Full-Time or Third-Party QC Inspectors?
Full-time inspection staff can be invaluable when you have a steady flow of QC needs year-round. With your own team, you can directly manage inspectors and book inspections based on your specific priorities.
But does hiring full-time inspectors mean you’ll never need third-party QC services? Not necessarily.
Depending on the number, training and location of your inspectors, your inspection team might not be able to meet all your inspection needs, all the time. Most importers with a local office hire only a few full-time employees, who sometimes also manage other tasks like sourcing and attending trade shows.
Though it may seem excessive, many importers use a third-party QC firm to supplement their full-time team on the ground. Before you rely entirely on your full-time team, let’s look at how third-party inspectors may be able to help you out of an otherwise tight situation.
1. Increase production oversight when working with new products, suppliers or customers
In the beginning of a supplier-importer relationship, both parties are still familiarizing themselves with each other’s quality standards, working habits and communication skills.
With new suppliers, you won’t have previous inspection reports for reference to help shape expectations. The same uncertainty is common when distributing to new customers, as well. And for entirely new designs, you won’t have a history of quality issues at all.
That’s why importers often want added oversight throughout production when working with new suppliers, customers or products. Increased oversight through broader inspection can help you to:
A. Set clear expectations early and demonstrate your commitment to quality to a new supplier
B. Catch and address any product issues early before they affect the majority of an order by verifying production units match an approved sample or prototype
C. Meet shipping deadlines by monitoring production status
Your full-time inspectors might be able to provide increased support. But your team’s limited capacity could hinder their ability to adequately oversee production. Though clear communication can help you better manage inspections at multiple facilities, third-party inspection can help fill any shortage in qualified staff to ensure your suppliers are meeting quality standards and timelines.
Auditing a supplier’s facility is a common and widely recommended step in vetting potential suppliers. Different types of factory audits can help you qualify a supplier before paying a deposit and committing to placing an order.
But auditing and inspecting require two different skill sets with auditors typically needing different training and certifications than product inspectors. Many third-party inspection companies employ both. And even if you have your own inspection team, a third-party auditor can help you evaluate new suppliers before production begins.
2. Close gaps in product knowledge among full-time inspectors
Many importers with full-time inspection staff face a knowledge gap that forces them to change their QC strategy. Like theirs, your full-time staff might only specialize in one specific product type and lack experience with inspecting others. This can make it difficult to expand your product range without compromising quality. Different products are typically evaluated using unique QC methods that can require specialized training. Most inspectors can follow a basic list of instructions. But it usually helps if an inspector has some background knowledge of industry standards for the product they’re checking.
Product-specific experience helps inspectors:
A. Support you in developing inspection checklists based on relevant international standards and regulations
B. Follow industry-standard procedures during inspection for on-site testing and defect classification for your product type
C. Identify unexpected issues on site that might not be specifically addressed in your checklist
Such a strategy can benefit you over time in a few ways:
A. More consistent inspection and reporting methods and greater clarity
B. Quality improvement as your supplier catches and addresses issues earlier in production
C. Lower costs due to less dependence on outside inspections
3. Meet increased inspection demand during peak seasons
If you import outdoor sporting goods, luxury items or other products with seasonal sales trends, you likely know the feeling of needing to meet tight production and shipping deadlines during peak season. With promising sales on the horizon, there’s also added pressure to ensure goods meet customer expectations.
You may need to work with more manufacturers to meet the increased demand. But with a limited number of full-time inspectors, travel time and costs can add up quickly.
Your first response to a peak season rush might be to hire additional full-time auditors. But hiring more auditors to meet this demand won’t likely be cost-effective or time-efficient if you don’t also need those auditors in off-peak seasons.
4. Limit your risk of corruption issues during inspections
Full-time QC staff typically spend a lot of time stationed at specific factories, working with the same factory staff over time. This can be beneficial in some cases to develop a closer business relationship and improve communication. But it also exposes you to greater corruption risk.
5. Rotate full-time inspectors with third-party QC
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of corruption issues is to rotate inspectors randomly between services. Rotating inspectors makes it harder for any one inspector to get too close with factory staff.
A third-party inspection firm is only effective when they can be trusted to report honestly and accurately. When hiring a third-party inspection firm, be sure to look for some key indicators of strong integrity policies:
A. A complete Code of Ethics or similar documentation that specifically addresses integrity concerns
B. A large enough pool of available inspectors to allow for regularly rotating inspectors
C. Routine and random internal auditing of inspectors to assess their performance in the field
D. Hiring practices that weed out inspection candidates without a mature understanding of integrity risks and how to spot unethical behavior
With full-time QC staff, you may think hiring a third-party inspector is overkill. But there are times when supplementing your team with third-party inspectors can add value. And it’s always a good idea to have one on standby in case unexpected issues arise.
If there are any inspection services your own staff can’t cover, be sure to at least contact a third-party QC company for a quote. Most inspection companies don’t require long-term contracts, service minimums or other commitments—you’re free to start and stop services whenever you need.
If an inspection company has an inspector available nearby a supplier’s location, hiring them might even save you money over relying on full-time staff.