How to Choose the Right AQL and Inspection Levels
If you’re importing consumer products and working with a third-party inspection company, you probably know that AQL is an industry-standard sampling method.
It helps you determine two things, first, how many units the inspector should check, and, second, how many defective units are allowable during the inspection. But when you’re face-to-face with an AQL chart or calculator and forced to make a selection, you might feel intimidated.
Maybe it’s the first time you’re conducting inspections, or maybe you’re experienced but thinking about changing your AQL levels.
Here we discuss some ideas to help you make the right decisions for your own unique situation.
Starting With the Most Common Selections
If you need a refresher on how AQL works, see our article, What is AQL?, or download our white paper, AQL Inspections 101. But, in general, for consumer products like stationery, pillows, toys, and electronics, the most common recommendation is as follows:
- Inspection Level – General II
- AQL Levels – 0% for critical, 2.5% for major, and 4.0% for minor
This means that, over the course of many inspections, these are the maximum defect percentages you should expect. And, of course, for certain tests — the ones that are destructive, expensive, time-consuming, or tend to yield the same results — the special inspection levels are used.
So, with this in mind, what would make you consider different AQL levels? In general, this decision will be made based on your product and market. If you need the AQL chart for reference, you can download it here.
Adjusting Your AQL Levels Based on the Product and Market
Higher-end brands might want to adopt stricter standards for quality. For example, instead of 0/2.5/4 defect levels, it might be appropriate to choose 0/1.5/4. Whereas a lower-end brand might be more tolerant of defects, opting for 0/4/6.5.
To make this choice, consider your own brand and market, and think about what your consumers are willing to accept.
When it comes to products like aerospace parts, automotive parts, or pharmaceuticals, safety is a major concern — and defects can end up endangering human lives. For these types of industries, high standards are used, and an importer of these products might even accept zero defects.
There is no one right answer for all situations, so it’s important to consider your product and market and what’s acceptable to you. But the standard recommendations tend to work for most consumer products.
These considerations apply to your AQL levels, but what about your inspection levels? When you’re thinking about inspection levels, you should consider your relationship with the factory.
Adjusting Your Inspection Levels Based on the Factory Relationship
When you lower your inspection levels, fewer units get inspected, which reduces the amount of confidence you can have in the inspection — but it also might lower your inspection costs. Raising your inspection levels, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.
As we’ve said, General II is the most common inspection level. But if you have a long history with your factory, you might consider dropping down to General I. It’s only a good idea to lower your inspection level once a supplier has earned your trust and produced consistent results. If you find that the results start to slip, you could go back up to GII until things improve.
If, on the other hand, you’re working with a new supplier or having quality issues with a long-term partner, adjusting to GIII will give you a larger sample size. And this way you can have higher confidence in the inspection result. Once your results with the supplier start to improve, you can revert to GII.
With that said, let’s recap and discuss some final thoughts about inspection costs.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Most inspections for consumer products are conducted at the General II inspection level with AQL levels of 0% for critical, 2.5% for major, and 4.0% for minor defects.
- You can consider changing your AQL levels based on your product and market. Lower AQL levels might be appropriate for higher-end products and higher AQL levels might be appropriate for lower-end products.
- Consider changing your inspection levels based on your relationship with the factory. You might consider going to General I with high-performing factories or switching to General III with new or low-performing ones.
Lowering your AQL or inspection levels might help you to lower your quality control spend. Another option to consider for reducing inspection costs is to conduct skip lot inspections.
Keep in mind, though, that when you’re considering actions to reduce inspection costs, you should only make decisions that are based on objective data. For more information about how to do this, you can read our article on maximizing your quality spend.
For a high-level overview of AQL, we recommend the following guide.
Free Guide: AQL Inspections 101
As a consumer goods importer, the quality of your products is key to your success. Good quality products will earn you favorable reviews and repeat purchases. Thus, product inspections are important. AQL determines the sample size for your inspections and understanding it is important. Having a good grasp of this method allows you to work with your third-party inspectors more effectively. This white paper will teach you all the basics of the AQL method.