How to Do Quality Control before Shipping a Product
Firms that are engaged in wholesale and retail business have a system in place governing their core processes. These are the sales transactions, warehousing and storage and, to get their offerings to the customers or end-users, they have a system on distribution.
But logistics management is not focused only on getting the products out of the warehouse and shipping them to the buying customers.
There is one aspect that deserves as much attention as – maybe even more than – transportation, shipping and handling, and that is quality control.
In this article, I explore 1) quality control, 2) common types of quality checks, 3) what to check before shipping, 4) who will perform quality control, 5) quality control procedures, and 6) quality control tools.
Quality control is defined as that facet of logistics management which pertains to sets of activities and techniques that are intended to assess the quality of products at various stages of the production process, all the way to the point right before distribution.
The quality assessment will be based on predetermined requirements or standards previously set by the company. In the context of performing quality control before shipping, any product or unit of product that does not meet the minimum standards will have to be reworked, disposed, or dealt with accordingly by the company, instead of being shipped to the end user.
Unfortunately, for many businesses, quality control is often overlooked, resulting to returns, damaged products, losses, and customer dissatisfaction. In the long run, all these bode ill for the business as a whole. Another sad reality is that businesses intentionally omit performing quality control or, even when they do, they do it haphazardly, in favor of speedy shipment.
Quality control is performed at various stages. The more commonly performed checks include the following:
- Inspection upon receipt of raw materials and parts that will be placed into production, or of finished goods that will be for resale.
- Inspection prior to production. Normally, one unit or piece will be produced and, if it passes inspection, production run will proceed.
- Inspection in-process. The inspections will be made at intervals during the production process.
- Inspection after production. For many, this is considered as the final inspection and testing stage. A sample or 100% of the finished products will be inspected and tested.
- Inspection prior to shipping. The orders placed by a customer will be inspected and will not be shipped until the final inspector has cleared them.
For purposes of this particular discussion, we will be zeroing in on the last item, the inspection or quality control before shipping. This is also referred to as pre-shipment inspection, where the inspectors place themselves in the shoes of the consumers to see if the products meet general expectations.
Importance of Quality Control Check before Shipping
Quality control is meant to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire logistics system of a company by performing procedures to detect whether the products are free from defects or not. Those that have defects are returned for fixing to ensure that the customers are shielded from disappointment resulting from defective products.
Here, let us try to break down the reasons why it is important to do quality control before a product is shipped.
- The final quality control check performed before shipping is primarily to ensure accuracy. This is especially true if the company has a quality control system that is in force in practically every stage of the production and distribution process. However, if that is not the case, there is nothing wrong with also performing a check against product defects prior to shipping.
- It reduces the costs associated with shipping errors as well as the expenses that will be shouldered by both the customer and the company when processing any returns due to defective or inaccurately delivered products.
- Ensuring that the products are accurate and of good quality will help ensure that your brand, company name and reputation will be protected. Many companies have suffered due to defective merchandise, inaccurate orders, and even delayed shipments.
- Ensuring that the right products are being delivered, and that the quality passes the standards will eliminate delays in shipments.
- Dealing with customer complaints takes up a lot of a company’s resources. It’s also tedious for the employees. Damage control is not something that companies would like to deal with constantly, even if they have a fairly strong customer service system in place. The lesser complaints received from customers due to defective and subpar products, the better it will be for the morale of the employees of a company.
- Performing quality checks in ALL stages – not just pre-shipment – will help the company in monitoring its products and processes and come up with important decisions that will improve their current system. In a way, it is one way to gather data to improve efficiency. Being able to identify problems and shortcomings will enable them to correct these errors and respond accordingly.
- Ensuring quality prior to shipping is a way to establish a good relationship with your market. Consider this: businesses will succeed if they keep their pulse on their market and maintain an awareness of their customers’ needs and preferences. It is tantamount to “putting themselves in the shoes of their customers”. Quality control inspections performed before the product is shipped is the final activity that will be performed, and it represents the buying experience of the customer.
- Quality control adds value to a company’s products. Often, companies that have maintained high-quality control standards and ensure that they are followed to the letter eventually use it as a justification to raise their prices.
- In a small way, effective quality control before shipping will help reduce marketing costs over time. This is because the buyers will be less likely to find problems in the delivered goods hence they will be more likely to order from the same company the next time they need the same products. However, if the product comes with a problem that justifies a return, the likelihood of the customer making another purchase from the same company is significantly reduced.
Ultimately, performing quality control before shipping a product – and in any other stage of the business process even prior to shipping and distribution – will help in lowering costs and risks of losses, cutting down lead times, and facilitating the timely delivery of products to the recipients.
COMMON TYPES OF QUALITY CHECKS
The final inspection is performed when all of the products ordered have been produced and around 75% to 80% have already been packed for shipment. The following methods are often seen applied by various companies before their products are shipped out.
- The check is performed within the factory (or the company’s premises) by external inspectors or third party quality control agencies. Often, the inspectors perform random sampling, checking only several samples at random, before handing out their conclusion regarding the quality of the products. This way of randomly inspecting the products is the most commonly used method, making it a standard way of checking quality of products before shipping. It’s effective because it saves time and still has a high chance of identifying any issues present in the batches.
- The final inspection is performed on 100% of the products or on a certain percentage of randomly selected units at a “platform”. The most common practice is for the supplier company or seller to transport the orders to a forwarding warehouse (the “platform”), where the external inspector will perform quality control check. In case the products do not pass, they will have to be transported back to the factory instead of being shipped to customers. This method is ideal for large purchased volumes. However, it is often seen by many companies as impractical because of the costs of having to transport the units from the factory to the platform (and vice versa, in case rework is required).
- Inspection is performed to 100% of finished products on a piece by piece manner. The final check is actually part of the production process, as the last stage. It is important, however, that the inspectors or the persons performing the quality control checks are independent of the company, meaning they are not employees of the company. This will go a long way in ensuring that they give a transparent remark. Alternatively, each inspector or group of inspectors can handle specific batches and their details captured so that any issues that arise after shipping can be traced back to a specific inspector.
- Quality control check is done by internal inspectors, or inspectors that are employees of the company, and have been trained to perform these checks. Normally, they also play an important role in the internal audit system of the company. This option is found to be cheaper by companies, since having an in-house inspector costs less than paying external inspectors to do the job. However, it’s important to ensure that the inspectors are sufficiently trained to look for all the common trouble points in the products.
WHAT TO CHECK BEFORE SHIPPING
What are the specific things or aspects that must be inspected or checked before a product is sent for shipping?
- Product safety. There are safety and health standards that must be complied with. Inspectors will focus on whether the products are safe for use or consumption.
- Compliance with the company’s own specific requirements, standards set by the industry the business is in, and specific regulations formulated by the government.
- Quantity. The number of items packed for shipment must coincide with the number of units ordered by customers.
- Product specifications. This entails looking into the function, workmanship, color, size, and other technical specifications of the product.
- Packing. Are the orders packed securely and properly? During shipping, it is possible that there could be careless handling by the shipper. Therefore, make sure that the items are packed appropriately, depending on the nature of the product, to minimize the risks of them being damaged while in transit.
WHO WILL PERFORM QUALITY CONTROL BEFORE SHIPPING
We have briefly mentioned them earlier in the discussion, but inspectors or personnel tasked to perform quality control do not necessarily have to be employees of the company.
- In-house inspectors. These are individuals that are included in the company’s payroll, and have been specifically trained to conduct quality control checks.
- Free-market quality control companies. These are privately owned and third-party quality assurance firms or agencies that offer quality control services. They are in the business of performing quality control checks for other businesses. An example is Intertek, which provides “quality and safety services to businesses”, by ensuring that the products meet “quality, health, environmental, safety and social accountability standards”.
- Freelance quality engineers. These are independent or individual contractors that offer their quality control services. In some areas, they require certifications in order to be recognized and allowed to provide services as quality engineers.
- State-owned inspection companies. These are companies that are fully or partly owned by the state. They are not as numerous as free-market quality control companies, however.
QUALITY CONTROL PROCEDURES
Companies should have their own manual of quality control procedures to guide the inspectors. This is true even if the company hires the services of an external inspector. Sure, the external inspector is likely to have his own inspection or quality control system in place, and quality assurance agencies and inspectors use industry standard processes in their inspection. However, having a manual will still be helpful in order for him to know the points to watch out for during the inspection. The manual will contain the quality policy of the company and an overview of the processes and the quality system in place.
The procedures could vary depending on the volume of the products.
- 100% vs. a sample. The inspector checks ALL the items to be shipped, or only a certain percentage of the whole. Large volumes would normally entail only having a certain sample size inspected.
- Piece by piece or random selection. All the items are inspected one by one, or the inspector picks several items at random for checking. Random selection is often used for large volumes of products up for pre-shipment inspection.
The quality control procedures will vary depending on the nature or type of product. There are certain products that require testing while others only require ocular inspection.
Of course, the basic procedures include some, or all, of the following:
- Manual counting of quantity;
- Reconciling product quantity and other quantitative details to files on record (actual vs. what is written on documents such as purchase orders and invoices);
- Product testing, if required;
- Ocular inspection of the packaging and the labeling;
- Checking to ensure that the weight of the product coincides with the weight indicated on the label where applicable.
QUALITY CONTROL TOOLS
Documentation is also required whenever quality control checks are performed. This will ensure that records can be kept for future reference. The most commonly used quality control tools include the following:
- Questionnaires: One advantage of questionnaires is simplicity and how it can be easily used and understood by many. It’s also flexible and can be used in a wide range of settings.
- Checklist Worksheets: Just like questionnaires, this contains items that have to only be checked, depending on the findings of the inspection performed. More often than not, they come with questions answerable by “YES”, “NO”, and “PARTIALLY”.
- Quality Control Sheet: This is especially useful when checking products that have a lot of technical specifications, such as food, spare parts, and even fabric. Quality control sheets are ideally concise and put emphasis on specific areas only.
Quality control plays a big role in ensuring that a company’s operations are not crippled by problems in the quality of the products. Without a proper quality control system, it’s very easy to find that the company ends up with lots of returns that will need many man hours to correct. It’s, therefore, easier and relatively cheaper to have a number of quality control points, the most important one being just before shipment.