Pay Close Attention to Materials

22 Nov

When doing business in China quality slippage in regards to materials is very common. No matter what particular materials are involved in your product your supplier will try to save money in order to make a profit on your product.  Now you may look at this as a form of unethical behavior especially if your BOM and specifications spell out what materials and the amount/percentage or other requirements for those materials that are to be used.  From a Chinese perspective it’s just smart business. 
When doing business in China quality slippage in regards to materials is very common. I once had a conversation with the owner of the company I worked for many years ago in the US who explained that, what might get you sent to hell in your personal life, in the business world was just “business” and thus okay.  For certain it’s totally acceptable socially in China to conduct business this way. If you took a survey of average citizens in China they would use words like wise, crafty and industrious to describe this phenomenon.
I’m sure you know the different ways material shortcuts can happen in your particular product category.  It might be a good idea to get together with your team and make a list just so everyone is aware what to look out for.  From a sales standpoint we had such a ready list of things, if not on paper certainly in our heads, to justify why our price was a little higher than the competition.  We only used this or that particular material which enhanced this or that in the final product.

Point is you’ve been warned, pay attention.  One example is wall thickness.  Molds get adjusted and three orders into your relationship with the supplier you notice your bottles or whatever are getting thinner.  What was virgin PET is now starting to gain that cloudiness from recycled materials being mixed in.  Packaging is starting to warp or not be as white.  Corrugated is not as strong and on and on and on. I once visited a factory making sandwich containers for a well known western fast food restaurant.  We were escorted through air locks and put on hats and booties in order to view the machines.  They must have been a little behind schedule that day because in another part of the plant with no such controls the boxes were being die-cut and glued as well.
Never assume anything is correct, trust but verify.  I had a boss once who pointed out that when a worker brought something for him to approve that he knew damn well there was something wrong with it and it was his job to find it.   Probably a good way to look at QC processes that you put in place for your Chinese suppliers.  Just because order 1 and 2 checked out doesn’t mean that order 3 will be okay at all.  Quality slip is a well know issue in China.
My particular competency is printing and packaging.  Getting my suppliers to use good paper is a constant battle.  Ink and coatings are also an area where printers will cut corners.  A 3 Kilo batch of ink seems expensive but the cost impact it has on a box or printed POS per item is very small and the result gotten by using the better inks, coatings and substrates says “Quality” to the Consumer and that’s what you should be focused on.

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