Importers new to the world of overseas manufacturing and 3rd-party inspection are inundated with a variety of terms that often seem to indicate the same thing. For example, the terms “product testing” and “product inspection” are often thought to mean exactly the same thing. In fact, these generally refer to very different services that take place in very different locations.
So what is the difference between product testing and product inspection? Do we carry out both at the same time and at the same location? You’ll learn the answers to these questions and more ahead.
Product testing is better thought of as lab testing. Herein lies a key difference between product testing and product inspection. Lab testing is performed in a facility capable of carefully controlling a wide variety of variables. These variables include everything from temperature, humidity, and ambient noise to managing extremely precise measurements for determining the amount of a given chemical in solution. Any testing lab worth your money will have accreditations from bodies such as HOKLAS or ACLASS, and you’ll see related logos on applicable test reports. Lab testing can tell you if your product is safe for a given market of sale and if it consists of the correct materials.
Product inspection, on the other hand, generally occurs outside of a lab, often at the factory in which the product is made. Inspection is primarily focused on the appearance, construction, and basic function of the product. Are the items nice and shiny or all scratched up? Was the pair of jeans with a measured waist of 32cm labeled as 42cm by mistake? Does the flashlight turn on and function properly with working batteries installed? These are the kinds of questions answered by product inspection.
Can Your Supplier Handle Both?
We can see that product testing and product inspection seek to answer different questions about a product. We also know that product testing and product inspection typically happen in different places. But can your supplier handle both of these services?
It’s true (and certainly of some value) that some factories are sophisticated enough to accommodate certain kinds of on-site lab testing. But it’s important not to overestimate the accuracy of these results. Factory labs are NOT audited by accrediting bodies such as HOKLAS or ACLASS and certainly cannot be considered independent 3rd parties. Even with the latest and greatest equipment and fancy lab coats, you must consider the competence and experience of the workers carrying out the tests. In general, these employees will not be as qualified and reliable as the skilled technicians employed by professional and accredited testing labs.
So What Can You Do?
It is the recommendation of this author that:
- Importers regularly use professional and accredited testing labs to analyze their products against applicable requirements for each market of sale.
- Importers take advantage of any testing capabilities their suppliers have on-site to enhance the overall monitoring of their products. But they should also recognize the limitations of this work.
Implementing the first point certainly comes with some cost, but it pales in comparison to a lawsuit or recall. On-site testing can complement 3rd-party inspection, but is definitely not a substitute for using a professional lab.
Now that you know the difference between product testing and product inspection, follow these tips to keep your suppliers honest and yourself protected.
Learn more about professional product testing and product inspection services!