As an experienced buyer, you know how hard it can be to get the product you ordered manufactured to your specifications. You may have even considered product inspections to catch quality issues and make sure your orders are on track.
But have you stopped to consider the inspection process and how it should be done properly? This step-by-step guide will tell you how product inspections are performed so that the buyer gets an accurate look at the order and is able to help the supplier improve.
(Clear here to listen to the extended podcast that covers this article!)
Preparing for Inspection
Before any inspection takes place, expectations need to be managed. There are two essential steps for this to happen:
- You should obtain a golden sample from the supplier and approve it. Without an approved sample, you won’t know specifically what the factory can produce, nor have a benchmark to determine acceptability.
- You likely provided product specifications for design and quality in advance. This is usually best done by developing a QC checklist of points for inspection and any on-site testing required. Only with clear criteria can the inspector know exactly ?what the buyer expects to be checked.
Finally, unless you’re the buyer and the inspector, your service provider should be formally introduced by you to the supplier in advance. This means notifying the factory staff that an inspection will take place, and providing both parties with each other’s contact information. The inspector will typically need to schedule the service at the supplier’s convenience. Showing up unannounced to surprise factory management and staff does not bode well.?
Checking Production Status
An important part of the product inspection process, every product inspection should begin with checking the production status.?If, for example, the buyer expects their order to ship in three days, and the inspector discovers the order is far from finished, this insight would be valuable information to provide. Part of being the buyer’s “eyes and ears” in the factory is checking whether manufacturing is on schedule or if delays should be expected.
The inspector should visit the finished goods area and check the number of completed and packaged units. Order quantities should be confirmed in terms of items, cartons and pallets. If the quantity differs, the inspector should note the actual number of finished and packaged goods upon arrival. This should be noted in the report back to you. Also helpful for the inspector to note?are the storage, organization, and safety conditions of the area in which the finished product is stored.
Unless inspecting 100 percent of an order, you’re probably going to base your results on the findings of a sample of units checked. At this point, you should have selected a sampling plan, such as a standard AQL level or another customized plan.
Once the inspector arrives at the factory, he or she should follow these steps for pulling a random sample:
- For each SKU being inspected, take the square root of the total number of packed cartons.
- Round up to the nearest whole number (square root of 50 is 7.07, so pull 8 cartons).
- Cartons are pulled from various points in the stacks; one should absolutely NOT just pull from the front, where it appears convenient, or where the factory tries to direct.
- Select an even number of samples from each carton pulled, in order to reach the specified sample size for the inspection.
After the cartons are sampled and brought to the inspection area, the actual inspection can begin. Many experienced inspectors have their own protocol and procedures that they’ll run for particular products. They’ll use these and any requirements provided by you, to carry out the following:
Check Packaging Details
There are many aspects of packaging that need to be checked during inspection. Carton packing, retail packaging, and shipping packaging all have their own style. Each typically has its own markings, artwork and dimensions as well. The inspector should verify that all of these match your specifications and report any deviations. If an approved packaging sample has been provided for artwork comparison, one needs to use it to check artwork colors. Otherwise, a well-equipped inspector should rely on a Pantone color swatch instead. Another important check is to determine that product barcodes are scannable and consistent with buyer-provided records. In addition, the inspector should measure and weigh the packaging and note any difference between actual findings and approved specs.
Visual Inspection and Dimensions
Visual inspection involves checking the appearance and dimensions of the product, as well as verifying that any necessary accessories are included. Inspectors must be certain that they’ve pulled an even number of units from each carton taken earlier. They should compare the units taken from production with the approved sample, if provided, and your specifications.
If you’re making running shoes, for example, your inspector should be able to answer the following questions:
- Are the shoes the right color?
- Are there silica gels, instruction manual, or other required accessories included?
- Does the quality of workmanship comply with the approved sample/checklist?
- Are there any visual defects, such as excess glue, dirt marks or broken stitching?
Any noncompliant or defective items need to be sorted out and marked. Usually, inspectors will focus on checking each unit individually. They should also make sure factory staff does not remove or replace any defective units from those sampled before they can be counted and documented in the report, which can happen.
A buyer will often have strict guidelines for product dimensions. The inspector should take careful measurement points of the units inspected and record the results. They should report on any dimensions that fall outside of the buyer’s provided tolerances.
An often more technical aspect of the product inspection process is on-site testing. On-site testing can vary quite a bit from product to product. Some tests are more generic procedures which are applicable to more than one product type. The Hi-Pot test, for example, is fairly standard for most electronic products. The carton drop test can be done on any product with a shipping carton.
Other tests are more specialized and may apply only to your specific item. Function testing is often required for ?products; If your product is a skillet, for instance, function testing should include an egg/burnt milk test. If you’re manufacturing wheels for cars, then balancing testing should be performed.
For whatever testing you require, the factory may need to provide the necessary equipment on-site. Factory staff should also allow the inspector to carry out the testing, which they sometimes won’t do. To be sure that a given test can and will be performed at the factory during inspection, confirm with your supplier beforehand.
Reviewing Defects and Writing the Report
Inspectors should take photos of all defects or issues found, and include these in a written report to the buyer. They might even film video of an inspection if requested by the buyer. The supplier should be informed of all the issues found, and the initial inspection results. Sometimes, inspectors will need to review the defects with the supplier so they’re in an informed position to discuss with the buyer after the report is issued and determine a corrective action plan if needed. When the inspector submits the finished report to the buyer, often electronically, a copy should also be sent to the supplier.
Submitting the final report to the buyer is not the end of the inspector’s role. The buyer should review the report and get the factory staff’s input. The factory may disagree with the inspector’s findings or methodology. The inspector needs to be available to answer to any questions and address any concerns related to the service. Finally, the inspector may be able to offer suggestions for resolving quality issues or preventing them in future production runs. These final steps make up a crucial part of the product inspection process.
If you want to verify whether your product meets your requirements, it helps to understand the product inspection process. Carrying out an ?inspection includes the following:
- Advanced preparation
- Checking production status
- Random sampling
- Reviewing defects
- Writing the report
All of these aspects of the product inspection process are essential. If steps are omitted, the risk is an incomplete or inaccurate report. It’s the responsibility of the buyer to work with the inspector & the supplier, in order to clarify and correct any issues as needed.
Now that you’ve reviewed what’s involved in the product inspection process, make sure that you’re receiving a full and accurate report of the condition of your order, before it leaves the supplier’s facility.