Do you complain about your Chinese suppliers’ inconsistent quality? Are you wondering why they can’t keep making good products?
One big issue is the absence of process controls. Here are 4 reasons why they don’t do any serious work on their processes to keep quality consistent:
1. Lack of process thinking
Manufacturing managers in China generally don’t work on improving their processes. They put pressure on the operators (‘work more carefully’) and inspectors (‘catch all the issues’) but they don’t put the resources where they matter – in process engineering, maintenance, etc.
Why is this the case? In my opinion, there is a simple answer: they never saw the need for a process control system in the first place.
Here is the path most Chinese factories have followed:
- The boss funded the company. He hires a few ‘hands’ to do the job. Costs are kept low and customers don’t have high expectations.
- The business grows up. Some customers a ready to pay a bit more but expect consistent quality. The simple solution? Add inspectors at the end of the line.
- The business grows some more. Many customers expect consistent quality. More inspectors are added – to check components, to check finished products, and to produce records.
In this typical trajectory, do managers look at their processes and think ‘’wait, maybe we need to make changes here to get better quality”? Sometimes they do, but they are only obvious improvements – “after all, 55-year-old ladies are not a good fit for this precision assembly job."
2. Not knowing what they should pay attention to
What makes a process good at producing good products?
Let’s break it down:
- Feed it with the right inputs. It means work with reliable suppliers and, in doubt, check what they deliver to you. It also means keep components for as little time as possible in your warehouse, and in the right humidity & temperature conditions.
- Use the right equipment, and ensure it is properly maintained.
- Employ the right operators, and ensure they are properly trained.
- Prepare clear and appropriate work instructions for operators.
- Have local leaders follow the right indicators (they should know whether all is well or there is a problem) and keep the right level of discipline.
3. Lack of system thinking
This is a corollary to ‘lack of process thinking,’ but the idea is a bit different.
To get a great finished product, components usually have to go through several successive processes. For example:
Wood drying > Cutting > Drilling 1 > Drilling 2 > Assembly > Packing
If the drying, cutting, or drilling is done wrong, assembly will be difficult or impossible. The end product will be bad. Some rework will be necessary, or some material will have to be scrapped.
Instead, a savvy quality manager would identify the main risks along this chain of processes, rank them by order of priority, and then put together a plan to mitigate or prevent them. That’s the logic behind a FMEA (failure modes effects & analysis).
The FMEA is an excellent tool to build a process control system, but we NEVER see Chinese factories use it on their own initiative. Same thing with the process control plan – an excellent tool that is missing in 99.9% of Chinese factories.
4. No true management system
One last point, if you allow me to be sarcastic here. China counts the highest number of ISO 9001-registered companies.
A factory that truly follows ISO 9001 would be constantly working on their processes. Here are some aspects of processes that ISO 9001 mentions:
- Product and process design
- Inputs to processes
- Process activities
- Process outputs
- Measurement of process performance
- Feedback from inputs and outputs to improve process performance.
- Customer perceptions
- Continual improvement of process performance
Unfortunately, most Chinese companies need the ISO 9001 badge, but don’t do their work. And it is just too easy to get approved for registration without putting any quality systems in place.
Forget about process improvement plans. Chances are, they don’t even care about their processes.
What do you see on the ground in China? Have you found China-based suppliers that deliver good quality consistently? What do you feel that they have done that others haven’t?
Please let us know your thoughts and questions by commenting on this post.