By Renaud Anjoran
I see a very common frustration among importers who work with Chinese suppliers. They pay for a quality inspection, some issues are found, some re-work is done… And the same issues are found on the following batch.
The question is, why isn’t quality getting better??
There are mainly two reasons for this.
1. Lack of motivation at the factory
Without a short-term cost incentive, 99% of Chinese factories do nothing.
If they suffer no financial impact when they send you substandard quality, why do differently next time?
This can be extremely frustrating for Western importers. And for good reason.
There are various options to get the supplier to have some “skin in the game”:
- Every time an inspection finds serious quality issues, a re-inspection is booked and its cost is deducted from the payment to the supplier. (This is very standard in a QC plan).
- Charge the supplier for the full costs created by their poor product quality. If they sell components that are used on a production line and 1 quality issue can cause the whole line to be stopped, those costs can run pretty high. Obviously you need an enforceable contract with the supplier.
2. Poor supplier selection
Before working with that supplier, few buyers do real, in-depth due diligence.
If you work with the wrong people, you can’t expect great results.
3. Unstructured feedback about performance
If your quality manager just sends a couple of angry emails at the supplier, will it have a strong effect? Probably not.
If your purchasers keep pushing for lower prices, your logistics specialist keeps asking for on-time deliver, your quality people keep banking the supplier’s head for all sorts of issues, and your designers still award them business without asking any specific question, what happens? The supplier will be confused, and will end up listening to some people and not others.
The solution is to put in place a supplier evaluation system and to communicate structured feedback. Based on the supplier’s objective evaluation, they can be awarded more business, asked to make measurable improvements in the next 3 months, or simply cut off.
4. Lack of competency at the factory
Setting up a process improvement plan is not something most Chinese manufacturers know how to do. They probably never undertook a serious effort at fixing an issue at the root.
This is the case of 98% of Chinese companies. If you really need them to improve, you need to send them some help, or request that they get assistance from a consultancy. If they say they can do it on their own, ask them to show you their analysis and their plan (and 95% of the time you will likely receive nothing).
5. Can you help on your side?
Design and engineering of the product can make production very easy or very hard. Is there something you can do (design for manufacturing)?
Or maybe you can help them by custom-developing inspection/testing devices. For example, if the most common issues are aesthetic or dimensional, vision systems can be configured and can take care of an unlimited number of SKUs.
My point is, it’s not all the supplier’s fault. Buyers can also help a lot. And, in case a factory is really not willing to do anything, it was probably a wrong choice of supplier in the first time…
Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on qualityinspection.org.