Why inspection services are standardized

Quality Control TipsA supplier complained to my client that our inspections don’t help them improve their quality level.

A bit of context: for this client we perform inspections during production (as soon as there are a few finished products) on the biggest orders, and final random inspections (just before shipment) on all products.

Both these services are very standardized. Basically, the inspector selects some samples randomly and checks them one by one. The focus is on finding issues before it’s too late. Here is what I responded, in substance:

You say the inspector does not provide any help for improving quality. I would say, it depends on what you do with his findings.

He shows you the problems to avoid next time, so in the long term your quality level should go up, don’t you think so?

For example, for [a reference inspected two weeks ago], he found 66 major defects during production, and in the follow-up inspection it was below the AQL limit. It helps your factory concentrate on the defects to avoid.

To really help your factory improve immediately, we would need to send a technician at the beginning of the sewing job. It does not give any assurance that the finished products and the packaging will be good. It only reduces the probability of big problems.

[My client] is only asking for the very standard inspection services. Thousands of other importers do the same, and quality tends to increase over time.

The vast majority of third-party inspection firms (including the biggest players) only provide very standard services. I tried to differentiate my company with value-adding services when I started, but I found that most importers couldn’t care less about it. They buy a finished product from a supplier, and they don’t want to know what happens upstream.

To be fair, sending a technician to a factory to set up processes is a difficult balancing act:

  • On the one hand, you don’t have total freedom… At least 95% of Chinese factories do NOT accept novel organization/production methods (in other words, they still want to do things their own way).
  • On the other hand, there should be no ambiguity. You have to be accountable to the client and you have to make sure that your advice does not lead the factory to make mistakes.
  • Add to this the fact that 99% of experienced technicians only speak Chinese (since they would have worked in an office from the start if they knew English)… Good luck!

From my observation, value-added services consisting of customized/technical advice are usually performed by the buyer’s organization. It might be the sourcing office of the importer, or a procurement firm that acts as a trading agent, the logic is the same.

It makes sense for three reasons:

  1. They have more power over the factory, so they can have more influence on production methods.
  2. They can tolerate ambiguity more easily. The suppliers will not complain as often about the buyer’s employees than they would about an independent firm.
  3. The buyer’s requirements don’t need to be explained and translated over and over to their engineers: it’s always the same!