Basic Guide: How to Do Quality Control in China?
For many business owners in the West, deciding to manufacture products or components in low-cost regions like China is not an easy choice. However, due to significantly lower manufacturing costs, they eventually opt for factories in these regions.
One of the primary concerns during this shift is the issue of quality. Business owners often question whether Chinese factories can meet the same specifications as their European or American suppliers.
In the past, the perception of “Made in China” goods was associated with lower quality, although this perception is gradually changing. Nowadays, a significant number of Chinese factories manufacture goods that meet or even exceed Western quality standards.
This shift is driven by various factors, including increased exposure to the global market and its demands, as well as the rising expectations of the growing Chinese middle class. Chinese consumers, with their strong purchasing power, seek high-quality products such as electronics, home decor, toys, clothing, accessories, and sports goods.
In fact, some Chinese consumer brands like Xiaomi, Haier, and Lenovo have gained global recognition.
Having worked in China as a sourcing agent specializing in shipping, Prep, and plastic injection molding products, I’d like to share insights on quality control in the Chinese manufacturing sector.
The Truth of Quality Control in China:
1. East vs. West: Embrace Cultural Differences and Persevere
Cultural differences in attitudes toward quality still exist in China compared to Europe and the US. While China has been a global exporter for years, the difference persists, and buyers and sourcing agents often encounter these attitudes.
A common response encountered during quality inspections is “just about right.” Even when products deviate from acceptable standards, factory representatives may argue that it is still acceptable. However, such deviations may not meet the expectations of many buyers and their customers. This cultural difference presents a challenge, but it’s important to continue addressing quality concerns.
Moreover, the official standards used in the West may not always align with the quality control practices of Chinese factories.
2. Chinese Factories May Lack Formal Quality Control Documentation but Possess Awareness
Auditing Chinese factories based on Western standards may yield two outcomes:
- a. The factory’s quality control process may appear inadequate on paper, but the actual product may meet the specified requirements.
- b. The factory’s quality control process may appear robust during audits, but the resulting product may be subpar.
Western quality control standards, such as having an in-process quality control officer, may appear impressive on paper, but the qualification and actual presence of such personnel on the factory floor can vary. In some cases, a more effective approach involves experienced employees conducting inspections during production.
Many factories in China excel in quality because they specialize in a niche segment and have in-depth knowledge of the specific product they manufacture. When selecting a factory in China, prioritize those with expertise in manufacturing your specific product or those that have supplied to Western countries before, as they are familiar with Western quality expectations.
Ensure clear communication of your product specifications and expectations in writing during negotiations with the factory.
Arrange for quality control inspections or conduct them yourself. Most factories are open to inspections, while resistance to such checks should raise concerns.
Following these tips should result in a good product and reduce potential issues.
3. Quality Correlates with Manufacturing Cost
Simply put, you get what you pay for. Raw materials, labor, electricity, and factory infrastructure maintenance, such as machinery, incur costs. Manufacturers have a minimum cost threshold to maintain quality standards.
While large buyers may try to negotiate lower prices, forcing an unnatural reduction in price can lead to compromises in raw material quality, skilled labor availability, or working conditions. These compromises ultimately impact product quality, delivery, and reputation.
How to Do Quality Control in China?
Implementing effective quality control measures in China requires following a set of steps. Here is a general guideline:
1. Define quality requirements:
Clearly specify the quality standards, including product specifications, acceptable tolerances, and specific testing or inspection criteria.
2. Select reliable suppliers:
Choose reputable suppliers with a proven track record of producing high-quality products. Conduct supplier audits or assessments to evaluate their production capabilities, quality management systems, and adherence to industry standards.
3. Develop a quality control plan:
Create a comprehensive plan that outlines inspection points, testing procedures, and acceptance criteria at different production stages. This plan should cover raw materials, in-process inspections, and final product inspections.
4. Conduct pre-production inspections:
Before production begins, conduct inspections to ensure suppliers understand the specifications correctly and have the necessary resources and materials.
5. Perform in-process inspections:
Regularly inspect production processes to identify quality issues, monitor progress, and detect deviations from agreed specifications. This can involve visual inspections, measurements, and functional testing.
6. Conduct final product inspections:
After production is complete, perform thorough pre-shipment inspections to verify that finished goods meet the required quality standards. This includes visual checks, functional tests, packaging inspections, and quantity verification.
7. Implement random sampling:
Use statistical sampling techniques to select random samples for inspection, ensuring an unbiased representation of overall product quality.
8. Engage third-party inspection services:
Consider involving independent third-party inspection companies with expertise in conducting thorough and impartial inspections on your behalf.
9. Maintain communication with suppliers:
Establish clear communication channels with suppliers to convey quality expectations and provide timely feedback on any identified issues. Collaborate with suppliers to address and resolve quality concerns.
10. Continuous improvement:
Continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of your quality control processes. Identify areas for improvement and work closely with suppliers to implement corrective actions and preventive measures.
Best Methods to Control Quality in China
For a Purchaser of Standard, Ready-made Products:
- It is essential to conduct a conclusive random inspection, preferably utilizing a precise checklist or an approved flawless sample provided by the buyer.
- Opting for an in-production inspection makes sense for the initial order.
- A brief visit to the factory can help identify subpar workshops. A comprehensive factory audit should only be considered for larger orders, and when the factory claims to have a well-organized setup.
For a Buyer of Tailor-made Products:
- Equally critical is an early inspection, either during a pilot run or upon the completion of the initial bulk production. This is particularly vital for intricate products and can involve a comprehensive process review during production commencement.
- An extensive evaluation of the factory’s production capacity is highly recommended, especially for complex products. Ideally, the buyer should have already defined the ideal factory profile.
- A final pre-shipment inspection serves as a prudent step to validate the overall product quality.
If the buyer is required to finance custom molds or tooling, if confidential information will be shared with the supplier, or if the payment terms lack buyer protection, it is highly advisable to establish an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) agreement.
It is highly recommended to collaborate with experienced professionals or quality control agencies familiar with local regulations and industry standards in China to ensure effective implementation of quality control practices.
In summary, understanding and embracing cultural differences, working with specialized factories, clearly communicating expectations, and recognizing the correlation between price and quality are essential for maintaining good product quality when manufacturing in China.