Will in-house quality control, or a third-party quality control provider, best help me achieve my quality goals? Which approach makes the most sense from a budget perspective? Can I affectively do both? How can I trust someone to know my product as well as I do? How can I control ethics and bribery?
The answer to these questions are clearly different for different organizations, and situations. This article will merely provide you with some considerations – advantages and disadvantages – that may help you in your decisioning process.
I ran a sourcing business for nearly 10 years. In that time, I dealt with a myriad of quality and vendor issues. Some of these included: wrong product colors, wrong sizing, tools that bent or broke easily, substandard shoe leather, flimsy packaging, poorly loaded containers, horrendous factory conditions, and child labor.
These are only a few of the many quality related problems I faced. In a few cases, just in time delivery of containers full of defective products had a significant negative impact on my business. I learned that a solid QC plan was necessary to keep my customers happy and business profitable.
In fact, I found a mix of in-house quality control and third-party inspections to be right in my case. My situation was different from many, in that my in-house inspectors wore many hats, not just as quality control inspectors. So, justifying the cost was easy for me.
I Know My Product Better Than Anyone!
You should! But, do you know all relevant import regulations? How about testing requirements, recall issues, and AQL inspection standards? Do you know all the tricks suppliers play to offer the best price against an awesome sample, while delivering a substandard product? Do you know how to best avoid production delays? Can you match the quality technical and industry knowledge of third-party quality control providers? Can you really trust test results from your supplier?
In many cases, the answer will be NO! Your business is to develop, manufacture and sell products. Sometimes it is best to leave quality control to the experts.
Consider the facts. Where pure cost is an issue, a third- party quality control provider is almost always the best option. Why? For example, it is seldom cheaper for someone to travel to Asia to do inspections than using a third-party inspection company.
If your company is large enough to staff in-house quality control in Asia, it can be workable, but the commitment and cost is still significant. Even in this case, there are times when it will be more cost effective, or technically wise, to bring in a third-party quality control provider.
Do you work with a single supplier or a few in the same city? Is your production infrequent? Doing your inspections with in-house staff might make sense. For many, however, production frequency and volume changes with the seasons and product types. Factories are in disparate locations. You might have a limited ability to scale staff to those needs. A third-party inspection provider gives you flexibility in achieving staffing, seasonable, and multi-location requirements.
Some assume this risk increases with third-party quality control providers. However, the risk of corruption must be factored into your in-house quality control model as well. In-house quality control departments are constantly dealing with this issue, because it often comes down to the local inspector, regardless of who they are working for. The key is a practical antibribery policy and how the policy is carried out.
Of course, you can do this yourself. But the advantage of an accredited third-party quality control provider is unmistakable. A reputable provider will not only have an ethics policy and anti-bribery program in place, they can prove the results with data. It is simple for any company to say, “yes we have an anti-bribery policy”, or “all our inspectors are ethical”. This makes it vital to request documentation that proves how the program works.
Since nobody knows your product as well you, you may have a case for training in-house quality control inspectors. But, if you import wide range of products, a third-party inspection can provide expertise, and industry insight, you may not have. We are up-to-date with the latest trends, technology, and regulations. We also have deep experience and technical insight for a wide range of products. In addition, a good QC company will also be happy to accept whatever product training you want to provide.
Conclusions: Third-Party vs. In-House Quality Control
I have learned the hard way – a good quality control plan must be in place. In many cases I found the third-party inspections to be much quicker, more flexible and cost effective. Third-party quality control providers were more skilled at technical and social audits, which helped build value in my sales to retailers. They also helped me keep my in-house QC staff honest by means of unannounced inspector audits.
A third-party quality control company also did all my testing. I learned to never to blindly trust self-testing by a supplier, or from their chosen labs. They tend to use their own equipment with dubious calibration record, or local testing labs that are not certified. So, the results were always suspect. If you do trust them, double check with a certified testing company from time to time. The supplier is usually not the one hurt by a recall or lawsuit, you are.
Even if you have the resources for in-house quality control in Asia, there will be times when third-party inspection services make total sense. Whether it be quality control inspections, factory audits, social compliance, supplier evaluations, consumer goods testing, or other quality assurance requirements, there will be a circumstance where third-party services can be a huge help.
Whatever you decide, remember, it’s your money and brand on the line.
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