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08 Mar 2011
Preparing for QC and QA Inspections
by Ian Lowsley, Chinawand
In our earlier blog post, Tips for Dealing with Chinese Factories
, we discussed the importance of being prepared to manufacture in China before coming to China. Being able to relay to a factory all important product requirements is vitally important. If you do not know nor have any drawings that show what the outer diameter and surface finish of the inner widget should be, then how will the factory manufacture it? Not inline with your expectations is the answer.
In this post we look further down the line to discuss the importance of Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA) inspections. Put simply:
- A QC inspection is carried out before production has finished, ensuring production is progressing as planned and to any errors are caught early on.
- A QA inspection is carried out once production has finished and is meant to confirm the products were manufactured as agreed in the manufacturing contract.
It is important for you to know the requirements for checking that your products are being correctly manufactured. A pair of eyes and ears monitoring production early-on will be able to raise the alarm if issues are spotted or put your mind at rest should all be well.
Note that only performing a check after products have been manufactured is of little use. It eliminates the ability to influence production by highlighting problem areas, which if discovered on an early QC check, could result in huge savings in time, effort and cost further down the line. QA helps to support the effectiveness of QC inspections and is the last chance to catch defects or errors before being shipped. QC & QA inspections therefore work best in tandem.
So, the prices have been agreed, all product requirements and manufacturing processes agreed upon and a contract has been drawn up; production is about to start. We will also assume that a pre-production sample has been made and signed off by the client, factory and intermediary company if involved. Importantly, these parties will all be holding AT LEAST ONE exact copy of the confirmed sample to be used for reference throughout production. Ideally, the QC inspector will also have their own approved sample to be used when checking the production pieces later on.
Before the production contract is signed, you need to make sure the factory has a list from you detailing all QC requirements*. The factories will have an idea what to look for based on the sampling process and past client requirements, but if they are not asked to check, they will avoid the extra labour, time and hassle of extensive QC. If a factory can get an order loaded into a container and on its way to the client, they will tend to do so by the fastest, cheapest and easiest means possible. In other words – without adequate QC!
A QC inspection is best tailored to the product and order quantity in question. For mass production, the most cost effective option is Acceptable/Acceptance Quality Level (AQL) testing. The AQL is the worst tolerable process average in percentage or ratio that is still considered acceptable.
For a production run of 10,000 widgets, it might be decided that 2% can be inspected within an acceptable amount of time and give a good enough indication of the overall production quality. The defects found during inspection are usually classified into three levels: critical, major and minor.
- Critical defects are those that render a product unsafe or hazardous for the end user or which breach regulations.
- Major defects can result in a product's failure, reducing the ability to successfully market, use or sell it.
- Minor defects do not affect the product's marketability or usability, but represent workmanship defects that make the product fall short of defined quality standards.
Various quality management systems and certificates will typically be the responsibility of the manufacturer to prove, not only by presenting a certificate, but also by walking through the steps carried out to implement in-house. Be sure to check the validity of a manufacturer’s claim of holding such certificates.
*It is important that you draft a standard Specifications & Product Requirements sheet to be used by the factory and QC inspectors. This document will contain a list of all parts, dimensions, colours, surface finishes, tolerances, weights, materials and points requiring special consideration. This document should be used as part of a contract, to help manufacturers understand the product and how to manufacture in compliance with your company expectations. Importantly, this document will also form the basis of any QC inspections checking criteria.
About the Author
Ian Lowsley is Director for Chinawand, and a member of Dragon Business Network - view profile
specialises in performing and managing many essential China-based business functions for overseas clients starting or expanding their projects in China. Chinawand can help facilitate smooth and successful trade relationships with Chinese businesses.
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