The vast majority of quality inspection services (either through a third-party provider or by the buyer’s staff) takes place in the factory.
But some of them are performed on a “platform”, which is basically a warehouse where the goods are delivered by the supplier. Sometimes it is organized by an external quality control firm, and sometimes the buyer rents the warehouse and hires the inspectors.
Advantages of a platform
- The working conditions are much better for the inspectors if they don’t need to work in the manufacturer’s premises (sometimes without a table or proper lighting). It means the job is done better and the results are more reliable.
- There is no travel for inspectors, so they have higher productivity (they can check more pieces per day).
- There is no pressure and no risk of bribery since the inspectors are not in contact with any supplier or agent.
- It is easy to consolidate shipments, to do pick & pack, or to organize different shipments to different countries. Asian suppliers often make mistakes in their packaging, because that last step of production is often done in a rush and by untrained workers.
- The inspectors have the possibility to go more in-depth if they find some suspicious issues. They don’t have to go and get the 6 pm bus back home. They can even check 100% of the order and sort the defectives out (and re-charge this job to the supplier).
- It is frequent for a manufacturer to tell the inspector “sorry, you can’t do this test because the equipment is currently under repairing”. On a platform, the buyer controls what testing devices are available.
- I am not a big fan of this, but some buyers like to put pressure on the manufacturer by setting heavy penalties in case the goods are rejected. The handling and transport back to the factory is often a substantial cost.
Drawbacks of a platform
- Only components (before production) or finished goods (after production) can be checked this way. Therefore it is necessary to do an on-site inspection when the manufacturing cycle has started and when there is still time to implement corrective actions. In some cases, catching problems at the end means production has to be launched again, for a replacement!
- Another big drawback is that the factory does not see what is accepted or refused. It means they can’t adjust production for the next order, little by little over time. They can’t train their operators based on the inspectors’ feedback.
- Hiding the QC process from the manufacturer can also create bad feelings. If the defects are just below the limit (often based on random sampling on the platform), it’s accepted. The week after, they are just above the limit, and the whole batch is rejected. The supplier is entitled to ask for clear justifications.
- Setting up a warehouse to receive the goods, reserving the option to send them back to the supplier, and also being able to ship them afterwards, requires a good organization. Many suppliers are not comfortable (or flat-out refuse) this delegation of responsibility. Depending on the country (for example, China and its VAT rebate system), this can be a BIG headache.
- The platform should be as close to the factory as possible while being close to a port. If not, transport might cost you time and money.
- Depending on the country (in Bangladesh, for example), the only solution might be to work with one forwarder. It limits your options, and you might pay too much for some warehouse space and a few QC rooms.
My conclusion is that platform inspections are a good option for large buyers who have regular shipments, who also visit the factory during production, and who have unusual/difficult requirements with regards to packing and shipments.
What are your experiences?