Ok, so quality control is never easy. But, there are some basic guidelines that, if you follow them like the law, will make your life a lot easier. Most large companies have systems in place, and I’ve found them all to be remarkably similar. These concepts go beyond home furnishings, as I’ve seen them applied in the shoe, garment, and electronic industries. Below is a basic summary of the key elements.
Create Master Standards
Written Orders and Spec Sheets: The written order is the bible. Make sure you have a very detailed spec sheet for every product. Take the time to create a form for your company that is submitted with every order, so the supplier knows exactly the specs you wish. Don’t leave details out. The lack of details in an order means that you are essentially giving the option of “Factory Choice”. If there is any question, you can even write in “all other specs are per the approved sample”. Don’t give the factory the choice, unless you really trust them.
Approved samples: Take the time to sign off on your exact product. If the product you want to buy, already exists, then when you are at your supplier, you should take a permanent marker to sign and date the sample. Even better, is to create a sticker which you can sign and date. This lets the factory know that this is what you ordered. When quality inspections are done, this and the written order are what need to be used.
Other steps can be taken, including establishing finish standards, if you are using the same finish on multiple items. Also, you can even create item files for every sku you order, with images and notes on important details. These can be used as a record for Quality Inspections, and should include the date of an inspection, the results, and any issues encountered. These should be used by your company and can also be used by the factory.
Pre Production Samples (PPS)
If you have inspectors (internal or hired) in the country you are purchasing from, it is highly recommended that you take the next step, and review a “production” sample. This should be a duplicate of your signed sample, or if there were any modifications needed, this may become your master standard. Not only is it good to look at the sample, but you should make it clear to your supplier, that the PPS they supply should include packaging. This way, you can ensure the packaging meets your standards. Your team should sign off on the carton, and take images for future reference. Please note, that carton marks and hang tags may not be finished in time for the PPS sample inspection. You should not let this be a hang up, but should make sure that your written order has very good detailed images of the carton marks, and you should approve your hangtags, if you are not supplying them yourself.
If you have completed the steps above, your final inspection should be a breeze. The most common complaint I’ve received from factories, is that we did not supply enough information, and that is why they made the error. There are quite a few ways to do a final inspection, but below are 2 ways I’ve seen used.
100% inspections, pre packaging: Make sure the factory knows the date you plan to view your goods. Have them lay out the order in an open warehouse, along with your master standards, in an area with good lighting. Take out some random specimens and compare your master standards, item by item, and line by line. If these are up to spec, go though the rest, and look at the key areas you expect a problem. I suggest having a label created for your inspector. This way, if a shipment comes in, and there is a problem, you know who to contact. Also, the inspector will be more accountable. If they are not willing to put their approval on a product, are you willing to ship it to your customer? Also, make sure to have a few of the products in the packaging, so you can confirm packaging is to spec, carton marks are correct, and all labels and hang tags are in the correct locations.
Random inspections: This is the most common way for companies to do inspections before shipments. The factory will have all the goods for the order already packaged and in the warehouse. Your inspectors will go there, and select at random a select number of boxes. There are guidelines and rules as to which level of random inspection is called for, depending on the size of the order. If you have a good supplier, and have gone through the above processes, than this is a more time effective way to do an inspection. But, I would suggest the 100% inspections with new suppliers, until you feel you have confidence to move to random inspections.
Last and certainly not least is the most important part of quality control in any situation. Training your quality inspectors well is as important as all of the above steps. You need to work with them, so they understand exactly how your quality control system works, and most important, when to ask questions. They will run into cases where something is not 100% perfect, and they will need to make a decision. Clearly defining what decisions they should make, vs. when to bring in a manager is essential. Build a library of examples and images for them to review. Spend time with them, and let them offer their opinion and make the decisions while you are there. Once you feel confident that they can do this on their own, let them do it. Managers can stop by unannounced on an inspection already underway, and help and offer advice, to keep the training going and to get feedback from them on the supplier. You will be surprised how hard and diligent inspectors are, if you spend the time to train them.
The final note I’ll make, is that none of this really matters if the supplier you are working with is no good. If you find a factory, which seems to not want to follow through with the steps above, or makes excuses why he cannot achieve what you have outlined, walk away. The will power to move away from suppliers who are not meeting your quality inspections is probably vital to your future business. There are lots of factories out there hungry for business and ship great quality. We’re looking for them, and helping bring them to you. If you have any recommend suppliers, we would be delighted to get to know them. If you have had bad experiences, let the community know about it. And, tell the supplier that you have written him up on www.goodfactories.com. Goodfactories is a new concept to sourcing; where we promote improved quality and help factories understand the importance of quality though open critique, ratings, and reviews.