What Should You Check during Factory Visit?
After initial contact through internet, you are almost certain to choose a factory to make your products, and are about to place an order, now, it’s highly recommended for you to pay a personal visit to the factory. What should you check during factory visit? This article tells you the main areas you need to focus on.
1. Factory organization
Poor organization can cause many problems—from order delays to wasteful production processes, poor quality and even safety issues. But how do you know what a “good” factory looks like? All you need to remember is “5S”. 5S is a workplace organization method originating from Japan as part of the “just-in-time” manufacturing methodology. The English translation of each of the five S’s is:
(1) Sort: Sort through all items in a factory area and remove unnecessary tools, parts and instructions
(2) Set in order: Organize remaining items and arrange for easy use
(3) Shine: Clean the factory area on a regular basis
(4) Standardize: Schedule regular cleaning and maintenance
(5) Sustain: Train employees to make 5S a habit and monitor implementation
2. Factory capacity: Production planning board
A supplier will often tell you their production capacity exceeds your order quantity to convince you to place an order. You can often validate this claim for yourself while visiting the factory. A supplier with a lower capacity than promised might outsource production to sub-suppliers. Most factories must rely on sub-suppliers for different manufacturing inputs, like packaging, for example. But an overreliance on sub-suppliers can complicate your supply chain with the following:
(1) Increased production and shipping delays
(2) Misunderstandings regarding your quality requirements
(3) Limited social or other compliance oversight
A good factory takes steps to plan well for disruptions, whether they’re using sub-suppliers or not. Otherwise, they could constantly be playing catch up, especially around January or February when Lunar New Year affects manufacturing. Every factory should be prepared year-round for potential material or labor shortages and equipment failures. Rushing production is rarely a good idea. And confirming your supplier plans for disruptions helps you rest assured that quality won’t slip during busy seasons.
3. Factory working conditions and instructions
A social compliance audit is often necessary to thoroughly assess your supplier’s working conditions. But the average buyer can still often tell the difference between a safe and unsafe working environment through a few basic checks during a factory visit:
(1) Are workers wearing any required protective gear to prevent injuries?
(2) Are workshops properly ventilated where required?
(3) Can you spot any safety hazards? Puddles of water, unlabeled chemicals and poor lighting are all cause for concern.
4. Production equipment at the factory
Factories will generally cover the up-front cost of purchasing any necessary production equipment. But many factory owners don’t like to invest in the cost of regularly maintaining equipment.
Tools or machines that aren’t maintained or recalibrated periodically can lead to product defects, non-conforming products and inconsistent production runs.
Understanding what equipment your factory has on site can also help you set achievable quality standards based on your supplier’s available resources. You might be surprised to learn which production processes for your product are automated and which may require manual labor that can cause quality variance.
5. Warehouse and material inventory
The next factory area to check is your supplier’s warehouses and storage areas for raw materials and finished goods. Improper storage conditions can cause several issues both during and after production. Degraded raw materials used in mass production can cause quality issues in finished products, requiring extensive rework or replacement. A good factory usually conducts incoming inspections to verify raw materials before use in production. Proper storage of finished products before shipment is also important for preserving product quality. Temperature, lighting and humidity, for instance, can affect certain products and packaging materials.
Be sure to check the factory’s storage area for the following during your factory visit:
(1) Material storage time: A good factory should be able to provide records of incoming materials, including the date they were received.
(2) Cleanliness and orderliness of storage conditions: Materials can change or degrade if stored for long periods in improper conditions.
(3) Volume: Warehouse volume can indicate your factory’s capacity. You might even be able to see whether your supplier is working with your competitors by looking at carton labels.
6. Production samples
Many importers choose to plan a factory visit once the supplier has had time to manufacture a production sample. For example, you might plan your visit among other sourcing activities as follows:
(1) Identify and qualify a potential supplier
(2) Request quotation
(3) Place purchase order
(4) Ask factory to prepare sample
(5) Visit factory and review sample on site
Reviewing a product sample on site often speeds up a process that can otherwise take days or weeks.Importers based overseas must wait for the factory to ship the sample, then review it and provide feedback to the factory. These steps may need repeating several times before product requirements are fully understood and reflected in a “golden sample”. Reviewing samples on site lets you give direct feedback and point out any nonconformities immediately.