Do your suppliers cause endless trouble in your organization? Suppliers are obviously a major source of quality issues. What people don’t always appreciate is the degree of interference a factory can introduce in qc inspections. Let's look more closely at their impact and how supplier KPIs can help here...
Yes, the suppliers themselves are a reason why some inspections don’t detect and flag serious problems. “Factory cooperation” could be one more supplier KPI, alongside other KPIs such as:
- Pass rate
- On-time delivery
- General service attitude
That’s why “Supplier/factory issues” represents an entire branch in this diagram:
I will focus on the “supplier/factory issues” in this article. It takes mostly 3 forms.
1. Factory is not cooperative
A properly conducted inspection depends on the factory’s cooperation. Yet this is not always a given.
I listed 4 examples below of this below:
A) Factory wastes the inspector’s time
They agree to have a car at the bus station at 9:00am but they only arrive at 9:40am. They have multiple excuses. They have to pick up a few accessories “on the way” and it wastes another 25 minutes.
They know inspectors don’t like to finish late (or, in some cases, absolutely have to catch the last bus at 5:00pm). These little games mean quality will be checked in less depth.
B) Workers are not available for picking cartons at the bottom of the pile
In many product categories, products are packed in cartons and stacked up. Ideally the inspector should pick samples from the top, middle, and bottom of the piles. But will that happen if nobody is helping?
C) Some extremely important testing instruments are not available
All the technical files mention that a certain test or measurement is very important, and on D-day the testing instrument is not present.
“It is under repair” or “we are not sure where it is” or “we lent it to a partner factory”… In many cases the customer will let the goods ship out anyway and the supplier expects just that.
D) Production is late and the resulting tight schedule means there is no time for a proper inspection
This is another stratagem that aims at compressing the time dedicated to inspections, with the hope that fewer issues will be detected. The supplier hopes the customer doesn't delay the shipment.
The same issue is at play when there are re-inspections and re-re-inspections – many factories do a pseudo-rework job, invite QC people back, the results are the same, and the buyer has to decide whether to ship now or later (with probably the same quality issues). In most cases that I have seen, the supplier wins at this game, in the short term anyway.
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2. Factory is tempted to bribe their customers’ inspectors
I remember a few inspections that were done in a large meeting room, which contained… a safe full of RMB! It was easy to imagine the laoban (factory owner) getting 2,000 RMB and putting them on the table…
In a situation that was related to me, the factory people kept insisting to give money, and even threw an envelope to the inspector through the car window as he was driving away. Isn’t that weird?
But the most common approach is the “what can we do to get a passed result?” question. Some suppliers will even dare to ask foreigners. I remember a jeans factory in Guangzhou where they wanted to go out and “have fun” with me at night. The danger is obviously higher with male employees who have to stay in a hotel not far from the factory.
Let’s try to be positive… This is better than a factory boss who gets upset and says “you’d better not stay in this town tonight, or something bad might happen to you”. This happens too!
3. Bad products are ‘salted’ in the batch between inspection and shipment
Let’s say the manufacturer notices and sorts out some bad products before the inspection. Then they are given the green light to ship. The temptation is high, very high, to ‘salt’ some of those bad products into the batch and to keep the good products (either for the next shipment, or for sale on taobao.com).
As long as the proportion of defective pieces doesn’t exceed 10%, the inspector will probably receive a complaint and the story will end there. It is a low-risk game for the supplier.
Have you, or your quality inspectors, run into some of these issues? If you have been working with Chinese suppliers, I bet there is nothing new for you in what I wrote. Have you found ways to mitigate these issues with your quality inspections? How?
Please let us know your experiences or thoughts by leaving a comment below.