How To Control Production Quality When Manufacturing Abroad

The way to control production quality when manufacturing abroad is much the same as the way to control production quality when manufacturing domestically.  What makes it more challenging is the physical distances involved, which makes it harder to keep communication channels open and even harder to make personal visits to manufacturing sites.  With this in mind, here are three points to keep in mind when implementing quality control with an overseas manufacturer.

Undertake due diligence on your supplier before you sign a contract with them

There are professional supplier auditing companies, which can carry out an audit of your proposed supplier and give a professional opinion of them and these can be very valuable investments, however they generally only tell part of the story.  Basically these audits generally aim to answer one simple question - are there effective quality controls in place?  What they will not necessarily tell you is what will happen if these controls fail.  You need to find that out because, realistically, even the absolutely best processes and controls can fail occasionally and good manufacturers will recognize this and have systems in place to deal with it.  They ought to be perfectly happy to discuss these systems with you.  If they are not, then this should be considered a serious red flag.

Discuss the manufacturing process and actively look for potential points of failure

Your product specification is essentially a set of details about what constitutes a perfect product.  Conduct a thought experiment on the manufacturing process, ideally with your proposed manufacturer and come up with as many possibilities for failure as you can.  Then see what can be done to eliminate or at least reduce these.  This is the perfect time to agree acceptable defect rates with the manufacturer and what processes will be used to monitor these.

Establish a process for testing and inspecting regularly

This is probably the single, biggest bridge to cross when dealing with overseas manufacturers.  You must incorporate regular tests and inspections into any manufacturing plan.  There are two main reasons for this.  The most obvious is that you want to catch any faults, especially serious ones, sooner rather than later.  In very simple terms, the more defective products are produced, the more of a challenge it will be to resolve the issue and in a worst-case scenario, you could find yourself looking at a product recall, which could be both embarrassing and expensive.

The second reason may be less obvious, but it is arguably equally important and that is that you want to be sure that you and your manufacturer commit to continuous improvement and that includes being prepared to improve your quality control process.  If you think about it, historically-speaking, it was only a short time ago that quality control basically meant relying on human inspection, possibly with the help of measuring instruments.  Nowadays, many quality controls can be automated or undertaken by humans with the help of much more sophisticated tools.  Nobody knows where the future will lead, but you do need to stay on top of relevant developments and be prepared to incorporate them into your quality controls where appropriate.