This July I joined my colleague, Rock Chen, a Technical Manager in V-Trust, on one of the inspections to a chair supplier in Guangdong province. Rock is a furniture guru and that day he was going to inspect 240 lounge chairs for one of our clients. The inspection was conducted through a random selection of 32 pcs and was going to take only 1 man-day, and since this is a fairly average inspection Rock allowed me to join him for my research and his assistance purposes.
The factory gave me a good impression at first sight – it was a light colored and tidy 9-floor building with the production line split on several floors – steel welding and assembly procedures on the lower floors, and stuffing and sewing processes on the middle floors combined with warehouse, where our inspection appeared to be held. The top floors were intended to have an office and a beautiful garden, which the factory owner planted himself!
Firstly, we started by introducing the upcoming inspection process to the supplier’s QC staff and signed the Code of Conduct (that no bribery shall be offered or asked). After some preparatory work we moved on to the warehouse to check the quantity and pick up the samples for on-site checking – Rock stamped them with a unique all-special V-Trust stamp, to let the client know exactly which cartons we would inspect from the whole batch, and the factory staff were actively moving those samples for our use to the inspection site.
It is worth noting that usually inspection is not conducted only by our inspector himself – sometimes a group of cheerful, muscular factory workers are crucially needed in order to help move, unpack and assemble samples for the inspection. In our lounge chair inspection case (which sounded quite simple since there are only several parts to assemble: chair, ottoman, supporting pole and base), it took us around an hour and 5 strong Chinese lady workers from the factory side to carefully unpack bubble wrapped chair pieces and correctly assemble all samples.
While the chairs were gradually being unpacked, Rock has started to check product specifications and packing methods, take dimensions of the lounge chair and ottoman, and run some on-site tests for the product. Since every product has its “sensitive points”, we as inspectors are Empowered to carefully investigate and prevent them while products are still on the factory’s site and defectives can be taken out of the shipment batch and repaired.
So, we ran Assembly, Loading, Dissect & Stuffing, Finger Entrapment, Seaming Strength, and Color Comparison tests, and while conducting the Wobble test on the glass surface, we realized that some of chairs and ottomans are slightly wobbly. As soon as we showed it to the factory QC staff, they were unwilling to admit any wobbling and tried to push the chair firmly into its own base and even claim that some slight wobbling is normally acceptable for the product. But after several minutes of ineffective and futile attempts to disprove Rock’s expert opinion, they had no option but to agree that some chairs wobble slightly.
We tried to look into the reason of why the chair wobbled so we could give some advice to the factory staff for future production, and not be “threatening policeman supervisors” in their eyes. Rock said that the problem could possibly originate from the unevenly welded base or the support pole could be deformed. However, after disassembling several pieces we discovered the product “raw spot”… All the chair bases that were produced out of steel still had some industrial dirt inside of the assembling hole, which even though in miniscule amount, was causing a slight wobbling of the supportive pole and therefore, the wobbling of the chair. After workers meticulously cleaned the base from any industrial dirt, the chair was assembled again and was perfectly stable.
In the end, the factory staff received a task to “close the ranks” to carefully clean all of the steel parts needed to be shipped and note this task for the future production, since the problem might occur once more and for other products. Neglecting this small part of a production routine can easily result into complaints, great loss and constant headaches for both client and supplier, so both sides need to be watchful about the product’s quality before it is shipped!
Except this major problem, of course, there were some minor problems in the shipment – like wrinkles on the backrest, which we found only two, and which were immediately repaired by the mighty hands of Chinese lady workers. Also there were some inaccuracies from the client’s side. It seems that something went wrong and the client provided us with old shipping marks that confused Rock, me, Factory’s shipping manager and client himself!
Finally, after solving all problems and collecting notes into the report, Rock gave a draft of it for the factory’s reference about the problematic issues, took several pictures of the factory itself, gave some advice to the hardworking factory workers and prepared to leave.
It was an amazing inspection experience for me that taught that actually Inspection is more than something similar to “policeman threats” – it includes supervision, detection, solving and advising, requires a sharp eye, helping hand and penetrating mind.