements

With a concise and detailed QC checklist, the quality inspector will evaluate the same things that you would on a visit to the factory. The checklist informs the inspector to match the following aspects of the finished items with your requirements:

Material and construction

The type of material used will have been evaluated earlier. For example, the requirement is to use grade 316 stainless steel, but the supplier thought that 304 was acceptable. Then, the in process quality inspection would have ensured that the superior grade is used. In this stage, you evaluate whether the zinc coating on the stainless steel is to the specified thickness. Or that the injection-moulded serving trays are in the shape of a rectangle and don't have sharp edges.

Dimensions and weight

These features are particularly important for products like machine parts and garments. Depending on the product, you may have specified an acceptable quality level. For example, not more than 1% of a batch of components can be defective. Once production is in full swing, a random check of a batch will offer an idea of whether weight and dimension requirements have been followed.

Colour

QC inspectors are knowledgeable in performing a visual evaluation of colour. Colour requirements are generally verified by comparing the finished items against a Pantone colour swatch or the golden sample.

Markings and labelling

To be eligible for sale in the US or EU, your product labelling and markings must meet the established regulatory requirements of those markets. The in process quality control checklist should include this section with corresponding specifications. For example, if you're importing garments, then the fibre content, country of origin, identification number (ex: RN for USA), size, care instructions and supplier trademark/code need to be mentioned on the label.

For new importers, a clear idea of the labelling requirements is important to avoid falling foul of the law. If you're importing footwear into the UK for sale, then the label must state in English or in a pictogram form, the materials that make up 80% of the surface area of the upper, surface area of the lining and sock, and the outer sole. Selling footwear without information about its composition is an offence.

Verifying packaging requirements

Evaluating packaging quality is important for various reasons. The packaging used and assortment method have a bearing on the condition in which you can expect to receive your shipment. For example, fragile items will need to be packed with additional cushioning, while the cartons for heavier items should have sufficient stacking strength to resist crushing.

Packaging weight and dimensions will affect your shipping costs. If the cartons are even slightly wider than your specification, then one container may not suffice and you will need to pay for the costs of renting space in a second one.

Amazon fulfillment centres have their own shipment labelling standards. Depending on whether you're using Amazon FBA or using another route, pay attention to the carton labelling requirements to avoid delays or extra fees.

Retail packaging colour and graphics create perceptions about you before your target market. They are also important from a regulatory perspective, such as requiring a warning label for toys and household items that can be a choking hazard.

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Classifying defects

The manufacturing industry uses a method called Acceptable Quality Limit (AQL) sampling to define a production order sample when determining whether the entire product order has met the client's specifications. AQL sampling includes factors such as the frequency of defects found, their severity (minor, major or critical) and the manufacturer's tolerance of the particular issue. A final 'Pass' or 'Fail' result is based on this evaluation.

Experienced quality inspection agencies are aware of the common defects for particular products. Apart from the features under AQL, you may want to specify issues you've seen but which aren't frequently encountered during quality inspections. For example, if a number of your customers have reported disliking a particular aspect of the household item you sell, but this isn't a regular defect for that particular product, then it should be communicated to the supplier and included in the QC checklist. This is a way to catch problems in manufacturing quality in process inspections.

Keep a tight control on quality

Collaborative relationships with your supplier and quality inspection agency can help you get your expectations straight. The experienced QC inspectors at Maple Sourcing understand your requirements quickly, and conduct in process quality inspections in a precise, constructive and professional manner.

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