Final product inspections: should the whole order be ready?

Quality Control TipsMost product inspections take place after production is finished, and just before shipment. It is a convenient way of checking whether all the product and packaging requirements are met.

However, timing is usually tight. The importer wants to get the goods and start selling them fast. And the supplier wants to ship out and get the payment as early as possible.

A quality control inspection can usually take one day. But the buyer has to receive the QC report and sometimes communicate with the supplier (e.g. “please correct this and then you can ship”, or “I will accept if you guarantee that you will compensate for any claim from my own buyers”). So we usually advise importers to dedicate two full days for each inspection.

However, it does not mean that the shipments are delayed by two days. Most inspection companies and most importers agree to start inspection after 100% of the quantity is finished and 80% of the order quantity is fully packed.

What is the advantage of starting before all packing is done?

The inspection can occur earlier. Sometimes it saves more than a day, because the last few products might be under repairing and re-checking (it can take a lot of time). In that case, the final inspections do not delay shipment.

What if a supplier confirms a date, the inspector comes, and not enough products are ready?

This is a very important question. This situation occurs more often that one would think–more than 30% of the time. Why?

  • Many factories are poorly organized and tend to be too optimistic, so they are often behind schedule.
  • Something unexpected happens, for example a quality problem occurs because of a process late in the production cycle. The factory can pack some acceptable products, but is still re-working the rest.
  • Some factories purposefully sort the defective pieces out and don’t present them for inspection.

In such a situation, there is no easy decision. In theory, the inspection should be aborted because some defective goods might not be part of the inspected lot.

But it is not so easy. Many buyers wouldn’t understand why an inspection is aborted:

  • As mentioned above, they are in a hurry to see their goods shipped out.
  • Many buyers trust their suppliers and don’t expect dishonest behavior.
  • They are afraid their supplier won’t accept to pay for a second inspection.

So, what do we do in this case?

The inspector advises his supervisor. If the buyer can be reached by phone, the inspector goes on, but the report will be failed because the presented quantity is not up to the buyer’s requirement.

In parallel, it is very important for to let the buyers know about the risks. For example, I received some angry emails from a client. Her own customer sent her claims because the products were full of stains. What really happened?

  1. When the inspector arrived, nothing was packed yet.
  2. Actually, the factory was sorting the goods that could be accepted from the ones that should be re-worked. But they didn’t tell the inspector about it.
  3. The factory gave some samples to the inspector, who could not pick them at random. It was written in the report.
  4. The buyer only looked at the defects and the photos, and it showed very few stains. So she asked for immediate shipment, without a re-inspection.
  5. The factory packed all the goods (including the ones with stains) without further rework and shipped out.

My conclusion is that there is no easy solution to this situation. We don’t abort inspections, but the report is always failed and we warn the buyer about these dangers.

The best is for the buyer to clearly specify her expectations:

  • Should 100% of the order quantity be presented packed, or is 80% enough?
  • If the expected quantity is not presented, should the inspector proceed or abort his job?

Then these requirements have to be clearly communicated to the supplier, with the understanding that non compliance is cause for failure.

PS: why is this issue such a gray area?

Product inspections are, in their vast majority, performed according to the standard developed by the US Army during World War II. This standard (MIL-STD 105E) gives clear guidelines on a number of topics. But some questions are not answered, for instance everything related to packaging. Why? Because the US Army was generally receiving goods in bulk.


Related reading: How to select cartons for an inspection