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Quality control vs. process improvement

By Renaud Anjoran in 'Quality Inspection Blog'

Quality control is basically the activity of checking results. Independent QC inspectors check if finished products are conform to a set of specifications, and usually do not have the know-how to check the production processes themselves.

There is a widespread view, especially in academic circles, that quality control does not add any value. Finished products are the result of a process, so all the attention should be focused on improving the processes themselves.

One of the key principles of Deming was "Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place."

Actually I totally agree with that view. Focusing on process improvement is much more effective than sending quality inspectors. However, it is not practical for importers sourcing products in China or other low-cost countries. I would even say that it is downright impossible in most cases.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Importers source products, that's it. They do not own the factories, and they can seldom force them to implement changes in their organization.
  • The vast majority of Chinese factory owners are very reluctant to conduct experiments that might disrupt their operations. They are focused on decreasing their cost, getting more customers, and increasing their prices. Not on improving their operations.

When I go to factories, I constantly tell the managers that they would reduce their non-quality costs dramatically if they processed smaller batches (or, at least, if they produced a first pilot run) and if they controlled the materials more seriously. They NEVER do it.

So good luck with changing the organization of the flow in the workshops. Really.

And please don't suspect third-party inspection companies of pushing purchasers in the wrong direction. Yes, working on processes might reduce the need for quality control. But no, there is usually no better way to secure quality.

Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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