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5 on-site tests that can be done on any product

by James Guzzo

Product inspections are split into two distinct but equally important segments: General inspection and special inspection.

General inspection involves a thorough handling of every item in the sample size, and is meant to detect aesthetic issues and other obvious flaws in the product. This includes breakage, missing accessories, rust, discoloration, sharp edges, poor printing of logos, and the like.

Special inspection refers to a collection of more involved tests that are performed on a smaller subset of the sample size. Special inspection checkpoints include taking detailed dimensions of the item, performing its basic function, and subjecting it to abuses that may result from normal use. These tests are designed to check for critical safety and functionality issues that can potentially ruin an end user’s experience with the product.

It is true that some products require customized testing, and certain tests require a controlled laboratory environment. However some special inspection tests can be applied to almost any product you may be manufacturing in China, and they can be performed right in the factory. Whether they are performed by your third party QC partner or by the supplier themselves, here is our list of the top 5 tests that should be performed on your products before they leave the factory.

1. Basic function testing

Testing the basic function on at least a handful of your products cannot be overlooked. The exception here may be for industrial machinery and other such larger or complex items, but just about every consumer product should undergo a basic function test.

The basic function test should be performed in such a way as to mimic the end user’s normal use of the item. This will reveal any latent defects that may only become obvious when using the product. Function tests for specific products are easy to come up with: Actually cook with a skillet; raise and lower the height of an office chair to check the pneumatic components; power-on/off electronic devices at least a few times.

Additionally, function tests can be based on claims made on the product's packaging. For example, a "2-quart" pot can be filled to the brim to check its actual volume, and a "dishwasher-safe" mug should be put through at least one cycle in a dishwasher.

2. Print adhesion testing

Print adhesion or color-fastness testing is essential for any item that is branded with a company logo, or carries important printed markings (for usage or warnings). Since these items will most likely be handled regularly, and possibly washed as well, it is important to make sure the printing will endure these conditions. This test can be performed in a few ways depending on the product.

For "softlines" such as clothing and other textile items, crocking tests should be performed. This test involves taking a dry white cloth and rubbing the fabric vigorously to see if any color transfers from the product to the testing cloth. Crocking tests can also be repeated with liquid such as water or alcohol for more thorough test results.

For "hardline" items (basically anything other than textiles) a modified version of the cross-hatch adhesion test can be performed. This is done by carefully using a razor to etch diagonal intersecting lines over the printed area, applying a strip of 3M tape, and then removing it. The testing result is determined by the amount of print material that is removed by the tape (less is better).

3. Barcode scanning

If you are selling to a large retailer, ensuring your products' barcodes are scannable is crucial. Some retailers have policies that may result in huge chargebacks for items that are incorrectly labeled, or if barcodes do not scan correctly either in the warehouse or at the point of purchase.

This test is very simple. Auditors can use a barcode scanner (or even their smartphones!) to scan a handful of barcodes from each of your SKUs. The readout from the scanner should be compared to both your specifications, and the Human Readable Line (HRL) on the barcode itself. Any inconsistencies should be reported immediately.

4. Item dimensions and weight

Incorrect dimension or weight measurements can indicate serious quality issues. Items that are significantly underweight may have been made of lower quality material, or simply less material. More often than not, the culprits in these situations are molds that have been altered to accept less plastic during the injection molding process. Items that do not meet your specified dimensions may be unable to be assembled properly, causing the finished product to be potentially useless.

5. Carton and item drop tests

If there is anything you can be sure will happen to your products, it is that they will get dropped. The shipper cartons will get dropped when they are being loaded and unloaded from trucks, and the products themselves will be dropped during normal use.

Carton and item drop tests will let you know how well your products will stand up to this inevitable abuse. Carton drop tests are performed from a specific height according to the weight of the box, and the carton is dropped on each of its faces and corners. Item drop tests are usually performed from about 1 to 1.5 meters, which will closely replicate most accidental drop scenarios.


James Guzzo is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in China for US and EU clients. James also writes for the QC-related blog, Quality Wars.

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