When you work with overseas factories to manufacture your products, maintaining a quality control program can be extremely challenging. Wouldn’t it be great if you could peek into every foreign factory and watch every production line?
That’s not possible—but there are ways to improve quality control.
The main challenges that make overseas quality control so difficult are culture, communication and process.
These challenges exist because overseas factories often:
- Exhibit behaviors U.S. businesses aren’t accustomed to
- Exhibit conflicts of interest (lack or refuse 3rd party inspectors)
- Lack quality standard operating procedures
- Lack professionally trained management
- Lack visibility into their raw material supply chain
- Lack a compliance plan
- Notify U.S. customers of problems too late or not at all
That’s quite a list. Just one of these challenges can throw off your supply chain and prevent you from keeping your valuable partners and end users happy. But each of these issues can be overcome with careful planning and diligent oversight.
1) Have a Formal Quality Control Program
It all starts with having a solid quality control program in place. Develop a set of standards to share with everyone from your domestic engineers to your overseas production managers. A good quality control program at minimum addresses all of the following factors:
- Specs and standards. It should lay out all of the specifications involved.
- Consistency. It must result in the same high-quality products, again and again.
- Customer requirements. It should set limits on what’s acceptable from your clients.
- Inspection guidelines. How often do you expect inspection to take place? Specify this.
- Sign-offs. Include who, precisely, must sign off on each item in the plan.
Not only is it important to develop standards for these aspects of the production process, but it’s vital to write it all down. Gather everything into a written document. Your quality planning document serves as a central source of information about your production process, limiting miscommunication and finger-pointing.
2) Leverage Third-Party Quality Assurance
Third-party reviews can also be a powerful part of your quality assurance plan. It’s a huge advantage to have your process observed by someone who isn’t directly affiliated with the overseas manufacturer. Altraco has established a powerful strategic partnership with a third-party QA group for this very reason.
A third-party company serves as your eyes and ears from thousands of miles away. They can alert you to manufacturing slowdowns, catch product defects, and generally operate in a proactive way to halt issues before they become emergencies.
They can also help you demonstrate compliance with international standards, while improving your credibility and reputation. You’ll know for sure that you’re meeting safety and human rights regulations.
Hire a reputable, certified third-party inspector that comes with recommendations from domestic companies. Request that they document everything and remain constantly connected with them to stay on top of your quality control.
3) Test at Multiple Points in the Process
Here’s a strategy that many companies overlook when manufacturing overseas: Multiple-point testing. Don’t just rely on a single, final inspection to satisfy you.
Test at multiple points in the production process.
This prevents your company from receiving damaged and defective items, because problems are caught much earlier in the process than the delivery point.
In addition to having these tests done, set acceptable levels of variation from standards and have your third-party inspector report on whether any deviation is happening. Frequent reporting is very important.
Careful measurement is also crucial. Keep metrics, examine them along the production process, and work to improve them over time. As the Harvard Business Review concluded after studying the world’s best and worst overseas production practices, “What a firm doesn’t measure, it can’t offshore well.”
4) Close the Culture Gap
But having a quality control program isn’t enough if you don’t invest in the closing the culture gap. When you enter a new factory relationship, have curiosity about the culture, both regional and locally. Get to know factory owners before an official meeting and understand their expectations. Use references to do more than determine factory qualifications but also to learn how factory owners communicate, what they care about, and how to best invest in the relationship.
The result of this curiosity is a deep relationship that helps you overcome challenges. As you work hard for the relationship, your factory partners are willing to work hard on your behalf. When you know their communication style, you can tailor your communication to match their preferences.
Show your interest in them and their business—in a way that makes sense in their culture—and you will see the results in the quality of your products and a long-term partnership.
A Quality Control Program Starts with Intentionality
Keeping a tight grip on overseas quality control boils down to great planning and communication. When you have a written plan, third-party inspection, and ongoing multiple-point inspections, everything is in place for proper quality control.
To meet the challenges of overseas manufacturing, connect with a partner who can help you manage your global supply chain. Learn how Altraco can help by contacting us for more information.
Al is an entrepreneur, founder, and owner of multiple businesses, including Altraco, an outsourcing and contract manufacturing company. Working across multiple continents and trusted by Fortune 500 companies, Al finds innovative solutions to traditional supply chain challenges. He is a member of Vistage Worldwide.