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Top 5 common mistakes made during product inspection

by Stacy Bruce

Inspectors make mistakes? Before you gasp and shed any tears, know that there are steps taken to minimize these mistakes.

It’s nice to believe that every product inspection is done perfectly and according to the client’s requirements. But the truth is that even properly trained inspectors can make mistakes. We have covered mistakes that factories make and ways they can improve in previous articles.

Now let’s explore the mistakes that can be made during product inspection and the protocols and standards that professional inspectors follow in order to give clients the best possible service and most accurate and transparent reports. 

1. Misinterpreting specifications or requirements for product inspection

Specifications and checklists provided by the client are included in the Auditor Service Instructions (ASI) that third-party inspection companies typically provide to their inspectors. When an inspector has been inspecting a certain product for a long time they may overlook small details or forget a new addition to the checklist.

Not reading specs properly can create a wide range of problems, ranging from minor issues to major deficiencies in the product inspection report or process. An inspector might not see that you’ve provided a sizing chart with standards and tolerances for a shoe inspection. This would likely be a relatively minor problem because the inspector would simply report the actual dimensions taken.

But maybe the inspector misinterpreted the same sizing chart regarding the method for measuring dimensions. If this is the case, the product inspection report you receive would show inaccurate dimensions – a much bigger problem.

There are a couple possible solutions for solving the problem of misreading specs, such as:

  • Make sure your inspector clearly understands your specs and requirements for product inspection. Confusion or inaccurate reporting often happens when there is a misunderstanding or ambiguity involving your expectations.
  • By rotating inspectors, you can be sure that the person inspecting your goods doesn’t overlook any details. This also helps prevent any possible integrity issues resulting from having the inspector become too close with factory staff or management (see more at 5 Easy Steps to Prevent Corruption Amongst QC staff).

2. Not using the appropriate equipment for product inspection

There is certain equipment that a factory typically needs to provide for product inspections. But inspectors also have a responsibility to bring the some of their own equipment for inspection and on-site testing, according to the item being inspected. A product inspector might:

  • Forget to bring the appropriate equipment needed for inspection
  • Bring the wrong equipment for inspection; or
  • Bring equipment that is not calibrated properly and can’t dependably be used for inspection

Failure to bring the right equipment that is calibrated correctly can lead to inaccurate reporting. This can be disastrous for you, for example, if you’re importing acrylic sinks that fit a particular fixture and your inspector hasn’t brought calipers for precise measuring.

Any professional third-party inspection company should have pre-service procedures in place to make sure the inspector brings the correct and reliable tools needed for a service. One such procedure includes providing and reviewing Auditor Service Instructions with the inspector.

But you can help by specifying any equipment that you expect to be used ahead of inspection. If you want the specific color of packaging artwork to be verified, for example, be sure to provide your inspector with the related Pantone code. Then the inspector will know to bring a Pantone swatch with him to measure the color.

3. Letting the factory representative influence reporting

A representative from your supplier’s factory may try to convince the inspector that one issue reported as a defect is not a defect, or won’t affect item function, and so does not need to be reported. Listening to advice from factory reps can be problematic when the issue is not on the item checklist. The representative has the factory’s interest in mind when advising, not yours.

For example, flash found on a pair of injection-molded sunglasses might require the factory to rework by hand. These sunglasses may be a high-end, big-ticket item and you cannot accept excessive flash. But if you didn’t specify your low tolerance for flash, your factory might prefer to ship the goods without you knowing there is a flash problem.

The inspector should always report any defect or issue that is or might be unacceptable to you, the buyer. You can help by reinforcing this with your third-party inspection company before the inspection. Let them know that you want any issues or defects that are even remotely questionable to be at least reported. After receiving the first report, you can offer necessary feedback to tone down reporting of any issues you deem insignificant (see Product Inspection Reports – 4 Steps to Getting the Most out of Yours).


4. Wrong AQL sample size used

Most inspectors are given specific AQL levels which determine the sample size to be inspected. If the inspector reads or calculates this wrong, it can give the client a very different result, such as:

  • Smaller inspection scope than agreed upon, which can lead to overlooking defects; or
  • Larger inspection scope than agreed upon, which can lead to you being billed more than you were quoted for the service

Let’s say you’re manufacturing hotel furniture and your inspector should calculate a sample size of 80 pieces for inspection. If the inspector uses an AQL sample size that’s too small, they could be inspecting only 50 pieces. This would make the inspection scope smaller than what you were expecting and paid for. This also means you’re getting a smaller inspection scope, and defects like cracks in the wood or warping could be overlooked.

On the flip side, if your inspector uses an AQL sample size that’s too large, you could possibly be billed more than what you were quoted for inspection.

Most professional inspection reports will show the number of pieces checked and the AQL level chosen. You can use this to cross reference this with what your inspection company quoted you before the service. Make sure there’s no discrepancy. And if there is, ask your inspection company about it.

5. Missing or incorrect photos in inspection report

Professional product inspection reports generally include photos of the items inspected, packaging, on-site test results, any defects or issues found and any other important details. When there are many items, the inspector might mistakenly:

  • Add photos to the wrong section of the report; or
  • Forget to include photos which are helpful or necessary to understanding certain findings

Issues with photos can lead to confusion for you when you’re reviewing the report. For example, maybe an inspector has reported damage to a printed label on some of the ceramic cookware you’re manufacturing. Without photos showing the extent of the damage, you may not know whether or not to approve shipment of the order.

Reports are usually looked at closely by technical staff before the inspector has left the factory, in case issues with photos or any other areas need revision. But if you’re confused by photos or any other parts of the inspection report you receive, be sure to ask your inspector to clarify these. And if there are photos you’d like to see that have not been included, ask your inspector to include them in the future.


Inspectors are people, and people make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that procedures exist to insulate you from any problems resulting from an inspector’s mistakes. Most professional third-party inspection companies should be training their inspectors at least once every 6 months to prevent carelessness and improve the product inspection process.

By being aware of these mistakes commonly made by inspectors, you can be vigilant to find and report any mistakes you see. Check out the 4 roles of a QC team to learn about the different team members that work to make sure you’re getting accurate reports for every inspection. Be sure to check out the podcast episode that covers this article!

Stacy Bruce comes from Adelaide, Australia and joined the InTouch team after working and studying in Shanghai and Beijing. She loves to exercise, learn languages and write novels.

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