As I wrote recently, setting up quality assurance systems can be quite a challenge in China. And yet, some managers are open to this idea. The problem is, they are not sure it is worth putting in place. Let's explore the 5 unexpected benefits setting up quality systems offer to China manufacturers here...
One obvious benefit is to get higher scores in their customer’s audits and to get certified easily by a ‘serious’ ISO 9001 registrar (not those who are happy with a cursory look at documents). In other words, it helps with marketing & sales.
But that’s not what I am discussing here.
Setting up quality systems delivers 5 other benefits that most Chinese manufacturers don’t usually suspect and can answer many of the questions of how to ensure quality in China.
1. Ensuring quality in China from your suppliers
Among all the ‘root causes’ of quality issues, poor quality from suppliers comes back pretty often. And yet it is not really a ROOT cause.
Why are your suppliers delivering bad product to you? I guess a combination of these reasons is at play:
- You haven’t selected them based on an appropriate process
- You haven’t communicated your expectations to them properly
- You haven’t given them regular feedback on their performance
- You haven’t requested them to make lasting improvements
These are 4 holes in the quality systems (or lack thereof) of most Chinese factories. Address these issues as you build your quality system and your supplier base will get better.
2. Keeps costs low
The later you find an issue, the more money and time it takes to fix, as we explained a few months ago in an article published in the American Society for Quality’s magazine.
Here how it typically works out:
If you have the right control points at the right steps in your process, errors/defects will be noticed very early. And, if you apply a good problem solving approach, those errors/defects will be fixed for good.
If, however, you have no such system in place, you might produce a batch of 20,000 pieces that are mostly defective. What do you do at that stage? The situation is much, much more costly.
We often see workshops where 10-30% of the workforce is engaged in rework activities. It seems to be norm in several industries (apparel, furniture, some general consumer goods…) and, in the end, it has a strong impact on costs. When there is rework, there is also scrapped material and excessive processing…
3. Avoid "business killing risks"
Very serious quality issues have put many manufacturers out of business.
For example, they purchase expensive components and process them for a large order… and in the end the customer rejects the batch, which was so customized it can’t be sold in any other channel. I addressed this in section 2 – those errors/defects should be caught early by a good quality system.
Or some products fail spectacularly in the field, with dramatic consequences that trigger a recall and deep, deep legal trouble. Can a quality system help here?
Yes it can, provided it provides sufficient traceability. Ideally it allows the manufacturer to know what production batch the failing products were part of, on what machines they were processed, what component batch they come from, and so on. It means the investigation, the containment, and the recall can be much more targeted… and less costly.
This has been standard in automotive plants (where each part is traceable) for a long time. And these days, with cheap bar code, RF ID, and vision technology, traceability is not hard or expensive to put in place.
4. Improve processes
This is one Chinese managers never seem to think of. If each process gets near-real-time feedback on its performance, it can be adjusted.
I am not suggesting to tamper with each process as soon as 1 piece is found out of spec.
As Deming used to say, this comes from a poor understanding of statistical phenomena.
I am suggesting that process engineers can learn from experience what to avoid. They can form a theory of what works and what doesn’t. And it can drive them to set process controls.
If it seems that certain issues appear only on hot days and/or on very rainy (humid) days, it is obvious that temperature and humidity should be controlled:
- They should place gauges in the right places and set a standard.
- They should try to influence those factors, for example by closing doors, buying a dehumidifier, or relocating to a smaller room that can be air-conditioned on hot days.
- Ideally they could use statistical tools (record and interpret data) to make wiser decisions.
5. Rely less on a few key people
Most factory managers feel they have ‘single points of failure’ in the form of key people. If this ‘master’ quits, we no longer know how to set injection presses. If that technician goes, we no longer know when to replace the knives on the CNC machines. And so on.
Once you have set gauges and standards, your processes are under better control, and more technicians (or even operators) can be trained to operate them. Of course that’s what the current ‘experts’ fear – a system that can do without them. They usually resist, but wise managers know they should keep pushing.
What have you observed in the factories you worked at/with? Any other benefits of setting up quality systems? Any significant drawbacks? Do you have any specific tips on how to ensure quality in China?
Let us know in the comments below.