By Renaud Anjoran
A conversation earlier today made me realize that some buyers who haven’t spent much time in Chinese factories have some common misconceptions.
For example, “Chinese production operators are forced to work 12 hours a day, in a case of modern slavery”, “all metal factories do all the steps from casting/forging to surface treatments and all the way to assembly and packing”, and so on.
Another misconception is that a good inspector will spend 8-10 hours working at the factory. This is what I want to debunk in this article.
Reality 1: the inspector doesn’t live next to the factory
No company in China has a network of inspectors within 30 min of every manufacturing facility. There are times when the factory closest to an inspector is still 2 hours away. A round trip takes 4 hours.
The high-speed rail (gaotie) network has made many trips shorter, but it doesn’t connect all cities. Taking inter-city buses is still common. And the mass of people there often causes congestion. Just getting to the high-speed rail station, dealing with traffic and crowds, sometimes takes longer than the actual trip. We can’t avoid this by parachuting onto the factory grounds.
And, if your factory is a bit inland and 3 hours away from the closest major city, the round-trip alone might take an entire day. Factory areas can have an even worse infrastructure (more people still on motorbikes, bike roads, and entrances not marked).
We invoice only 50% of a day spent only on traveling, but it ends up in the cost nonetheless. It is not a rare occurrence.
The inspector doesn’t just show up and inspect — there are other tasks in his/her workday
Before going in an inspection, he/she needs to study the client’s documents, in case it is a one-shot job. It is unnecessary for regular, high-volume clients because the staff gets specific training, but that’s not feasible for all clients.
When he shows up, he doesn’t walk in to the factory and directly opens cartons. After that, he doesn’t start rapidly checking in a whirl of professional silence. Like any professional in any country, there are necessary introduction steps.
People don’t think about the counting & sampling process, for example. Doing it right takes time. And doing it wrong means the report can’t be trusted…
And what consumes a lot of time is putting the findings together in a way that is easy to understand. It usually can’t be done at the factory, where sales reps of quality technicians might not let the inspector work in good conditions. In some cases, the tone of discussions is downright aggressive, and there is no way to collect one’s thoughts. So, that’s about 1 hour of focused work to do outside the factory.
There is no way to keep working straight through lunch
Foreign buyers think, ‘what is the problem? When I am at the factory, we can order food in and plough through in the conference room.’
This might be possible sometimes, but usually the factory reps want to have a break and they take their ‘guest’ outside for food.
If the factory personnel has a 90 min break (which is pretty much a minimum in China), they don’t want to be forced to ‘monitor’ an QC guy. They want their rest too! They aren’t going to allow the inspector to operate solo while the facility is officially closed.
Spending more 6 hours in a day, more than 4 days in a row, on visual inspection is quite tiring
I have done it. After a few days of continuous work, around 4pm, the eyes simply shut down. Defects are no longer obvious. That’s a very dangerous zone to be in. It is simply not possible to keep going and go a good job.
Overall, it means a good target is 5 productive hours in a day spent in a given factory. And, if the factory is hard to reach, that sometimes dwindles to 3-4 hours. The key is to take this into account at the time of quotation (and decision of the sampling), otherwise the job has to be rushed (and that might lead to non-detection of serious issues, which is much, much more expensive than paying for a 2nd man-day of QC work).
A good quality control partner knows what to look for. It’s not the “more hours spent, the merrier”. It’s all about using time effectively and knowing the key points to look for.
Note: if an inspector is stationed there for days at a time, it is different for several reasons. He might stay in a hotel just next to the factory. He might spend some of his day patrolling along the fabrication/assembly stations (less tiring on the eyes). He is already trained and knows what to focus on. That’s a different story.
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.