Many Chinese suppliers tell ‘white lies’ to their customers. They think it is the safest and easiest option. They also think foreign buyers don’t suspect it, simply because they are far away and “they don’t know how production works”.
I want to write about something else here. In some cases the supplier says something that is true, but the buyer ends up making the wrong conclusion because of erroneous assumptions. Here is an example that happens frequently. The manufacturer says “we do 100% quality check on all our products; I mean piece by piece, it has nothing to do with an AQL inspection.” It is usually true, and buyers can easily see it during factory visits.
The problem is, foreign buyers often jump to conclusions. They think “Wow, this factory checks the quality of everything before shipment… They have a higher standard that average, and I won’t run any risk”. WRONG!
Some clients even told me “we don’t need a full-blast inspection… We should be fine, as the factory checks 100% of the pieces before packing. I saw it myself!” And the same client would be surprised and confused after the inspection results show some visual defects, sometimes over the AQL limits.
Why? Actually, it is the rare Chinese manufacturer that does not run a final QC on 100% of his production. The problem is that, very often, it is not effective in sorting out the bad pieces.
Why is the factory’s own final QC often not effective?
I see mainly five reasons:
-1- What do they check?
A professional inspector checks the visual aspect of the products. But he also checks some samples more extensively, for example by measuring them or pulling on certain parts. On the opposite, a factory inspector often only performs a visual check, so many issues can go unnoticed.
Generally speaking, factory inspectors are not trained properly for their job. And they often don’t have any product knowledge either, or they would be in a higher-paying position.
-2- When do they check?
Factory inspectors generally check products before packaging… But this is mistake. A disproportionate number of defects originate from poor packaging. Why? The packing department is often staffed with unskilled employees who come and go, without proper training. And packing is often done in a hurry, after all the elements (bags, cartons…) have arrived and just before shipment.
-3- How do they check?
Let’s take the example of garment factories. I guess more than 95% of them have the same flaw in their final QC procedure: the inspectors have scissors in hand, so what they do is they look for threads. The objective is to kill two birds with one stone, but in practice it does not work. When one looks for something particular all day long, the capacity to notice other irregularities drops significantly.
-4- What is their working schedule?
When I started doing inspections, a few years ago, I did plenty of mistakes. One of them was sometimes working for 10 days in a row without a break, because my main client never wanted to wait. After a few days of inspections, my eyes were getting tired, and noticing defects became much harder. Since then, my policy is that my inspectors should never work more than 6 days in a row, and if possible no more than 3 or 4 days. And an inspection day is maximum 7 hours working on site.
On the contrary, factory inspectors follow the same schedule as the other workers on the factory floor, which means at least 6 days a week and around 10 hours a day. Even worse, when there are urgencies they have to work “until the whole job is done”. These working conditions are not conducive to strict quality control.
-5- What happens if they find quality problems?
If the inspector finds problems, does the factory repair (or pull out) all defective pieces? The answer to this question varies from factory to factory, and also from order to order. For urgent or non-significant (for the factory, that is) orders, factory inspectors get instructions not to be too tight.
And if they find quality issues, do they always report them? Is there real accountability? In most Chinese factories, the inspectors don’t write their findings. They place the products into two piles: “okay for packing” and “to repair”. Placing everything in the first pile is quite tempting…
All inspection firms also propose their services for doing 100% final check, but then it is performed in vastly different conditions.