The first step when sourcing products from overseas is finding a supplier who makes quality products and works according to your requirements. However, finding the ideal supplier does not mean you can entrust the entire process on them. Most suppliers source raw materials from multiple sources, called sub-suppliers. Often, importers have very little knowledge about where the raw materials are being sourced from. This can greatly affect the extent of control you have on the products you get. Having an Incoming Quality Control (IQC) procedure can help you stay on top of the production process from overseas.
Incoming quality control refers to the inspection of raw materials before the production process starts. IQC is often overlooked in the overall scheme of quality control, under the misconception that quality control procedures before, during and after production are sufficient. Establishing quality right from receiving raw materials can help avoid a lot of unnecessary expenditure during and after production.
Here we look at the IQC inspection procedures and solutions.
A detailed description of inspection requirements can help save time and effort for both the customer and the manufacturer. This should include a detailed structure for the inspection procedure such as all the tests to be done on the product, preferred sampling methods etc.
One of the most important part of defining your specific inspection requirements is compiling a detailed, comprehensive list of your product requirements. A common mistake that inexperienced customers make when sourcing from overseas is trusting the third-party inspection agency and the production manager to do all the work. While this might be an option, this can create a lot of potential problems.
A detailed list of product specifications that includes its shape, smell, texture, function, and whatever else is relevant. This ensures that the quality inspector checks each of these features and reports the result.
The customer has a to put in a lot of thought into the process of quality control in order to make the system work. Often, product specifications are communicated to the production managers through a long email, video call or at best, a demonstration of the product. While this helps communicate your requirements with the manager, it doesn’t necessarily get passed down the chain. In order to ensure that your IQC inspector carries your requirements forward:
It is always helpful to get input from a QC agency when compiling inspection requirements. They can help add more details or remove disruptive or unrealistic specifications.
If possible, try to get the document translated into the language spoken in the country you are sourcing from. This minimizes any risk of losing instructions in translation.
Involve someone at the site of production in the compilation process or get feedback. It is important to have an open line of communication with a worker on site.
Get the document read and signed by the the production manager. In case of any neglect on their part, this document will prove that they were made aware of your requirements.
Inspection requirements should also specify the number of tests required and details of each test to be conducted. This would include the method of conducting the test, the equipment required and if possible, where the equipment needs to be procured from.
This list should also specify the different classifications of damage. This is most effective if it is customized to your requirements. Classifications would typically be minor, major or critical. Minor damages are usually overlooked, major might or might not incur a return, depending on the customer’s call, and critical will definitely mean rework or compensation.
Inspection requirements will also include all foreseeable defects and several checkpoints for confirmation of inspection.
It is always advisable to have an idea of all the potential obstacles and risks your package, at this stage, the raw materials will face. This helps you look for specific damages instead of going for a generalized assessment. A general examination can either cost you a lot of time during inspection or cause you to overlook certain defects that might not be obvious.
A detailed research of the materials that go into the production of your product can be very helpful in narrowing down the risk factors. This can also include gathering reviews from people who deal with the same materials. While compiling this list, make sure to consider all the potential damages the item could incur such as:
Low Material quality: This could refer to all aspect of the material such as density, tensile strength, elasticity etc. whichever is relevant for your product. Mention the kind of test you need done on the material to test for quality. In the case of garment production, material testing would also involve testing for the quality of the weave and the fabric used.
Weight of the package: Make sure that each block of raw material you receive is of expected weight. This can be a tricky aspect to test for, especially in bulk orders. Quality inspectors often check for weight by random sampling the package. It might help to mention the method of sampling you prefer for each test.
Parts and their functions: Packages that consist of different smaller parts need to checked for functionality individually. Random sampling will not be beneficial here. It will require careful examination of each piece at the time of reception of the package. This might seem like an unnecessary amount of time and effort, but compared to a potential rework after the production is done, it is only reasonable.
Extent of defect: Lastly, the list should specify the extent of damage observed by the inspector during IQC. This should indicate whether the damage is small or inconsequential enough to continue on to production or big enough for compensation.
This is a crucial part of IQC inspection checklist. Identifying the parts that require more attention during the inspection can save a lot of time and add more focus to the process. Not all parts are equally delicate or equally important to the functioning of a product. An example would be IQC for vehicles where brakes are checked for every single piece of the product while other parts are checked via random sampling.
Additionally, identifying the shipments or batches that require more scrutiny is also important. This is usually based on the reputation of the supplier. Since different parts are typically sourced from different suppliers, this might contribute to identifying the high risk parts as well.
Products sourced from a supplier with a high trust point may not need as much inspection as others. A small quantity of product may be trusted to represent the whole batch. However, a supplier who has a history of cutting corners when it comes the quality of his products will naturally call for more detailed examination. The trust point of a supplier can be determined from a few factors. The most obvious of these is of course, if you have worked with him before. Often, we might not be able to afford to cut off sourcing from a supplier even after a bad experience. This could be due to several factors. The particular kind of material you need might not be available elsewhere or the price point might be unbeatable etc. Anyhow, this factor will need to be compensated at the time of IQC inspection procedure.
Even if you don’t have previous experience with a supplier, it is possible to assess his trust point. This is done with the help of a few statistics such as the number of orders he has had and number of inspections he has had done. You might even get access to statistics such as the number of reworks required of him and the number of compensatory work completed by him. All of these contribute to determining the amount of attention and detail that must go into each part and batch of an incoming order. Depending on these factors you can:
Choose a lower inspection level if the product or product part is low risk. Switching from level 2 to level 1 or S-3 is advisable if the product less likely to undergo any damage that will go unnoticed in an overall examination. For example, In the case of machine-made products, if there is damage, the damage will be visible on every product. Therefore, random sampling will suffice.
Switching to a lower level of scrutiny as dictated by ISO standards is an option if the factory meets the trust criteria. A minimum of 30 points on the ISO switching standard can mean lesser scrutiny.
When it comes to determining the IQC procedure, a few things need to be kept in mind. Before you get on with the inspection part of IQC, do a risk assessment. This includes all the factors mentioned above and details such as the transportation damages. When sourcing from several suppliers, it is important to know how the package is getting to the factory. This gives an idea of how much damage can be expected during transportation.
The first step for determining any preliminary level of damages would of course be a visual inspection of the shipment as a whole. This is to assess the damage done during transportation. If the package seems damaged, you can add that to the damages to lookout for, while inspecting the products. This could be anything from weather damage, collision damage or packaging damage.
In addition to the QC checklist, an incoming package will come with a few other documents which will need careful verification. Two of the most important documentations are Purchase order and Vendor agreement.
A purchase order (PO) contains information similar to that of the QC checklist. This includes the number of packages, information about the product, pricing and agreements regarding payment. In addition to these common aspects, you can also add a few items of your QC checklist. This makes it easier to get the supplier to agree to them and puts all the inspection items on a consolidated list.
A Vendor agreement is a legal document that binds the supplier to the terms set down in your QC checklist and PO. The details set down in a vendor agreement is pretty much the same as that of a QC checklist. But the legal document makes it binding.
Sampling is a tricky part of QC inspection since a lot of QC inspectors try to cut corners during sampling. The most effective method of sampling for large orders is random sampling. However, if not done properly, random sampling can be misleading. A common oversight in this case is letting the supplier pick out the samples for inspection. This defies the purpose of random sampling.
At the factory, where the packages are prepared, they might be under different stages of production. The inspector has to assess the number of packages accurately from all the different stages of production.
Draw samples carefully. A reasonable number is at least the square root of the number of total packages. More importantly, draw samples from different sides and levels of the package. Instead going with the first few samples, make sure to reach out and grab a few from the bottom as well.
Do the random sampling and inspection again after transportation.
An IQC inspection report is part of the IQC inspection solutions. Reporting the findings from an IQC inspection procedure can differ according to your preferences. Often, if the importer trusts the inspector, it is considered sufficient to report only the non-conformities. However, it is always advisable to have a detailed template for reporting QC findings. Here are a few things to include in the template:
An overview of the package: Number and types of items, the kind of assembly required visual details. Also include details regarding the labelling packaging.
A format to report the procedure and findings of each test conducted on the package.
The method and type of sampling, including the number of pieces per type used for inspection.
Report any damage observed to the package, including weather damage during transportation.
Attach photos is possible.
It is always advisable to avoid any opportunity for conflict with your supplier, especially during IQC. This is because your supplier is going to be an important part of your production process. Additionally, you might come rely on this supplier for future purposes. It is important to have a framework in place in case the products fail the IQC inspection. The best way to avoid conflict in these cases, is to have a systematically drafted checklist that describes the measures of rejection. Depending on the extent of damage and your necessity, you can opt from the following course of actions:
Don’t accept delivery of goods. If a large percentage of the package is damaged or don’t meet your specifications, the advisable thing to do is refuse the package. This way, the additional hassle of registering for return and waiting for pick up is saved.
Return faulty materials for a replacement. If only a few items of the package are critically damaged, the specific pieces can be replaced instead of refusing the entire package. This saves and time and money for both the customer and the supplier.
Order repairs & reworking.
Demand discount or cash back in lieu of damage.
Once the transaction has been dealt with, and all the required measures taken, you might want to consider keeping the manufacturer in the loop. This is not just for future collaborations but also for the benefit of importers in general. This is especially necessary if you plan on working with the supplier in future. The manufacturer will know your expectations and set more accurate timelines and quality checkpoint in the future.
Give an opportunity for the supplier to explain failings. A detailed point by point report can help give an accurate picture. If the supplier is open to such discussions and can show promise of better quality, it might not be a bad idea to collaborate in the future.
A detailed inspection of the factory and their mode of working might be advisable if the quality report indicates its necessity. Often, the factory might be understaffed or under-equipped to deal with the kind of production they undertake.
If the supplier is unwilling to incorporate your feedback for recurring orders, it is time move on and find another supplier. There is no point in trying to maintain a supplier relationship at the cost of your brand.
If you are looking for a hassle-free and satisfactory sourcing process from Chinese manufacturers, Maple Sourcing is your best choice. At Maple sourcing, quality and customer preferences are given the utmost importance.