As a consumer product importer, you may be conducting third-party inspections to verify product quality. It’s important to understand, though, that the act of inspecting, on its own, is not enough.
Take it from 20th-century quality guru W. Edwards Deming. In his book, Out of the Crisis, he says:
“Inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. As Harold F. Dodge said, ‘You can not inspect quality into a product.’”
What does he mean by this, and if inspection is not enough, what else do you need to do?
Here we discuss the importance of designing for quality, having clear product specifications, and the manufacturing process.
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Good Design is Key to Making High-Quality Products
Pre-Shipment Inspections (PSI) help ensure that the goods you receive match what you ordered. During Production Inspections (DUPRO) help you catch issues during manufacturing so that you can deal with them early.
In other words, product inspection is a verification activity.
Inspections help you confirm that the products coming from the factory meet your standards. But how good are your standards? That’s the real question — and this is where the importance of design and specifications comes in.
Quality Starts With Product Design and Specifications
If you want to import high-quality products, you need to design them with the materials, dimensions, finishing, and other attributes that will give consumers the best possible experience.
If you’re concerned about how long your product will last before it wears out, then you need to ask yourself, “Which material do I choose to ensure a long lifespan?” If you want to keep it looking good throughout its life, you might ask yourself, “Which surface finish is the most appropriate?”
These are the types of questions you need to think about as you’re in the design phase.
Once you’ve prototyped your product and settled on a final design, you can provide specifications to the factory. Your specifications should be clearly defined, with as much detail as possible. Only when you provide clear specifications to your factory can you expect them to make products that meet your standards.
Product specifications should be included as an addendum to every purchase order you submit to help protect your interests as an importer.
What if You are Buying Products Designed by the Factory?
If you are buying products designed by the factory, you need to request specifications and be sure you understand them inside and out. By getting familiar with all the materials and attributes of a product, you’ll be in a better position to know whether or not it meets your needs.
During the sampling process, it’s important that you settle on a final sample that’s perfectly made. This is what’s often referred to as your golden sample. The “golden sample” supplements your product specifications — and once you have it, you can compare all future production units to it.
Then there’s the role of the manufacturing process.
Quality Needs to be Built into the Manufacturing Process
Factories that produce good products do more than just conduct in-house inspections. They use their inspection results to determine how well their production processes are working. If too many defects are coming through, they work to determine the cause of the defects and then address it.
As an importer, if you’re conducting third-party inspections at a factory and they’re frequently underperforming, it’s best to take a collaborative approach. This means focusing on supplier development and working together to find solutions. Don’t rush off and start shopping for new suppliers before you’ve even made attempts at supplier development.
Consider conducting a quality audit to assess the factory’s quality management system. These audits can be used to help you get to the root of quality issues and influence the factory management to make changes where necessary. Only once you’ve determined that a supplier is unwilling or unable to change should you look at ending the relationship.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you should never select a supplier based solely on price. It’s important to look at the value they offer and determine whether they’re going to meet your needs at the price point they give you.
Whether you’re starting out with a new supplier or continuing an existing relationship, you always need to set expectations.
Setting Expectations is Key to Success
As we’ve discussed, if you want high-quality products, you need to put together detailed specifications so the factory knows exactly what you expect. You can’t assume that a supplier is going to give you a specific result when you haven’t communicated your desired result to them.
Once you’ve set expectations, you can use your third-party inspections to hold them accountable. Monitor the results of your inspections, and if you have any issues with a supplier, work to address them.
If you’re interested in some ideas about what to do when things go wrong with a supplier, we recommend downloading the following guide.
Free Guide: What to do When Things Go Wrong
When a quality problem happens – and they will – how you approach the problem makes all the difference in successfully squelching it.
Learn how to deal with the problem at hand, see potential quality gaps throughout your supply chain, and take proactive measures to avoid future problems.