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Guide to IQC Inspection for Sourcing in China

2024-03-19
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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. 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.

In China, IQC is an essential aspect of China supply chain management and plays a crucial role in ensuring the quality of products made in China. IQC involves checking raw materials, components, and finished goods before they are approved for use in the production process. This helps to prevent defects or non-conformities from making their way into the final product, thus improving the overall quality of the product.

IQC helps to ensure that the materials and components used in production meet the required specifications and standards, preventing costly and time-consuming mistakes in the production process.

IQC is especially important due to the large number of manufacturers and suppliers operating in the country. The diverse range of products made in China, combined with the varying quality standards of suppliers, makes it a necessary step in the production process. By implementing a robust IQC system, manufacturers can reduce the risk of product defects, improve product quality, and ultimately increase customer satisfaction. This can lead to increased brand reputation and loyalty, as well as improved profitability in the long run.

What is IQC inspection?

IQC (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.

What are the main steps of incoming quality control?

1. Define inspection requirements

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, sampling methods, quality standards, etc.

One of the most important parts 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 production manager to do all the work. While this might be an option, this can create a lot of potential problems. 

The customer has a to put in a lot of thought into the process of quality control 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. 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 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 and the equipment required. 

- 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 but cannot exceed a certain percentage; major might or might not incur a return, depending on the customer’s call, they should be paid much attention; and critical will mean rework or compensation, they are absolutely unacceptable.

2. Narrow down on common risks the raw materials will experience

It is always advisable to have an idea of all the potential obstacles and risks 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. 

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 problems 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.

Inconsistent weight: 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 per a specific plan.

Misfunctioning parts and components: Packages that consist of different smaller parts need to check for functionality individually. It will require careful examination of each piece at the time of reception of the package.

Extent of defect: Lastly, the list should specify the extent of problems observed by the inspector during IQC. This should indicate whether the problem is inconsequential to continue to production, or big enough for rejection.

3. Identify critical and sensitive parts and their associated risks

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 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. 

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 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. 

4. Determine the incoming quality control procedures

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.

5. Initiate sampling for quality check

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. 

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.

6. Prepare a detailed report for quality control findings

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 items: Number and types of items, the kind of assembly required visual details. Also include details regarding the labelling and 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 problems observed to the items.

- Attach detailed photos for defects, and for general view of the items.

7. Have a procedure in place to handle rejections

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 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 items is damaged or don’t meet your specifications, the advisable thing to do is to refuse the batch.

- Return faulty materials for a replacement. If only a few items are damaged, the specific pieces can be replaced instead of refusing the entire batch. This saves and time and money for both the customer and the supplier.

- Order repairs & reworking at cost of the supplier. 

- Demand discount or cash back in lieu of damage.

8. Share quality report and ask for clarification

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 audit to 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. 

9. Collaborate with supplier to prevent future quality failures 

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.

10. Switch the supplier if problem is recurring. 

If the supplier is unwilling to incorporate your feedback for recurring orders, it is time to move on and find another supplier. There is no point in trying to maintain a supplier relationship at the cost of your brand.

Conclusion 

If you are looking for a hassle-free and satisfactory sourcing process from Chinese manufacturers, IQC is your very important. You may hire a qualified third-party quality inspection company to perform the work for you.

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