Quality Control Notes

Quality Control notes, aka ‘QC notes’, are a way for you, the buyer, to define what you would like a quality control inspector to be aware of and inspect during a quality inspection. QC notes usually consist of a list of requirements with explanations next to each section, defining what would be considered a defect or a potential issue you would not accept.

How to Accurately Define Defects

During an inspection, inspectors are not trained to sort the ideal into one pile and the bad into another pile. Instead, they sort the bad into three different criteria. These criteria are known as the defect categories. Defect categories act as a way for you and the inspector to define error tolerances. A dirty mark on a product might be considered low significance, or a ‘minor defect,’ where an unusable, broken product would be regarded as a ‘major defect’.
If one dirty mark on a product is found, it is most likely not the conclusion of a failed inspection. If the dirty mark or scuff is located at the base, or somewhere not entirely noticeable, it might make sense to let it pass. But if every product checked is showing the same defect, then the issue might be greater, resulting in the inspections failure.
Since there are such a wide variety of variables and all circumstances differ based on the product and the buyer, it becomes vital that you correctly identify what you believe would be considered ‘okay’ and ‘not okay.’
First, let’s understand the three types of defect categories.The table below is what is used to define each category.

Minor   May not be a problem for most users. The product most likely won’t be returned.

Major   Not acceptable for most users in most circumstances. The end user may likely return the product.
Critical Could injure the user or even cause death in some instances.

Begin By Identifying Potential Defects

There are thousands of possible defects, making it almost impossible to define each one, however, there are methods of understanding potential errors. The best place to understand common mistakes are to read bad product reviews of similar products. Bad reviews often occur due to the product being defective, and if you can determine the defect of the product, you can assume that it could be a common issue that the inspector should investigate.
The additional method of identifying potential defects is to review your samples that you have received from various suppliers. Were some samples better quality than the others, did some have defects? If so, you’ll want to list them. After doing that, begin reviewing your specifications and identify instances that you believe could be difficult for the factory to produce accurately. Below are some examples:
  • Logos printed incorrectly or not in the right location
  • Sewn seams misaligned or not stitched properly
  • Product color shade is not accurate
  • Product shape warping
  • Flash from injection molding not properly removed

Organize Potential Outcomes into Categories

During an inspection, an inspector will focus their time inspecting products on their unique categories. By understanding the common categories an inspector will use, you should begin to have an easier time organizing the potential defects you’ve already come up with, as well as adding some new potential defects.
Below are the six categories your inspector will use:

1. Material & Components

  • a. Can the supplier provide any material certificate to ensure the raw material is according to your requirements?
    • i. Ex: Stainless steel vs. Aluminum
    • ii. Ex: Textiles may need a certain ratio of material; Polyester to Cotton

2. Assembly and Workmanship

  • a. Include if your product needs to be assembled a particular way.
    • i. Ex: Pockets assembled upside down; crooked stitching for textiles; components need to face a certain way.

3. Colors and finishing

  • a. Include Pantone color number.
  • b. Saying a color needs to be “Fire Truck Red” may not be enough, considering Fire Trucks in China are not all the same color. Instead, provide a color swatch for testing.

4. Weight and Dimensions

  • a. Not every product is identical. Define dimensions along with tolerance levels.
    • i. This is especially important for garment manufacturers, which require an extra level of precision.

5. Labeling, logo, tags, stickers

  • a. Provide any labeling, logo, tags, and stickers on your product so that they can be checked against specifications.
  • b. Location of the labels should be specified. Ideally thru photographs.

6. Packaging: retail packing, cartons, shipping marks

  • a. Many importers disregard packaging, but how could they? Packaging protects goods during shipment and influence consumer perception of the goods.
  • b. Don’t neglect packaging and labels. Be careful when planning to ship to distributors. Some impose labeling requirements.
  • c. Amazon FBA centers are very particular with the packaging. Buyers who are shipping to Amazon are expected to be familiar with the most updated requirements from Amazon.

7. Product Testing

  • a. This is the most neglected category. Many buyers assume inspectors carry equipment to carry these tests, which is rarely the case.
  • b. It is the buyer’s responsibility to identify and ask the factory what tests will be conducted during inspection
  • c. On-site tests are conducted on only a few samples. If the tests present the risk to damage the product, only a few are tested (example: a product drop test on three samples). If at least one sample breaks or stops functioning, the test is considered failed. However, it’s up to the buyer to decide whether it is a serious issue.
Depending on your product, you should be able to come up with some unique requirements for each section.

Explain Each Requirement Clearly

The reason QC notes need to be created before finalizing anything with your supplier is that your supplier needs to understand and agree to your conditions. If these notes were created after the fact, they wouldn’t do much good since your factory most certainly is not a mind-reader.
After you’ve explained these requirements, make sure your Project Manager understands them too so they can be confident they are explained properly to the factory.
A good way to determine if your explanations are clear is to count the number of adjectives you use. You want to avoid using the descriptive terms and focus on methods that are measurable. Instead of saying your product must be good quality, define what materials make it good quality. – This is the only way your inspector will be able to accurately grade your product and provide you with analytical feedback determining if your supplier followed your guidelines.

The Inspector’s Dilemma

Every inspector loves detailed QC notes, but at the same time, the more detailed your notes are, the more time they will spend looking for every minor feature you’ve identified in your report, which is time-consuming.

As you create your notes, keep in mind, the more notes you include, the fewer the number units will be inspected. But also, the fewer your notes, the less the inspector will be able to grade according to your goals.

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