If I had a dollar for every time a buyer told me they started seeing poor product quality after receiving a great initial sample and first production run, I would have at least $50.
Jokes aside, this is a very common occurrence with which?those seasoned China importers out there will be all too familiar. So, what’s the reason and how can you avoid it?
There are two distinct issues here that come into play. The first is the difference between pre-production samples and mass produced units. The second is the gradual decrease in quality of mass production over a period of time, often referred to in the industry as “quality fade”. Let’s look at each possible reason for poor product quality separately.
Why don’t the samples match production?
Pre-production samples are often made by a specialized employee dedicated to the task or the R&D department in a factory. In the worst case scenario, golden sample production is outsourced to an entirely different supplier. In any case, the capabilities of making a sample are sometimes not representative at all of what the factory can create in mass production. Their goal is to create the sample to perfectly meet the buyer’s expectations, so that the factory can win the order.
How can you ensure that the factory can effectively mass produce the samples that you’re going to approve?
The first step is to take a collaborative approach with the factory through the sampling process. Ask them for feedback on the designs and whether or not they foresee issues in mass production of the item. Sometimes products may require modification to ensure they can be effectively produced on a large scale. Depending on the factory’s capability and your budget, you may need to make?some compromises to ensure that your expectations can be reasonably met with fewer quality issues down the road.
Why is the quality of mass production “fading” with time?
Many buyers notice a gradual decline in product quality over time – sometimes called “quality fade”. While you may not notice a difference in two consecutive orders, there can be significant differences between early produced units when compared with units produced months or years later.
In almost all cases, this decline in quality is attributed to the factory wanting to lower costs. Manufacturing is a competitive business and factories fight to win orders by offering prices with slim margins. Once they have those orders and have locked you in with investments in tooling, an easy way to increase their margin is to substitute cheaper materials or components.
One example of poor product quality you might notice is a thinner coating of enamel on coated pots and pans you’ve been ordering for several years. Another example might be that recent orders of the jewellery you’re manufacturing have begun oxidizing because of a drop in the quality of silver used.
How can you ensure that mass production will meet your expectations over the long term?
We’ve looked at the two possible reasons for why mass production may not match up with the sample you approved. Now let’s look at how we can combat poor product quality from order to order:
- Carry out product inspections at the factory for every shipment. And use an approved sample and QC checklist to inspect every order before it ships out. This will ensure that issues are found at the source and rework can be carried out before shipment, if required.
- Conduct a periodic review of the product. Particularly useful on electronic items, conducting a review against a Bill of Materials (BOM) or Component Data Form (CDF) will ensure that the approved components are still being used in production.
- Give crystal clear feedback to the factory on issues found with production, and advise them exactly what is unacceptable and needs to be fixed in future orders. This will go a long way to improving the product. If the factory is not advised or doesn’t understand the issues, then they’ll invariably keep doing things the same way.
The next time you come across this scenario of the sample being great but production having issues, think of the reasons behind it. Apply these three simple steps to avoid it: product inspection, periodic review and don’t forget to give clear feedback.