Renaud Anjoran is a leading quality assurance expert, based in Shenzhen. Renaud, a regular contributor to the ChinaImportal Knowledge Base, is the co-founder of two companies; Sofeast Ltd – a leading quality inspection agency, and China Manufacturing Consultants (CMC) – a company specialized in improving internal manufacturing and quality assurance procedures from top to bottom. In this article, he explains what you must know about Electronic product quality control when buying from China. Keep reading, and learn more about common quality issues, and how these can be prevented.
Based on your experience, what are the most common quality issues, that Buyers of Electronic products must be aware of?
There are a number of aspects that come to mind when it comes to quality issues with electronic products, maybe the most common being poor workmanship. The effect of poor workmanship could be a premature product failure, intermittent faults with the functionality of the product, decreased performance levels, and even making the product dangerous for users to use (with the potential of electrical shock).
There are different causes for poor workmanship, one of which could be a result of pressure to deliver the goods to a deadline set by the buyer. In that case, the factory would rush the order through consequently making mistakes during production.
Another common quality issue to look out for would be the use of substandard components, which is generally a result of the factory trying to reduce its costs in order to increase profits, all of which is carried out behind the buyer’s back.
Other elements to take into consideration would be:
- Poor or inadequate design
- Material quality issues, substandard quality, sub-contracted production, cheaper second-grade components
- Lack of manufacturing specification
- Poor product specification
- Lack of understanding of safety regulations
- Fake certification
- Lack of full functionality
What do you think are the main causes of these quality issues?
The main cause of quality issues is the fact that the buyer does not work with the manufacturer closely enough throughout the new product development process. If there is early engagement with suppliers, they are able to act as the buyer’s manufacturing expert. They would be able to provide input during the design and development stages, thus allowing a product that has been designed for manufacture right from the start, as opposed to designing a product in isolation from any suppliers and then expecting perfect products to be produced from day 1. In reality, this will not happen.
Another key success factor is generating a detailed product specification and technical design file for the supplier to work to. This should include product, component and material specifications, technical drawings and instructions, as well as all the test procedures required to test the product either during manufacture or as a final test before shipping.
What sort of tests and quality checks are essential in Electronics manufacturing?
There are a number of key tests that should be carried out on electronic products. They include functionality checks, reliability testing, safety tests and verification (certification may be required depending upon the product and the country that product will be sold in).
a. Functional checks: it is essential that the product manufactured meets the product specification in order to satisfy the customer’s expectations. The functional checks should be carried out against the product specification document.
b. Reliability testing: this is generally carried out on random samples taken from the production line and subjected to various tests. A common method of testing electronic products is HASS (Highly Accelerated Stress Screening). HASS is implemented at the production stage – production samples are subjected to stress testing beyond the product specification limits.
Early product failures on a new product are often attributed to variability within a manufacturing process. Therefore, identifying these potential production failure modes as early as possible is paramount to the success of a product launch and this is where HASS comes into play.
c. Safety Tests and Certification: different countries have different regulations that must be met in order to sell a product within that country. For most consumer electronic products there would be a minimum requirement from a safety testing point of view. A few examples of the other regulations you should consider are:UL Certification for the US market – Product Safety Testing.
- UL Certification for the US market – Product Safety Testing.
- FCC for the US market – All commercial electronic devices (unintentional radio-frequency radiators) are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This includes almost every product that contains a microprocessor.
- CE Mark for the European Union – The CE-marking is the manufacturer’s statement that his product complies with all relevant CE-marking directives. (And make sure not to put this mark on products to which it does not apply.)
- C-Tick for Australia – The Australian Communications Authority introduced an EMC protection framework requiring EMC compliance for electronic products.
If you are not sure what to do, ChinaImportal can help you identify which regulations you MUST comply.
Should Buyers draft Quality Inspection protocols on their own, or rely on their Inspection partner to do so for them?
It depends on the level of technical knowledge and experience the buyer has. If they have completed a number of product development projects in the past and have experience in drafting out their QC protocols then that would be fine. However, many buyers do not have that depth of knowledge.
In this case, it would be best to work in conjunction with their inspection partner in order to get the correct level of detail into a QC inspection plan. We touched on this in a previous article.
What sort of product information must the Buyer provide to the Inspection company?
I explain the basics below.
- Product functionality (I assume there is a user manual that can be used by the inspector on a few samples, but what are the few critical functions beyond on/off that need to be checked on many samples?)
- Safety issues – a quality assurance agency should know this, but you should already have researched it and communicated it to the supplier so you might as well let inspectors know about it.
- Product appearance (e.g. color, how the components need to fit together…)
- Labeling on the product and on its packing (including barcodes, shipping marks…)
- Unit packing (artwork if any, type of material…), inner packing, export packing.
What kind of equipment is needed to carry out the inspection?
I will have to go with the “it depends” answer here. A few basics such as a hi-pot tester (which allows checking if there is current leakage that might hurt the user somewhere on the product) are required in most inspections of electrical products. This type of equipment is usually provided by the factory since it is a bit heavy to carry around. It is shocking that many Chinese manufacturers don’t have the basic safety testing equipment in their premises, but this is the reality here… and it means the buyer needs to confirm what equipment they have in advance.
Let’s take another example. When checking a smartphone, obviously we need the right type of SIM card with a data plan and we are often unable to reproduce the final user’s environment in a Chinese factory. In some cases, the purchaser is better off getting a few samples picked from production during the inspection for performing his own tests.
Is a Pre-Shipment Inspection enough when importing Electronics, or should buyers also consider one or more inspections during production?
I will assume your tolerance to risk and your quality standard are about average compared to European and American importers. I will also assume you import electronics from a new supplier (with whom you have no prior business relationship). Then NO, it is not enough! Let me list a few other services that will get the risk down.
a. Technical process audit (before you issue the order): identifies risks in process controls and quality systems. Suitable for relatively large and professional buyers.
b. Technical quality audit (before you issue the order): identifies risks in quality systems. Suitable for average orders (above 10,000 USD) and most buyers.
c. Inspection before production starts – to check the components before they are embedded in the product. Suitable if there is a substantial risk of cheating on the part of the supplier, or if there is no visibility on who the sub-suppliers are.
d. Inspection during production – before the whole order is finished, try to find issues before it is too late. The problem with a final (pre-production) inspection is that any serious issue means the whole batch needs to be sorted, reworked, and repacked… and this is costly to both sides (in money and in time).
How can Sofeast help importers prevent quality issues when buying Electronics from China?
Since we try to fit the buyer’s needs when it comes to quality assurance, we provide all the services I listed above. With the exception of the technical process audits of EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Services) suppliers, this offer is quite common across all inspection agencies.