Quality Inspection Services in China – The Ultimate Guide
Owning and operating a sourcing company in China, I get to speak with a lot of people importing and manufacturing. It amazes me how often importers neglect to utilize quality inspection services during their production.
While I always recommend that all DIY importers should have their products inspected by some form of quality third party inspector at least once while their goods are still in the factory, it can be confusing at times to determine when an inspection should take place.
We’ve created this guide that will go over the four most basic forms of inspections. We’ll explain the benefits of each type, tips to make the most of each inspection, and how to be sure you’re fully prepared for the inspection to begin.
How to decide when to do an inspection
A few hundred dollars spent on inspections can be one of the greatest investments you can make when importing from China; saving you weeks of delays from potential quality and product rework. Knowing when and how to use them can, on the other hand, be somewhat of a challenge. Luckily, these guidelines will make your selection much easier.
In general, there are four main types of quality inspection services to choose from:
- Pre-Production Inspection (PPI)
- During Production Check (DUPRO)
- Container Loading Check (CLC)
- Pre-shipment Inspection (PSI)
1. What is a Pre-Production Inspection?
Pre-Production Inspections (PPI), also known as Initial Pre-Production checks (IPC), are usually carried out before the production starts. For this inspection, components and materials are inspected and validated to make sure they match your requirements.
When to Make a Pre-Production Inspection
Suppliers will often over promise and under-deliver on important factors that can take a toll on your price, quality, and lead-time. In general, it is best for buyers to have an inspecting agent visit their factory to check their product’s components and materials. This can catch potential quality-related issues early and prevent them from causing delays later on during mass production.
What are the Advantages of a Pre-Production Inspection?
In general, Pre-Production Inspections (PPI’s) help ensure your production is off to a great start, and help maintain it throughout the manufacturing cycle. They also work great as a trial phase, making sure your sample components and materials match your product specifications.
- Cutting sample-shipping costs: Traveling to and from China are not always feasible and shipping samples won’t help keep costs any lower. To remedy this, send your samples to an inspection agency where your samples can be compared and analyzed with respect to your specifications.
- Tests your materials and components: Factories will often substitute cheaper materials in an effort to lower their costs. To prevent this, buyers can have an inspector select a couple of random samples to be sent for laboratory testing.
- Prevents additional costs down the road: This makes it difficult to cut corners by substituting substandard materials – which could lead to unexpected changes in your design, materials, components, etc. from occurring midway through your production.
- Makes sure your assembly instructions are followed: Sometimes buyers may require their product assembled or packaged in a certain way. For example, a cushion cover needs to be stitched properly in order for the cover to fit over the foam properly. Stitching the cushion covers too loose or tight, will force reworking delays. PPIs can avoid these problems from occurring.
- Keeps production on schedule.
- Ensures your factory follows your specifications.
- Serves as your early-warning during manufacturing process.
What are the Drawbacks?
- Supplier Resentment: Some factories may refuse to halt production in order to prevent disruption to their production lines.
- Inaccurate Quality: Products coming out of initial production line may not reflect your overall production quality.
- Inspection Hold-Ups: Sometimes, production cycles can run for numerous weeks, before a product can be completed. This forces inspectors to wait even longer, before they can get their hands on your finished sample to inspect.
How to Make the Most of your Pre-Production Inspection
Provide a SPEC Sheet: Are your product requirements clear and organized? – Provide a SPEC Sheet (more can be found in our other article, What to do before the order is placed to reduce risk of quality problems).
Plan Before Moving Forward: Make sure you have added all your product specifications BEFORE production starts. No one wants to deal with a buyer that makes changes mid-way through production!
Have a Plan B: Make sure corrective actions are included, planned and understood between you and your supplier.
2. What is a During Production Inspection?
During Production Inspections (DUPRO), takes place when 10 ~ 50% of your goods are completed and packed. Inspectors can be sent to the factory to identify problems as they occur while your products are being manufactured; units are selected randomly from the production line and compared to your product specifications. Potential delays caused by production errors and quality defects can be caught early, and reworked on site.
When to perform a DUPRO Inspection
Early inspection of your products, especially during the early manufacturing cycle is the most efficient way to prevent last minute quality delays.
What are the Advantages of DUPRO?
- Corrective Action Early On: DUPRO, like PPI, works as an early warning system, helping buyers catch and fix quality problems, before they appear and start taking a toll on the overall quality of your shipment.
- Keep production on schedule.
- Prevents unnecessary additional costs.
- Ensures your factory follows your specifications.
- Reduces failure risk of Final Random Inspections
- Helps identify possible delays
- Corrective action can be taken before production is finished.
- Requires Experienced Inspectors: DUPRO takes more time because of its more involved hands on approach. Agents with production monitoring experience are required for a successful DUPRO inspection.
- More Costs: Reworked defective units can lead to loss of time and money for you and the factory. Unless, pre-agreed, some suppliers may refuse to to pay for reworked goods.
How to Make the Most of your DUPRO
A good thorough DUPRO inspection should include the following things:
- Include a Rework Clause: Make sure you include a plan on what is to become of defective units. You can include a clause in your contract that places financial responsibilities on your factory for reworking costs.
- Experience Matters: Make sure you ask your inspection agency who they will send to inspect and monitor your goods. Sometimes, inspection agencies have agents available that specialize in your product.
3. What is a Container Loading Check?
A container loading check, also known as (CLC) takes place once production is complete and your goods have been packed and loaded into containers, ready for transport. Your specifications, labeling, barcodes, and packing materials are all checked to match your requirements.
When to Make a Container Loading Check
Normally, CLSs take place in the factory when goods are loaded into containers for shipment. Quantity is accounted and checked during this stage. This can be a good option if packaging is essential to you.
What are the Advantages of a Container Loading Check?
- Goods are carefully and properly loaded: Improperly balanced and loaded containers can lead to risky conditions, which can lead to the destruction of your goods while they are en route to their destination. A CLC can help prevent damage from occurring during transport.
- Reduce Transportation Failure Risk. This inspection is ideal if you plan to ship container(s) full of fragile or mixed weighted goods.
- Trust Issues: A good option if you don’t necessarily trust your supplier and are concerned that your products may be switched out after inspection.
What are the Drawbacks?
- Nothing can be repaired during this stage.
- These inspections are usually rushed
- Inspectors can rarely check random samples, meaning, this inspection will not identify the overall quality of your shipment
How to Make the Most of your Container Loading Check
- Weather: Sometimes it is best to push back a CLC due to bad weather. Cartons loaded during wet weather can have a negative impact on how they will arrive at their destinations. Wet, soggy and damp cartons are a real possibility, so try to schedule CLC outside of the rainy season or ask your supplier if they can be done indoors..
- Schedule an Appointment: Some suppliers will try to avoid a CLC and schedule container loading a few hours before your inspection agent even arrives, in an effort to hide or switch your goods. To avoid this, coordinate and schedule a set time and date between your inspection agent and supplier. This way loading takes place only AFTER your inspector agent arrives.
- Palletization: Palletization of your goods can provide many benefits to your supply chain. If you are shipping fragile goods, or simply want good packaging, palletization may be the best option for you. This service can sometimes be provided by some factories. If your supplier cannot provide palletization, try asking a local forwarder. Get carton dimensions and provide them to your forwarder, they will help you calculate your container dimensions.
4. What is a Pre-Shipment Inspection?
Pre-shipment inspections (PSI) also known as the Final Random Inspection (FRI) occur when 100% production is completed, and 80% of the goods have been packaged.
When to Make a Pre-Shipment Inspection
Ideally, Pre-Shipment Inspections should take place in the factory, before your goods are transported (when your goods still have the chance of being repaired). This way it makes it harder for your supplier to hide defective goods.
What are the Advantages of a Pre-Shipment Inspection?
PSIs make sure your goods are packed, marked, palletized, documented, and checked before being loaded and transported. And most importantly, ensure you are being sent what your factory promised to deliver.
- Specs Compliance: Product, size, components, assembly, labeling, packaging, quantity etc. can all be controlled and monitored.
- Defects: Inspection agents use a an AQL Table (more can be found in our other article, AQL: what is it. How can buyers determine the right sample size and acceptance number), and will select a set number of products at random, tallying the number of defects to determine the overall quality of your goods.
- On-Site Testing: Your inspection agent can perform some tests on your goods while they are being inspected. One common example: are product and package drop tests.
- The Last Chance: This is the last step to check and make changes before your products are shipped. It can be an uneasy, if you failed to perform any inspections – you won’t know if your supplier sent the right goods (matching your specifications) until your product arrives at your destination or your client’s hands! This can take several days to a month – way too late to take corrective action!
- This is the most popular inspection method among importers because it covers multiple production aspects.
- Allows the buyer to have a realistic expectation of their overall product quality.
- Payments and shipments can be authorized after the goods have passed inspection.
What are the Drawbacks?
- Quality May not Reflect Overall Order: Samples are randomly drawn, so they may not representative of your whole order. Furthermore, a deceitful supplier can switch out and replace your inspected products before shipment!
- Failed Inspections: Failed inspections pose a serious risk to your suppliers, which can lead to re-negotiating of lower prices and some instances, order cancellations. This risk often leads suppliers to turn to more underhanded acts, like bribing inspectors for more lenient inspection reviews.
- Rushed: PSIs usually take place near the close of your order, so by the time it reaches this stage, it may already be a few days passed deadline, which can lead these inspections to be rushed.
How to Make the Most of your Pre-Shipment Inspection
Buyers are always pushing their suppliers to ship out their goods in a rush, and often, these expectations get pushed onto the inspectors as well. Do yourself and your inspection agents the favor and build in adequate time for your inspections.
Here are some of the consequences of rushed orders:
- Agents are forced to make non-official reports (usually handwritten and without photos) – defeating the purpose of your inspection!
- It undercuts your Inspection agent’s report, not giving enough time for questions to be asked and answered from your supplier.
- Many times these inspections take place a just few hours before the goods are shipped, leading to rushed and inaccurate report results, and making quality issues difficult to repair.
There you have it! Hopefully the concept of inspection services is a bit more clear. What I can’t stress enough is the importance of doing inspections on each and every production out of China! We have seen some absolute disasters when people want to save a few dollars and skip or skimp on inspection services. In fact, we’ve seen a business lose over $250,000 just because they didn’t inspect their production and had no recourse for action. They had to file bankruptcy. Don’t chance it. We offer extremely cost-effective inspections services and would be happy to talk with you about how we can help you ensure your production is done right, and defect free.