What Is Incoming Quality Control?
Incoming quality control (IQC) is the monitoring of the quality of raw materials and/or components before the product manufacturing process even begins.
If your business is sourcing products from a third-party manufacturer, IQC is critical to ensure consistent batch quality in the long term and cut costs on addressing post-production defects. This is all the more so if you are importing products or components from a foreign country and have little to no direct oversight over the production process.
Why Is Incoming Quality Control Essential?
Most businesses nowadays outsource the bulk of their manufacturing process and focus on assembling, branding, and marketing their products. However, the chances are that your supplier is also outsourcing the provision of raw materials, the manufacturing of components, or the packaging of the final products to various sub-suppliers.
The more actors get involved in the production chain, the more important IQC becomes. Unfortunately, suppliers and sub-suppliers are often tempted to cut costs by using subpar raw materials or lower-quality components than the ones required for your products.
And if you think that this is an issue with new suppliers only, think again.
In our practice, we have seen many long-term and trusted suppliers trying to take shortcuts by compromising the quality of the materials or the products little by little over time. They hope that you will not notice small, incremental changes in the products from one batch to the next. This phenomenon is known as “quality fade.” More often than not, such gradual deterioration gets overlooked, and the end consumer discovers the issue before you do.
And as if that were not enough, sometimes even reliable suppliers make honest mistakes. At other times, they are unable to fully grasp your quality standards due to language barriers or cultural differences.
What is the only foolproof way to prevent such mishaps from happening? Rigorous incoming quality control by an independent service provider.
What Happens If I Do Not Have Incoming Quality Control?
If you do not monitor the quality of your raw materials or parts pre-production, you risk ending up with quality issues with the finished product later on. Addressing these problems post-production will cost you a lot more money, time, and resources. You are also likely to face shipping delays and lower customer satisfaction.
You don’t have to take our word for it, either. The Jesse Garant Metrology Center estimated that the aerospace industry saves $1,000 per every $1 spent on IQC. That translates to saving a whopping $80 million in rework expenses by investing as little as $80,000 in addressing defects pre-production!
How Do I Implement Incoming Quality Control?
The most important thing about incoming quality control is that it must take place before the manufacturing process has begun. You should not confuse IQC with post-production protocols such as first article inspection, product inspection, or pre-shipment inspection.
There are different types of IQC, and not all will be relevant to your business. It all depends on your industry, products, and quality standards.
Third-Party Lab Testing
Depending on your products, you may want to test the raw materials and/or the components at a certified third-party lab. Such testing is particularly important when the composition or properties of the products can affect their safety, performance, or value. Examples include jewelry, rubber tires, food, and dietary supplements.
Common lab testing methods include:
- Testing and measurement of the products’ physical properties, such as strength, flexibility, durability, stability, and flammability.
- Chemical analysis, which can involve composition analysis, metals testing, trace contamination detection, and identification of unknown substances.
- Testing of the products’ mechanical properties, such as resistance to structural fatigue, deformation, and fracture.
- Regulatory testing, which tests for compliance with the relevant industry or market standards.
If your products could benefit from lab testing, you should seriously consider using a professional IQC service provider. The chances are that your suppliers and sub-suppliers simply don’t have the equipment, expertise, and personnel required for the task.
Can I Just Have My Supplier Collect the Samples for Lab Testing?
Why should you hire an independent IQC controller when you can have your supplier collect and send the samples to be tested at the lab? Three words: conflict of interest.
Your supplier has a vested interest in their materials passing the lab tests with flying colors. As a result, they are likely to cherry-pick the best samples that meet your standards. The rest of the batch, however, may be of inferior quality — and you would be none the wiser.
Here’s where professional inspectors come in. They will select random samples to ensure that they are representative of the overall quality of the batch and that the lab results are reliable.
Incoming Inspection of Product Materials and Parts
Your products may not require full-on lab testing. Nevertheless, it is still strongly recommended that you hire a professional third-party IQC provider to inspect the raw materials and/or any components before the start of the manufacturing process.
This way, you will be able to detect and take up any quality issues with the supplier early on. You will also have a choice between removing the defective parts only or replacing the entire batch altogether. In any case, you would save a lot more time and money than if you were to discover the defects post-production.
It is also a good idea to re-inspect the materials or components after the issues have been addressed to ensure full compliance with your standards.
Checking the Component Data Form
If your products are made up of various parts, as is often the case with electronics, they probably have a component data form (CDF). A CDF lists all the critical components of your products, as well as their approved manufacturers. CDFs help ensure that the suppliers comply with your or the industry’s standards and cannot use lower-quality parts for your products.
A typical CDF will contain data such as:
- Type or model
- Part number
- Approved manufacturers
- Technical data, including materials, measurements, voltages, and securement methods
- Industry or product standard, such as IEC, EN, UL, or CSA
- Marks of conformity, such as CE, UL, and CCC
A third-party IQC controller will inspect the components and check for any inconsistencies with the CDF. The advantages of this inspection are twofold. On the one hand, you will be able to detect potential issues early on. On the other, you will save time and resources, as you no longer need to test individual components separately until the pre-shipment inspection.
Verifying Other Quality Documentation
Upon request, your supplier can provide you with a bill of materials (BOM) that gives you a full breakdown of all the raw materials and sub-parts used in the manufacturing of your products. This way, you can check whether they have understood your requirements and are using the right materials.
You should also consider listing your quality requirements in a quality control (QC) checklist. Providing your suppliers with a detailed QC checklist before they begin production will help them double-check that they have the proper materials and components.
Do I Need an Independent Incoming Quality Control Provider?
While some form of IQC is a must for any manufacturing process, not all businesses will need to hire a third-party controller. For instance, you may not need one if you already have a comprehensive in-house quality management system (QMS) in place.
However, you are strongly advised to implement independent IQC if:
- You are working with a new supplier and are not familiar with the quality of their IQC protocols
- You have had quality issues concerning raw materials or parts in the past
- Your products require raw materials or components that are expensive, rare, or hard to replace or repair
- Your products require lab testing
The Bottom Line
All the branding in the world cannot salvage a product that has been developed using low-quality materials or defective components. Whenever that happens, you will have to recall the order, refund your customers, and rework the products. That costs money, time, and valuable resources that you could have used to grow your business instead.
While the occasional quality issues are inevitable, the best way to identify and address them is through IQC at the pre-production stage. Incoming quality control will not only save you valuable time and resources, but it can also help establish your reputation as a premium brand.
Jonble: Your Trusted Incoming Quality Control Provider
If you are looking to introduce rigorous incoming quality control protocols to your business, be sure to get in touch. We at Jonble are among the most trusted providers of product inspection and quality control services for foreign buyers sourcing from China. We work with B2B and B2C businesses, including international trading companies, Amazon FBA sellers, cross-border importers, and more.
For more information on our company and the services we provide, check out our website.