Why Importers need Quality Checklists
TL;DR – or why you should read this piece: A Quality Checklist is a detailed, yet concise, document that outlines a customer’s requirements for manufacturing and inspecting their product and its packaging. Checklists are one of the most important tool when it comes to ensure the quality of a product. It serves as instructional guides for any QC staff inspecting the goods before shipping. They also help buyers hold their suppliers accountable when any issues are found during inspection.
This week, we’ll continue our exploration of Quality control. After reading about the importance of quality control, we’ll deep dive into one of its main tools: quality checklists.
John Niggl is a client manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a Western-owned, independent QC firm headquartered in Shenzhen, China. InTouch helps importers improve their product quality and manufacturing experience. It offers product inspections, factory audits, lab testing and product sourcing in China, India, Vietnam and elsewhere throughout Asia.
Hi John, what do you do over at InTouch, as a client manager?
My role as a client manager is to be the main point of contact for the importers we work with. This often means communicating regularly with these clients to collect relevant product or supplier information needed to arrange services. And follow by communicating results.
We also play a key role in educating importers on common issues they may be facing with their suppliers and what they can do to resolve them. For example, many importers struggle to clearly convey their product expectations to their suppliers. Which often results in customer returns and other sunk costs, when they received shipments that don’t meet their standards.
By helping importers understand how to best clarify their expectations, client managers help importers avoid defective or substandard goods, and instead, receive the products they and their customers want.
What is a QC checklist?
A QC checklist, sometimes called an Inspection Criteria Sheet (ICS), is a detailed, yet concise, document that outlines a customer’s requirements for manufacturing and inspecting their product and its packaging. Importers and QC professionals often include tables, diagrams and other visual elements in their checklists. The goal is to make the document as clear as possible for suppliers and inspection personnel to follow.
The length of this document can vary based on the complexity of the product and the customer’s expectations. For instance, if you’re sourcing building materials, like granite tiles, your checklist might only have a few requirements for product weight, dimensions, sheen and packaging in their checklist. Whereas someone importing a more complicated product, like tablet PCs, might need a much longer checklist to cover all the product’s components and functions.
Quality checklist example – curtesy of John Niggl
Why is an effective checklist so important for buyers and suppliers in China/Asia?
Checklists serve as instructional guides for any QC staff inspecting the goods before shipping (related: How Product Inspectors Use Quality Control Checklists). They also help buyers hold their suppliers accountable when any issues are found during inspection that don’t conform to standards in the checklist.
What are important points to include in a checklist?
Most comprehensive QC checklists contain several main parts:
- Product specifications, such as color and appearance, dimensions, materials, and components used in construction
- Packaging requirements, including packing assortment, labeling and sealing method for retail packaging, and shipper cartons
- Any on-site testing required for the product and packaging, including procedures, any equipment needed and which party is expected to provide it
- Known quality defects for the product and how to classify them. (related: 3 Types of Quality Defects in Different Products)
The content of each section tends to vary widely, depending on the product type and the buyer’s quality standards. (related: 5 Essentials of a QC Checklist [eBook]). For example the carton drop test is a very common on-site test for most products shipped in shipper cartons.
Who should develop the checklist?
Because QC checklists are often referenced by the buyer, while it’s their supplier and QC staff inspecting the goods, the more collaboration there is between the three parties, the less chance there is for misunderstandings that result in problems.
Feedback from the supplier in developing the checklist helps the buyer understand what’s achievable. For example, if you’re importing garments from a factory in Vietnam, you may have an unreasonably narrow tolerance for dimensions or minor defects, such as untrimmed threads. (related: How to Classify Defects for Garment Inspection). By discussing these with your supplier when creating your checklist, he can manage your expectations. It can also help reach an agreement about what’s reasonable given their pricing and production schedule.
Similarly, input from QC professionals often helps buyers create a checklist with reasonable and practical tests, and inspection criteria for their product. For example, you may be a buyer that’s new to importing products in a particular niche, like stainless steel cookware. You’d probably be unfamiliar with the common types of quality checks and testing relevant to this product type. A QC professional can usually tell you what criteria to include in your checklist to objectively verify your requirements.
When should the checklist be used, and when should it be designed?
Many buyers mistakenly think checklists are only valuable at the time inspectors are checking the goods. But in fact, an effective QC checklist can start working to help you prevent problems well before mass production. There are several core stages in the importing process where a checklist can be valuable, including:
- During the sourcing process when buyers can share their checklist with potential suppliers to help these suppliers understand their expectations and whether they have the capabilities needed to meet them
- During the manufacturing process when suppliers can refer to the checklist for product specifications to guide them in production
- During the inspection process when QC staff follow the checklist for quality criteria to check
- After inspecting and receiving the goods when buyers can hold their suppliers accountable for failing to meet any of the requirements shown in their checklist
Buyers that develop their QC checklist as early as possible will get the greatest benefit from it.
What could be the consequences of a poorly designed checklist (or an absence of)?
A buyer that lacks providing any sort of checklist with their requirements assumes risk for all sorts of problems with their business. They may discover a quality problem close to the shipping deadline for example. In turns, that can result in delays as the order is held until factory staff can conduct needed rework or repairs. Less fortunate buyers may receive their finished goods only to discover a critical problem that renders the entire order unsellable. Approaching importing without any sort of checklist is reckless.
The consequences for poorly designed, outdated or otherwise inadequate checklists can be equally severe. A poorly designed checklist may be hard to follow. It raises the likelihood that vital requirements are overlooked during production or inspection. Likewise, an outdated checklist could be missing key criteria that a buyer expects their supplier or QC staff to follow. By providing supplier contacts and inspectors with a revised checklist each time, the buyer can be confident that everyone stays informed.
Why does the quality checklist particularly concern the buyers?
The quality checklist should be a major concern for buyers. Especially the majority that can’t be physically present at their supplier’s factory during manufacture. (related: Why Importers Need a Quality Control Checklist.) By outlining detailed and objective quality criteria for their product, their checklist is one of the only tools available to guide their supplier and inspectors in meeting their expectations.
Quality generally can’t be added to a product after the fact. So preventing problems early with an effective checklist is one of the best ways buyers can ensure their requirements are followed without actually being present at the factory.