Until recently, I was thinking quality inspectors could only intervene during or after production. After all, it takes an engineer (or someone with deep product knowledge) to define what the factory should make, right?
There are two reasons why people in the industry hold this view.
First, serious inspectors hate confusion. They like to follow the same procedure over and over, mechanically. They use a checklist to verify production samples, and the clearer the requirements the better.
Second, in countries like China, inspectors seldom have a firm grasp on production processes, nor do they know precisely what is considered acceptable on a particular market (remember, different buyers have different tolerances).
However, I am finding ways for using my QC inspectors to help my clients “upstream”, when they are defining their new product requirements.
Let’s say an importer puts a couple of engineers at work on a new product. They give technical elements to a factory, they follow the development closely, and they are reaching the final stages of prototyping. If they don’t have experience with production in China or with international trade, they will forget lots of things.
My job, at this stage, is to help them put in place a quality control plan adapted to their situation. But I don’t like to come alone.
Last week I spent two days in a Shenzhen factory with a German engineer. I put a sample in the hand of an inspector I brought with me and asked him for all the quality problems he could think of, based on his experience.
The client got lots of suggestions:
- Some changes in the bill of materials (e.g. screws to be in stainless steel instead of nickel-plated steel – to avoid corrosion on the damaged parts);
- Some tests to do on-site during the inspection (e.g. a fitness test of all components);
- Some guidelines for safer packaging (e.g. a way to roll the cable without folding it);
- A more practical way to define certain requirements (sometimes a clear photo is more helpful than a long description).
The key is to get a quality inspector with 5+ years of experience in similar products, walk him through your requirements, and constantly ask for suggestions/feedback.