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Manufacturing in China: Why in-process quality inspections are important

Problems caught during the manufacturing process are usually fixed more inexpensively than if they are spotted after production is complete.

Vaughn Cook RockWell Window Wells
Jeff Crawshaw
September 9, 2019

Across the world, while the price of a product plays a large part in attracting buyers, quality is considered equally important. This is because a good quality product will attract recurring customers. If the quality disappoints, however, customers won’t return no matter how competitively businesses price their products.

This is why besides price, western businesses sourcing from China also look at the ability of Chinese manufacturers to make products that meet their quality expectations.

The quality control process in manufacturing helps businesses all over the world ensure that their product is manufactured to the prescribed specifications. In China, while all good manufacturers conduct internal inspections during production as part of this process, it is always recommended that buyers conduct their own in-process checks by a third party such as a China sourcing agent or companies that specialise in such inspections. This is especially important if the product needs to be compliant with government-prescribed safety standards.

During these inspections, products are inspected or tested for variations so that they can be fixed and so that products made subsequently are free of these problems.

The objective of these third-party quality control inspections is to identify these problems before it is too late as it is well established that problems caught during the manufacturing process can usually be fixed more inexpensively than if they are spotted after production is complete.

The ideal situation, of course, is not to have any problems at all. For this, buyers must ensure they pick reliable suppliers and hand them detailed specifications that make it very clear what the acceptable and unacceptable deviations are.

Despite all these precautions, it is not unusual for problems to crop up during the production process. In-process quality inspections that are usually held in two stages catch them:

  1. In-process checks
  2. Post-production or pre-shipping checks

In-process or during production inspections are conducted to identify any deviations in the product specifications and to ensure that all pieces are consistent. They are usually carried out when about 20% of production is complete. By allowing problems to be caught and fixed early in the production process such inspections help minimize waste and prevent costly delivery delays. It is better, however, if these checks aren’t done too early in the production timeline because the first few pieces that come off the assembly line aren’t usually perfect specimens, and factories usually tweak their processes after reviewing these pieces as part of their internal quality control checks.

In pre-shipment inspections, quality inspectors randomly pick out pieces and inspect them for problems. They also check if any improvements suggested after the in-process check has been done. Sometimes, the quality of the packaging and labelling is also inspected to see if it matches the specifications of the customer.

What do inspectors look for during QC checks?

Quality inspections are important

Quality control inspectors look to make sure that the product matches the customer’s requirements, which can mean any anything from: is the color the same as the sample? Are the dimensions within the tolerance on the drawing? And if they are not, are they within the acceptable deviations?

Inspectors also look to see that all, say, 100 pieces in a batch are within the same quality range. Even if some of them are wrong, it’s desirable that they should be wrong by the same amount as this usually means there is a system problem somewhere, which is relatively easy to fix.

But if the deviations are all over the place, with some pieces awesome and some just terrible, then there is something bigger going on; it perhaps reflects the factory’s inability to implement well-defined production controls. In such cases, it may be wise to get to the bottom of the problem, attempt to fix it and perhaps look for another factory if it continues.

What happens when problems are found during inspections?

When problems are found, factories are instructed to rework the products that have already been manufactured and also to ensure that the problem doesn’t pop up in the rest of the order.

Sometimes, reworking the faulty batch can be costly and time consuming, delaying delivery. Whenever we, at Sourcing Allies, come across such instances while conducting quality control inspections for our clients, we decide the future course of action depending on context.

If we know the application of the product, for instance, and know that the deviations will not really harm its application, we could probably let the faulty batch go but definitely put in place a process to correct the problem for the remaining batches.

Consider a water tap used in the bathroom. The tap has a side that is exposed and a side that goes into the sink or wall. If there is a blemish on the side that goes into the sink or wall, then we will probably clear the batch but make sure to complain to the factory and inform the client. Most times, the client will agree that we took the right decision because that blemish doesn’t really affect the use and the end customer would also probably not see it.

Polished Golden Bathroom Faucets

Having said that, it is still an issue and needs fixing, so it will be fixed in the next batch. So, it all depends on the use and situation.

To conclude, quality control inspections must be done for every production cycle – never mind if it’s the first or the 100th. This will ensure consistency, and help your business attract repeat customers.

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