How to arrange reference samples for QC inspections?

Quality Control TipsIf you pay for quality inspections on your products before they are shipped, you should try to make sure the inspectors have a reference sample in hand.

It is one of these things that seem obvious, but that don’t get done in many cases due to logistical obstacles.

Where do these samples come from?

Here are the two most frequent cases:

1. The factory develops pre-production samples until a perfect samples is approved by the customer. At that point, one sample needs to be sent to the inspection company… and, ideally, another one should go back to the factory to make sure the right prototype is their model.

2. The customer asks for production samples (or “shipment samples“, which are basically production samples with full individual packing), and sends one sample back for QC purposes.

Logistics & timing obstacles

As mentioned above, the samples need to be sent back to the producing country (let’s say China). But where, specifically?

Directly in the factory? Some clients have enough trust in the suppliers and accept this option. But the factory might tamper with the samples…

In the inspection company’s office? This sounds safer. But how do the samples get in the right inspector’s hands at the right time? It is not feasible when inspectors live alone and far from the office, and if they are out in the field when the Fedex guy  shows up.

There is also a timing problem. If production is on the way for 10 days when the finished samples are ready, if it takes 4 days for the customer to receive and approve the samples, and if it takes another 3 days for the samples to get back to China, the samples might arrive too late.

This is why, in most cases, the pre-production sample are used for QC purposes.

One option: sealing the pre-production samples in the factory

Once a pre-production sample is approved, it can be sent to the factory and sealed (or stamped, or vacuum packed…). The goal is that nobody can play with the reference samples.

However, the ideal would be the production/shipment samples for two reasons:

  • They are naturally closer to what the inspectors will see.
  • It eliminates discussions such as “but the customer accepted this when we went into production” or “but the colors are never exactly the same in the bulk and on pre-production swatches”.

Another option: quick review of production samples

The factory sends the samples to someone in China (it might be an inspection company, a sourcing agent…) who compares all the samples. If they look the same and are the same size, same weight etc., one sample is sent to the purchaser. The other one remains in China.

(In case they are not similar, the supplier needs to re-send another set of samples).

Once the purchaser receives the sample and he approves it, the “good” sample is already in China. The supplier is happy because he didn’t have to pay Fedex or DHL to send the samples overseas. The client still needs to pay the international courier cost once (same cost).

Anybody has other experiences/suggestions?