How to prepare a product inspection / quality control operation when buying or importing from China.

I frequently receive questions from importers and buyers about what is the most efficient way to prepare a quality control or quality inspection operation. In this blog post you will learn the few required step to proceed with quality inspection and quality control when purchasing products in China.

You will find below a mini check list of what you should do before pushing the production and quality inspection buttons. This mini checklist is part of what I usually used when I was in charge of managing procurement operations in China several years ago. If you are a beginner starting import operations from China, it should help you to be on the right track.

1./ Receive and review samples sent by your vendor or manufacturer

Receiving sample from Chinese suppliers is essential. Indeed, contrary to buying products in the west where you can rely on pictures, when purchasing in China or in Asia it is absolutely essential to get some physical sample in hand to see how the product really looks like. Hence, before placing any significant order to chinese manufacturers, you should ask for sample. If your chinese vendors ask for sample payment, I highly advise you to pay for it (and ask for refund of it after order placement).

At reception, you should carefully look at the received sample and assess it: Ask yourself: would you buy this product as it is today ? If not, then what would you change ? What would you make you bring it back to the shop where you purchased it ?

Look at it under every angle and take note of every single defect you find out.  Take picture of those defects and annotate/describe them (size, position, etc...). Then, sort out those defects by criticity (minor, major, critical). Establish treshold of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of size, tolerance, deviation. Finally, establish a defective list.

This way, your vendor know exactly what you accept and what you don't and this is done by written way.

2./ Understand manufacturing and producting process of your product

Based on 1./ you might think: "I have tell my manufacturer what defect I don't want on my product, and it will be fine !". Partially yes, but wait! First, you have received samples and there were some defects or not on it, but what about if your samples were voluntarily selected to be proper by your vendor ? Yes, this may happen. Second,

The best way to eradicate any defect is to understand how the product is manufactured, then to identify what could generate defect during the production. It can be many things: wrong raw materials selection, wrong tools or machine used to transform a part, machine not calibrated and producing inaccurate dimensionned parts, damaging of product during parts moving from work station to work station, dirtyness in workshop, workers contaminating products with their hand (no gloves).

After several years of managing production and import in China, I found out that the secret for a successful import from China rely in your capability to anticipatate of what can go wrong at every step process of the production process.

Once your list of potential issues is established, you should imagine what can be the solutions to avoid those issues. Establish a recommendation list for your manufacturer because they may not do it by themselves.

You need to pampers your chinese supplier if you want to reduce risks on your productions.


4./ Establish functionnal testing check list to be performed on your product

Quality of your product is also related to its performances. For example, if you buy pants with zippers, you might want to make sure zipper will not break afer a several time usage opening and closing. You might also want to make sure that buttons will not unsew easily when people pull on them etc.. Those tests will probably not be done extensively by your manufacturers on every pieces because for them it is costly. Remind that any extra quality control process is time consumming for them. Hence, it represents a labor cost, hence less margin.

Don't expect your manufacturer to proactively propose to make those extra miles tests. Remind that most chinese manufacturers are in a perspective of volumes and shipment, not on a creativity or innovation in processes.

For this reason, if you sell a product, you should know better than anyone else how your product should be and what are the weaknesses of it. Hence, you should focus on those weaknesses, and prepare some testing check list to attempt your supplier to perform those functionnal test. Once being on site the quality inspector in charge of performing product inspection will perform those tests on your product. By preparing those testing checklist you hit two birds with one stone: manufacturer + quality inspector

Establish tolerances and thresholds in your testing procedure so people executing those tests know exactly what is pass and what is fail.

5./ Anticipate logistics issue

A neglected and often unthought risk when importing or buying from overseas is the logistic. Most of time, when we talk about quality we think of production and manufacturing, but very rarely to transportation, loading, moving.

I have seen in the past manufactured goods being perfectly made by manufacturers and passing quality control procedure without any issue but arriving at destination in very dirty shape because logistics and transportation operation was not performed properly. Again here, think about what can go wrong and similarly than for manufacturing, you have to anticipate logistics risks and issues which can affect your goods.

What happens if at the loading time it is raining heavily outside and the container is separated from the factory door by 50 meters ? What happens to your cartons when filling two meters high container if your products are heavy? Does the cartons on the bottom of the pile would crush ? What happens if when they load your container some workers drop your cartons on the floor ? What happens if your shipping agent or forwarder have to move your goods from the picking truck to another container at the port for consolidation ?

To avoid all those risks, make sure your packing and packaging is adapted to handle your products properly during loading and transportation. There are plenty of way to anticipate those issues but it should be integral part of the preparation of your order and should be checked by the quality inspector at inspection time.

5./ Communicate clearly your expectations to your chinese supplier before launching your order

Now, you know what problems and issues can happens on your import and it is time to take action to avoid this. To do so, you absolutely need to structure your communication support to your manufacturer. As you may imagine, asian manufacturers may have ISO 9001 certification but it doesn't necessarely means they respect it. It particularly means they may not keep record properly of everything.  Forgetting some points may happen and this is the reason why you should frame as much as possible to avoid costly mistakes.

If you send your information in several shot by email, then a piece is send here and another piece is send there. This is the best way to make the supplier to be confused and to fail to reach what you want. To avoid this, prepare all your requests and send them in once only: Attach your qc check list to your PO for approval and make it sign by your supplier. Make this checklist as being part of the contract, not an annex. Indicate in your contract terms that those checklists are used to help the manfacturer to reach some quality goals. They are inclusive but they are not "limited to".

Some manufacturers may play to the following game: you submit them your checklist adn they say ok. Production starts and some other defects you didn't anticipate appear. The vendor will tell you : "those defects are not on your defective list, hence they don't apply as defects, hence you should not complain about it". To avoid, this, make sure your manufacturer understand your qc check list is supposed to be an help to avoid problems for them, but in case other defects appearing they may also be considered as defects even they are not on the list. Make this conditions in your contract and in bilingual.

6./ Send and use reference samples for comparison tool

If you have the chance to receive samples from your manufacturers and consider them as proper, then I highly recommend to send back one of them to your supplier as reference sample. Best is you to sign on it so it can not be replaced. Manufacturers are good at duplicating and cloning. If you show them the perfect sample of what they have to produce then they understand better what you want.

In the same time, when a quality inspector will come to inspect your goods at your manufacturer facilies before shipment or during production, he will pick the reference sample and use it to compare it with the actual production. It is recommend to send sample directly to your supplier in a sealed package with your signature on it and to take pictures  of if before sending so that your manufacturer will not replace it.

How do you usually prepare your import operations and quality inspections operations ?

Feel free to share your experience about it in the comment section.

Related Post

About Christopher Oliva 59 Articles
Christopher Oliva is an Engineer based in Shenzhen since 2008 involved in Product Development, Supply Chain, Sourcing, Quality Management and Manufacturing activities. With a Msc Electrical Engineering and a Business Administration background, an ISO 9001 Lead Auditor Certification, a Six Sigma Certification and a Quality Engineering Certification, he works as a consultant on mission and contract oriented to Product Development, Manufacturing Management, Quality Assurance & Quality Management System setup. He works in the product development and engineering field, and as well as an advisor and quality consultant for several quality control and quality assurance companies.