Chapter 14 – Choosing an Inspection Company

When verifying the quality of goods imported from China you have three choices to consider.

  1. Let the manufacturer perform a self inspection
  2. Have someone from your company perform the inspection
  3. Appoint a third party inspection agency to perform the inspection for you
Selection Considerations

If you really want to be on the safe side, I would not suggest letting any manufacturer check their own quality. It is much too risky and you will only find out after the goods have arrived at your warehouse that something is wrong and by then it is too late.

Having someone from your company conduct the inspection is actually not a bad idea but prohibitively expensive if that person has to travel to China solely for that reason. What remains, is seeking out an experienced international inspection company with several local offices in China. Key office locations are Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Ningbo, Xiamen, etc.

Why is that important? If an inspection company only has one office in Hong Kong (southern China) but frequently needs to inspect goods for your company in Northern China, you will be charged for their travel expenses including the cost for the accommodation. Over time, the costs add up and it really makes no sense to work with such a company. The better option is relying on inspection agencies with offices throughout China. The travel charges are much lower because the inspectors only have to travel from their nearest office to the factory. Besides, they are usually familiar with the area and may even speak the local dialect, which makes communication with the factory staff easier.

It is also obvious that they can visit your factory much faster because they are in the vicinity. This becomes important when an inspection has previously failed and the re-inspection needs to be conducted only a few days later. Usually the factory has to pay the re-inspection charges after failing an original inspection due to it being the factory’s fault. If the re-inspection charges are too high because of extraordinary travel expenses from your inspection agency’s head office, you are in for lengthy negotiations with the factory. They will argue and try to avoid the payment. In other words, the practical decision is appointing an inspection agency that already has offices near major production centers.

Inspection Frequency

Depending on the size and importance of the order, you may want to consider more than a single inspection after production is complete. There are three primary inspection methods you can choose from.

Initial Production Inspection (IPI)

This inspection takes place when approximately 10-20% of the total order quantity is produced. It normally covers the following criteria:

  • Verification of the production schedule
  • Check of raw materials
  • Partially completed goods
  • Finished products and the packaging
  • Inspection for appearance, workmanship, color, measurements, quantity, packaging/packing details, compliance with directives etc.

This inspection method is used mostly when the order volume is very large and production needs to be closely monitored from the very beginning to assure the delivery deadline will be met.

The benefits of an Initial Production Inspection are that the status of the production can be verified at every stage. If problems are found early, there is still time to take corrective action and prevent the early problems from affecting the entire order. Since production is already in progress, you will have a clear picture of the factory’s performance at that time.

During Production Inspection (DPI)

This inspection takes place when approximately 40-60% of the total order quantity is produced. It should cover the following criteria:

  • Production status monitoring
  • Raw materials or key component validation
  • Quantity and performance checks on completed products
  • On-site tests
  • Finished products and their packaging
  • Inspection for appearance, workmanship, color, measurements, quantity, etc.
  • Verification of packaging material and details

The benefits of a During Production Inspection are that the status of the production can again be verified at this stage. By performing this inspection you can verify that corrections have been implemented since the Initial Production Inspection. Additionally, you will still have a chance to apply other corrective actions before the final inspection.

Final Random Inspection (FRI)

This is actually the most important of the three inspection categories. It is commonly used to safeguard the shipment when a consignment is 100% manufactured and at least 80% packed.

International sampling plans ANSI/ASQ Z1.4, ISO 1259, BS6001, GB 2828, or any client specific method will be used and a representative number of shipment samples will be randomly drawn for the visual evaluation.

It will at least cover the following criteria:

  • Total quantity of finished product
  • Cosmetic and workmanship check
  • Measurement and on-site testing
  • Performance check of completed products
  •   Inspection for appearance, workmanship, color, measurements,      quantity, etc.
  •   Verification of packaging material, labeling, barcodes, shipping marks, etc.

The benefits of a Final Random Inspection are that usually the most serious defects or deviations from specifications will be detected and the shipment can be stopped at this stage. However since this inspection is already close to the actual shipment date, there is a risk that the scheduled shipment date cannot be met. This could cause serious problems if the requested re-work is impossible or takes considerable time. In other words, a Final Random Inspection alone prior to releasing a shipment may not prevent or uncover risks that might appear at earlier stages of the production process.

It is therefore highly recommended that higher risk products be subject to greater QA intervention, such as a product design review, supplier evaluation, prototype testing, and the execution of the Final Random Inspection, in combination with the Initial Production Inspection and the During Production Inspection.

What the Inspection Agency Needs to Know

You now know the main inspection categories for verifying acceptable quality. But how is it done?

Purposely I have placed the chapter Choosing an Inspection Company after the sample evaluation chapter. Because without having received proper samples, which comply with your given specifications, you are not really on the safe side and should be very reluctant to make any further commitments.

However, I assume that you and/or your staff did a very good job by giving full information to your factory and that the factory also closely followed your requirements. Therefore, it is the right time to provide at least one sample together with all your specifications and requirements to the inspection company of your choice.

I will suggest some of the international inspection companies I have worked with for a long time at the end of this chapter. You can visit their websites, contact them and find out which is the most suitable for your needs.

Since this inspection company will act on your behalf as your savior in case of a non-compliant production, it is very obvious that you must feed them all the information you have to let them do their job. This is even more important when your product is complex like home appliances and consumer electronic products.

Please consider that they can only follow the general inspection procedures and your specific requirements. If you do not inform the inspection agent about certain details, they will not take the necessary action and can’t be held responsible.

Here are the links to the major International Inspection Companies:

Asia Pacific Inspection Hong Kong
Bureau Veritas Hong Kong
HKIC Hong Kong
Intertek Hong Kong
PRO QC Hong Kong
SGS Hong Kong
TUV Rheinland Group China

Most of them have offices in other Chinese or Asian cities and will provide an excellent service to you.

Since the inspection results will be an important factor in defining the quality level of your products, you must instruct your inspection company about your requested AQL (Acceptable Quality Level) in advance. What is an Acceptable Quality Level?

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