It is not possible to stress too much the importance of quality control process when buyers source from China.
In the West, most buyers have implicitly outsourced quality control plan for the product they buy to their suppliers. The buyer defines specifications and requirements, the supplier commits to deliver such product and implicitly takes the responsibility of the quality assurance plan. Suppliers will define the required quality control steps in order to consistently deliver compliant products. In addition, the supplier often knows more than the buyer about the required standards and regulations and also commits to comply with them.
While purchasing from Chinese supplier, it is dangerous to proceed with the same implicit outsourcing.
At the very least, it must be a conscious decision made by the buyer after understanding the real capabilities of each particular supplier. Beside bad suppliers which any professional buyer knows how to avoid, there are a range of suppliers with good capabilities but that are not fully aware of the intricacy of what is required to get “good quality” as the buyer expects it.
These suppliers want to be good and can be good but do not know what they really need to do to be good.
They will be quality conscious, they will have a quality assurance systems in place. At the same time, they may not be fully aware of how seriously some tolerances are taken into account. Or they may not have a full understanding of some industry standard about which all Western supplier will be fully knowledgeable.
This is why each buyer needs to take back the control of quality management.
As a buyer, taking quality management plan in your own hands means:
- Define what is required to consider that a product is of good quality (product aspects of course but also packing, documentation, legal standards, industry standards, company standards, …);
- Define, with the supplier, a specific quality control plan that will highlight all these points and will confirm what is done by the supplier as routine quality control;
- Negotiate with the supplier to bring it to add specific quality inspection as part of the production quality assurance plan or specific additional tests / checks at the end of the production;
- Take a “we trust you but will check it anyway” attitude and organize regular pre-shipment quality inspections to verify that the quality control plan was well implemented by the supplier.
Yet, in spite of the media buzz about quality issues in China, I still see too many buyers who place purchase orders to Chinese suppliers, pay significant down payment and . . . are surprised when the delivered goods display problems.
Of course, there are lucky buyers who purchased that way for year and did not experience problems or whose (good) suppliers quickly solved problems when they appeared. But this is the exception and they live with a dangerous Damocles sword over the head.
The safest approach is to take control. It could seem to be a lot of work. Actually, when well organized, this is much less time consuming then it looks like.
Some companies will have all resources in house to perform this work. Some will not and should then approach third parties in order to assist them in the task.
There are also many resources available for buyers who want to setup such quality control plan and quality inspections. Among these, one of the key resource is the standard MIL 105E, providing the sample size for inspections.
One excellent online resource for this is SQC Online, where web based calculation tools allow to define such sampling plan very easily. The key here is to remember that “You get what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT”.