There are many misconceptions about quality control. One of them is the source of many problems: importers think QC inspections should take place at the end of production, just before shipment.
In practice, it’s true that most inspections occur once all the products are manufactured. However that timing is usually not the best. I am going to explain why.
The 1:10:100 ratio
Here is a concept every importer should be familiar with:
- Fixing problems in development is about 10 times faster and cheaper than in production.
- Fixing problems in production is also about 10 times faster and cheaper than after the products have been sold.
- Consequently: fixing problems in development is about 100 times faster and cheaper than after the products have been sold.
It has been proven in many industries. I have no doubt it also applies to most cases in international trade. The costs might mostly be borne by the manufacturer, but at the end of the season the importer has a strong interest in avoiding problems of any kind.
What are the advantages of final inspections?
To be fair, final inspections have a role to play, and here is why:
- The inspector(s) can count the whole quantity.
- The inspector(s) can check all the packaging details.
- Samples can truly be drawn randomly over the whole batch.
- Suppliers understand that they are responsible for delivering a finished product.
What is the main drawback of final inspections?
Let’s think of an importer’s situation just before shipment. His own customers (or his own stores/mail order merchandisers) count on him to deliver the products on time. A deposit has been wired, or an L/C has been opened. In clear: the products HAVE to be acceptable, and the final inspection should only CONFIRM it. The problem is, what happens if quality is actually not acceptable at that stage, and the products can’t be repaired??
It seems to me that companies importing some made-to-order products should pay a lot of attention in earlier stages. Sure, it requires some organization, but it is well worth the effort in order to keep the costs of poor quality under control.
Here are my suggestions:
- When specifications are decided by the importer: the requirements should pass a strict checklist. Among the questions to answer: can it be made in the workshop? Can it be made at the required standard and in a reliable manner? What are the risks?
- When the supplier is working on prototypes, before bulk production: as much as possible, the materials and the equipment should be similar to those used in mass production. For each discrepancy, risks should be assessed.
- When the parts/materials arrive in the factory: a quick inspection and a lab test can confirm their conformity. To be extra safe, the inputs can also be checked in the sub-supplier’s factory (before, during or after production).
- Shortly after production has started: the process can be checked by a technician working for the importer, or by a specialized QC/engineering firm.
- After a few hundreds products are finished: a classic quality inspection can occur and call everybody’s attention on the non-conformities, or on too many defects. Corrective actions can immediately be implemented, and the goods can be re-inspected if necessary.
- After all the goods are finished, a final inspection can confirm the quantity and the packaging, along with the overall average quality.
- If there are special requirements about loading, or if several factories load their goods in the same container, an inspector can supervise this process. Once again, it is mostly a confirmation.