7 (not 5 or 6) keys to Quality When Working with Chinese Manufacturers: Sourcing

Easy Bake

Is this your factory?

An article by Andrew Reich from ChinaSuccessStories (h/t Dan Harris of Chinalawblog) highlights five straightforward but oft missed steps in assuring the quality of product from your China manufacturer.  Dan Harris, added a sixth point, and Global Sourcing Specialists is chiming in to add a seventh key to quality when when working with chinese factories: Source a quality manufacturer

First, it should be noted that these steps need to be taken together.  Accomplishing one or a few of them will not suffice to assure your product quality, and will likely only delude you into a false a security about what is coming off the production line and potentially making its way into the hands of your customers. 

ChinaSuccessStories's first five points:

  1. Detailed documents: The number one key to quality when working with factories in China
    is documentation. Having bi-lingual, detailed, factory agreed upon
    checklists in place that document an item’s specifications and the
    criteria for inspecting the product before shipment, is essential to
    controlling product quality. One can not say for sure, but I would be
    willing to bet that the factories responsible for products recently
    recalled for lead paint did not have bi-lingual documentation on hand
    from their customer stating the type of paints that could and could not
    be used. Sure, this type of documentation takes time and hard work to
    create, but putting such processes in place is the first and most
    important step in avoiding quality issues. QC Checklists should describe in detail:

    a)     Item Packaging

    b)    Item Defect Classification (what is considered an defect and at what 

    c)    Item Size and Other Specifications

    d)    Item Functionality and How it is Checked

  2. Factory Presence:  Having a presence at the factory ensures that both factory staff and
    management really know who you are. Either through a 3rd party QC
    company or your own staff, ensure that you are being represented at the
    factory in person on a regular basis, and that the factory clearly
    connects your presence there with your production. Success in China is
    all about relationship (Guanxi), and dealing with quality is no
    different. Work towards a state where the factory has a personal
    commitment to you and your products.
  3. Inspection:  Perform regular product inspections (either with your staff or a via
    3rd party), not only on the final product shipment, but also during
    production (otherwise knows as DUPRO). Ensure these inspections are
    consistent and based on clear inspection criteria. Always review the
    inspection results with factory management and their own QC team.
  4. Keep Approved Samples:  Some say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I say that a sample
    is worth a thousand headaches! Items often get revised and modified
    several times in the sourcing process, and then again after production
    begins. Keeping an approved sample in your office, and also one in the
    factory that can be used to verify the production product by the QC
    team, is essential in seeing eye to eye with your Chinese suppliers.
  5. Take Responsibility:  Nothing will alienate your Chinese suppliers more than a mistake on
    your side for which you take no responsibility, and blame their
    misunderstanding. I’ve seen hard-headed buyers make this mistake more
    than once, to the demise of their hard earned factory relationships.
    So, make sure you have all the facts before you start to blame.
    Recognize when it’s possible that a mistake or production issue may
    have been caused by your own fault, or your own team’s
    mis-communication. Take responsibility when this happens, even if it
    means a financial loss. If you are working with the factory on a long
    term basis, the credibility you will gain will outweigh what you have
    given up.

    The message here is don’t take anything for granted. You and your
    suppliers most likely come from two vastly different cultures, have
    different values, and see quality differently. By making sure quality
    standards and procedures are in place and clear to all parties you will
    definitely avoid costly production issues.

Dan Harris' 6th Point: Legal Contracts

I agree with all of this, but I also vehemently believe that a well
crafted contract is also key. My own experience and that of
manufacturers with whom I speak tell me that a good contract can itself
help to maintain quality. How? Simple. Chinese companies, like
companies everywhere, do not relish being sued. A good contract means
incorporates the key quality requirements and also sets up the Chinese
company for liability for failing to meet those requirements.

Our 7th Point:  Sourcing of Quality China Manufacturers

Really, this point might be placed first, only because the sourcing process takes place before any of these other steps are taken, AND, if you work with the wrong China factory, or any factory for that matter, these other steps may be very difficult to accomplish and/or ineffective.  It's similar to following all of the cooking instructions with great meticulousness to bake a world-class cake, and then baking your cake in the Easy Bake Oven.

Thus, to ensure supplier sourcing sets the other 6 steps up for success, one would do well to locate several potential sources, receive manufacturing and cost feedback from each of them, and select one or two that seem best able to support the project's and company's needs based on qualifications, engineering and QC support, product lines, and customer service.  Assessing a supplier for these qualities will likely, and should, involve auditing the factory production line, as well as meeting with management and key personnel.  Do this–and the rest will be much easier.