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Sofeast is a professional service provider that helps importers work more productively with, and get better results from, their Asian suppliers. Our main presence is in China, Vietnam, India, and Bangladesh.
We are not a “sourcing agent”, but we provide many of the functions of traditional “agents”. Our business model is closer to that of engineering firms and auditing companies — offering competent people’s time and a proven process.
We work with hardware startups, entrepreneurs, SMEs, and larger organisations that usually don’t have a buying office close to their suppliers’ operations and don’t work with the very best contract manufacturers.
Our clients typically need help on the ground from seasoned professionals, want a clear compensation model (no complex or hidden fees), and solutions to their issues (not just a menu of standard services).
We are organized in three departments that offer different solutions:
- Quality assurance — factory auditing, product checklist definition, product inspections, and related consulting. We offer the same services as the large testing houses, but we don’t just “tick the box and get to the next job”.
- Supply chain management — project managers and related functions (logistics, lab testing management, new supplier screening, procurement, VAT rebate processing…). We are not self-centered, we are very client-centric.
- Product engineering — assistance throughout the development of a new product (NPI/PPAP), including prototyping, with or without assistance of your manufacturer. Our mechanical and electronic engineers can help.
- Supplier performance management — we provide engineers & auditors to train, challenge, and/or support your suppliers’ factories in China, Vietnam, and wider Asia, so they improve systems, processes, & reliability.
Since we are client-centric and we have lined up a broad range of solutions over the past 14 years, we have a long list of competitors.
We are organized in separate departments, and each department aims at being among the best service providers on its market. And, at the same time, you can work with one of our project managers who will pull resources throughout the company in order to match your needs. This is a unique approach that we haven’t seen in “quality control agencies”, in “sourcing companies”. or in “new product development shops”
If you’d like to visit us, this is our main office address.
34th Floor, Hon Kwok Center, Shennan Middle Road, Futian District, Shenzhen city, China
Please always contact us in advance to arrange your visit OR to send us a package.
Invoices and contracts bear mention of our head office (5 Tai Mong Tsai Road, Sai Kung, N.T., Hong Kong).
Get full directions to our office by following this link.
Yes, we operate a testing laboratory for reliability, durability, and performance testing on electro-mechanical products and their packaging. Follow this link to visit its site: RSQ-Labs.
We handle many reliability & durability testing jobs in-house in our lab. We have a specialized electrical engineer who worked as a reliability engineer & manager in companies such as Nokia, LG, and GoPro.
We also plan and manage a lot of certifications and testing for compliance, in trusted outside labs, too, if they provide the expertise and facilities required for a particular job.
Yes, we have our own contract manufacturing subsidiary, Agilian Technology, near Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
Agilian works seamlessly with Sofeast as a part of our group and there we provide product R&D, assembly, manufacturing, kitting, co-packing, warehousing, and logistics.
When it comes to mass production, we provide you with dedicated lines, flexible manufacturing for many types of consumer and electromechanical products, expert product engineers, in-house quality assurance, process engineering, and strong IP protection. Because it’s all ‘under one roof,’ the full capabilities of the Sofeast group support your manufacturing.
Working with Sofeast
Non-food consumer goods (from textiles to electronics) and mechanical products (for industrial or automotive use).
This is obviously a key concern, since our clients often make important decisions based on our reports. We mitigate this risk by avoiding certain psychological profiles in the hiring process, by having a strong code of conduct, through internal management practices, by communicating what is unacceptable to suppliers early on, by rotating inspection staff, through random audits, and by logging many data during inspections. Clients are welcome to ask for more details.
First, we need to know what your needs are, including quantity, quality standard, special requirements, etc. Then, we start our proven process for searching and screening suitable suppliers. From experience, in most cases taking a shortcut is a mistake.
Please keep two things in mind. We don’t get paid a percentage of the order value like a typical agent does. We charge you for our time. And we can’t share with you the information we gathered for other clients (strict confidentiality policy).
Our new factory identification solution for souring suppliers may be suitable for you.
We are a professional services company and we get paid based on the amount of work we provide. This eliminates the temptation of taking shortcuts (‘let’s see if that supplier that we already know can do a good job’) and all the usual suspicions of typical sourcing agents (who often get a hidden commission from the supplier side too).
No. We are a professional services company. We only get paid when our assistance is needed. Once we are no longer needed, there is no need to pay us.
We do not ever hide information from clients, since they pay us for doing the work of gathering that information.
Yes. Our engineers can go to a factory and study the issue (there is usually no alternative to going on site). We can investigate the root cause(s) of the issue, explain it to the manufacturer, and help set up an action plan. Depending on the exact source of the issue, we can often provide guidance along the way to ensure the problem is really fixed and won’t come back. See our production problem management service.
We invoice based on the time we spend, and on any expenses incurred (typically, traveling costs). Different employees’ time is billed at different rates, based on their expertise. The minimum amount of work billed is 1 man-hour for office activities, and 1 man-day for on-site operations.
The most common payment methods are:
- Bank transfer (we require full payment, without any intermediary fee) to our Hong Kong bank account. We also offer local bank accounts in the USA, Canada, EU, UK, and Australia, and an extra 1% fee applies in those cases where you wire to them.
- Paypal (faster and cheaper for small amounts, but it gets expensive for larger amounts. Paypal forces us to change the currency and gets a hidden margin there. The payer is to bear full fees that amount to 2% under “Friends & Family” or 7.5% otherwise)
- Stripe credit card payments. We also accept payments by credit card for many of our low-cost standard solutions. Please inquire if you need confirmation that it is possible in your case. We add the standard Stripe fees (3.4% and 0.3 USD).
We are happy to start working with you without a contract if you want to keep the process ‘light’ on your side (our terms & conditions apply, in any case).
We can provide a service provision contract for those clients who see the potential for long-term cooperation and want their requirements to be documented. (That’s what we always advise buyers to do with their Asian suppliers.)
Please contact us. Typically, Kate, Renaud, or Fabien will respond to you within 10 hours. We welcome your inquiries and always try to respond quickly, however, please bear in mind that we are usually in the China/Hong Kong time zone and may be many hours ahead of your time which could result in a reply on your following day.
Yes, we can! As you probably know, to transfer tooling and molds between your old supplier in China to a new one isn’t as easy as just picking it up and delivering it to the new location.
We provide a tooling custody and management solution where we pick or receive your tooling and store it safely and securely at our Dongguan facility, returning it to your supplier only when needed once more.
Our process is split into two phases:
- Checking and pickup of molds/tooling from the current supplier & shipping to new supplier
- Delivery & testing the molds/tooling in the new supplier’s factory and completing the transfer
You can read in detail about the entire 13 step tooling transfer process here.
In many cases, new Sofeast clients will benefit from choosing to work with a dedicated project manager who we can provide to handle your project on the ground in China. This takes away the stress of battling with time-difference, language barrier, and fire-fighting issues as they arise.
We provide your project manager at an affordable cost. This person acts as your single point of contact and works as a part of your team to assure that your project is kept on track, with costs, delays, and quality kept at an acceptable level.
You can learn even more about how Sofeast’s project managers can help you by reading this blog post and read the Sofeast client charter to get our guidance on how to work most effectively with your project manager and the rest of our team, too.
We need to know where the factory is (which city, and if possible which district), what you are buying and in what quantity, and what your needs and requirements are.
Many services of our Quality Assurance department are billed based on the number of man-days. A man day includes approximately 5 hours of productive work on site, but also accounts for transportation, lunch break, and the time to study the files before and to complete the draft report afterwards.
Extra expenses will only be incurred if, for instance, a lot of travelling is required – in these cases we are up front with you about these beforehand. We usually invoice only 50% of the man-day cost for a day spent travelling.
Yes, we have created this client charter which outlines what should be expected from each other when working with our project managers from the Supply Chain Management department in order to make projects run as smoothly as possible and get the results you need.
What does Sofeast need to know to get started working with me on my new product development project?
Let’s say you have a product idea that you want to work with us on development and then production. The good news is, we CAN help support at every stage as we have our own in-house R&D team and production/assembly facility.
Here’s what we’ll usually do:
- Usually, we start by signing an NDA for your peace-of-mind.
- We’ll need to know some of the basics of your project, to ensure we are a good fit for your needs:
– Type of product, functionalities
– Have you documented the requirements & specifications?
– Have you been working on prototypes? What is the general status?
– Volume expectation (first batch, year 1, year 3), roughly
– Do you have some evidence of market traction?
Learn more about how we support new product development projects.
Let’s say you’re just starting to design a new electro-mechanical product that is very new and relatively complex and want to outsource its design, testing, and prototyping for eventual manufacturing in China. You are no doubt concerned with IP protection of your idea, too. You have not selected a supplier yet.
Now is probably too early to engage us.
We recommend getting your product design ready first 👉 Why You Need Mature Product Designs BEFORE Working With A Chinese Manufacturer!
You need to source and vet your supplier and we can help you in the following ways at this very early stage:
- New factory identification
- Supplier background check
- Supplier legal records check
- Initial factory evaluation audit (IFE)
- Quality system audit (QSA)
These solutions all constitute a thorough vetting process.
How Sofeast can help you when your design is more mature
We are good at making the link between a product idea and a good production batch. But the “idea” needs to be somewhat formed. And some of the best ways to make an “idea” more mature are working on the aesthetic design, working on the user manual, etc.
It may help you to see some testimonials here.
If you have key suppliers and you want to work with us to assure that production processes are optimized and they are able to produce your orders at the quality you expect consistently we will, roughly, propose the following activities to monitor and improve their processes:
- A Quality System Audit in your main/largest supplier
- If needed, we will work with them to draft a process FMEA and set up a process control plan, and then check if those changes are reflected in their operators’, inspectors’, and maintenance technicians’ work instructions.
- Based on the risks observed, based on the controls that seem to be missing, and based on past issues, we will suggest a regular process management audit.
- We will keep everything in an ‘issue tracker’ spreadsheet (one for each assembly supplier), so you can keep pressure on their top management.
- We can also start this with some other suppliers at the same time, but most clients like to stage the approach a bit.
- When a serious issue comes up, we can work with the manufacturer on an 8D, and it usually leads to an update in the documents I mentioned above (FMEA, control plan) and their work instructions.
Usually, we do not work with medical products.
By all means, check with us by sending us an inquiry via our contact page, but in general, we do not provide many of our solutions for medical products.
Depending on the scope of work, we may accept to provide an offer and perform the work or we may put you in contact with another service provider who has the experience to help you.
We already have suppliers for certain components, etc. Can we still use them if we work with Sofeast?
No problem, we don’t lock you into using suppliers that we source.
However, it is advisable for us to audit your suppliers to assure that they’re truly capable and have the capacity to reach your requirements. Audits are well worth it, as they will ensure you receive good quality, cost, delivery times, and safety in the longer term.
If it turns out that the supplier’s you’ve been using or have sourced independently have issues, we can source reliable suppliers for you that exceed the performance of the old ones.
Yes, we are prepared to sign an NDA/NNN agreement before starting work in order that you feel secure that your product IP is protected as we understand how important that is to our customers.
We often offer our regular agreement* for you to use if you wish…we find that it addresses most of our customers’ concerns, as well as our own, and provides a sound basis for our relationship.
What does our NDA agreement include?
Our CEO Renaud produced this walkthrough video of the agreement explaining its sections and what the different clauses and wording mean:
Watch here 👉 https://youtu.be/vwSUJB43qv4
*Note: The template is suggested as a basis for an agreement with our customers, in our particular business context.
For new/customized products
China offers creators, entrepreneurs, and hardware startups the manufacturing infrastructure to handle new product manufacturing, but it’s the preparation and management of mass production that often leaves hardware startups & SMEs over-budget and running behind on delivery.
One only needs to visit Kickstarter or Indiegogo to see the abysmal proportion of projects that are not delivered on time due to unexpected problems and extra costs.
Inexperienced founders are overly optimistic about the capabilities of Chinese manufacturers and about the ‘readiness for production’ of their new product design.
99% of Chinese manufacturers want to go to mass production as soon as possible, even if this has relatively high-quality risks. They are consistently over-enthusiastic and tend to under-deliver on their promises.
Subsequently, hardware startups don’t see all the risks, don’t challenge predictions and reassurances, and don’t enlist the assistance of people who have done it before. They also have pressure to get first to market and increase the product ROI (Return on Investment) by an early introduction.
We’ve seen people in this position in our home city of Shenzhen and the rest of China get burnt too often, so this is why Sofeast’s production engineers and project managers specialize in new product introduction (NPI) and design for manufacturing (DFM).
First, you will need more than an idea. At the very least, get a first version of the design, as well as a general description (intended use, etc.) on paper.
Second, before sharing the design with anybody, make sure to have a solid agreement in place that targets all the usual risks (not your standard non-disclosure agreement).
Third, you might go in the wrong direction and spend many months working with the wrong type of suppliers and, in the end, get nowhere. Talk with a company like ours. We have worked with a number of people who were in your situation.
You may also like our guide to manufacturing a new product in China.
Yes, for several reasons.
Because you might need to make changes to your design to make it easy to manufacture in China or to have a chance at hitting your budget & timing targets.
👉 Our product engineers are ready to help if you need assistance with product design and development.
And because you need to know what type of supplier you should work with even before starting the search:
- OEM? ODM, already making a very similar product? Contract manufacturer?
- Small, midsize, large?
- Past experience in a certain critical process or technology? In your country’s compliance standards?
👉 Listen to this episode of our podcast about supplier selection.
Yes. And this should be planned from the design stage. Many projects have gone very far into prototyping and even production, only to be dropped because they had to get back to square 1… a new iteration of the design that takes certification constraints into account.
We have experience with the most common types of certification for the US and Europe.
Learn more about certifications and compliance here: Compliance Testing Consulting
What we do most often is a hybrid approach:
- Reviewing your design and providing suggestions
- Doing some of the design, development, and prototyping work
- Letting the manufacturer do what they have strong internal capabilities for
Learn more about how we can help with product design and development here.
Our liability is limited to the amount of fees you paid to us for the particular job that led to that issue.
The most important thing to focus on is to find ways to avoid such issues or to detect them through reviews and reliability testing. As a general rule, all design changes have to be approved by your side and their impact has to be evaluated with a proper testing plan.
You understand that, if we provide services for 1,000 USD, we can’t accept liability for 1 million USD. We are not aware of any company that accepts this level of risk. However, naturally, we will do the design work to correct any mistake for free.
Who owns all the intellectual property generated when Sofeast does design/engineering work for us?
You pay for that work and you own all the resulting deliverables.
The only exception is the templates we have developed over the years — you do not have the right to re-use them.
For typical and straightforward cases, yes, we can assist our existing clients.
Some of our clients need a bilingual NNN agreement or a full manufacturing contract with an NNN section. We have simple templates for sale, but first, we need to confirm that your needs are not out of the ordinary (that’s often the case, and you’ll need to work with a lawyer in such cases).
‘NNN’ stands for:
- Non-use – the supplier cannot use your IP in any way, for any purpose
- Non-disclosure – the supplier cannot make public your IP or share with others (such as a friend’s factory, or via unauthorised subcontracting) except in very specific cases
- Non-circumvention – the supplier cannot start making your products themselves and selling (usually at a lower price) to steal your customer base
It is bilingual and calls for enforcement in China, where your Chinese suppliers are more likely to have assets.
(We are not lawyers, but this template has worked well in the past for our other clients. And, of course, you can have it reviewed by your lawyer.)
Some suppliers are reluctant to sign a strong NNN agreement at the quotation stage. Our NNN is very protective but does not call for a set amount of damages (that’s an example of a clause that tends to frighten suppliers away).
Then, at a later stage, the NNN section of the manufacturing agreement (when the time comes to plan for manufacturing) is typically stricter, and that tends to be better accepted by suppliers.
If you are not currently a Sofeast client and need a good law firm to help you draft an NNN agreement, look at our partners page.
If you only have the design of your product and you still have all the development work ahead of you, you will generally need to go through these 6 NPI steps:
- 1. Defining specifications
- 2. Feasibility/proof of concept
- 3. Prototyping
- 4. Tooling
- 5. Pre-production prep
- 6. Production
We provide a comprehensive new product introduction framework and support throughout.
You can explore our NPI process in detail in this video walkthrough:
Yes, we can.
We own a contract manufacturing subsidiary, Agilian Technology, near Hong Kong where we provide comprehensive assembly and manufacturing services.
If we’ve already worked with you on sourcing, product development, prototyping, etc, we can go on and manufacture many types of consumer and electromechanical products at Agilian.
No. We work on a purely on-demand basis.
You select which of our solutions you want to purchase, pay, and we do the work. We don’t do work in return for equity shares in hardware startups’ businesses.
Please note, any product IP generated belongs solely to you as you have paid for that. We do not retain your product IP after you have finished working with us.
If you need support to move your hardware startup and product idea forward in return for equity shares, finding an incubator or hardware accelerator could be the right move for you.
Yes, we can!
Our in-house R&D team has experience in designing and testing packaging.
We will either source the designed packaging from local manufacturers or may be able to manufacture it ourselves, too.
Packaging actually shouldn’t be an afterthought – it’s an important part of the new product launch project, as it both protects and advertises your product. With this in mind, we created this guide to common packaging types to help you decide what’s best for your products.
We employ a software engineer who can write the firmware for your product. However, when it comes to mobile apps for users, our customers usually take care of that development work.
This is a really difficult question to answer as every new product launch project is different, however, we’ll try to give you some ballpark figures.
- Engineering design: 15 days to 6 months
- Accelerated life testing on prototypes and iterations until a final approved prototype: 1 to 3 months
- Tooling fabrication: often around 6 weeks
- Pre-production preparation, including pilot run(s): 1 to 3 months
- Mass production (first batch): 1 to 3 months
Note: we typically help clients after the industrial design has been completed.
Sometimes the discussions about a new project between a new customer and Sofeast take many weeks. In cases like this, while we were waiting for clarifications on the scope of work etc. from a new customer, some other projects get confirmed and work starts on them. Therefore, to avoid over-committing and then under-delivering (asking a customer to keep waiting and waiting), we sometimes have to refuse the original project until such a time that more technical resources are once again available.
The Sofeast group is actively trying to hire more technical project managers to lessen the chances of such a refusal, by the way.
A few points that could lead to difficulties in us taking on your R&D project
- Lots of email exchanges and calls are needed to confirm the scope of the next steps and plan to follow.
- A customer has difficulties communicating directly with our team in China and requests to have senior managers involved in every discussion. Unfortunately, it’s just not realistic for our senior management team to be involved in every aspect of every project.
- The customer wants us to commit to getting to a certain deliverable while the design is far from mature, which means there are probably going to be a number of unforeseen challenges and it’s somewhat likely we’ll spend more resources than budgeted.
- Instead of going “agile” and going for small chunks of work and quick turnaround, the customer wants to go directly to a functional prototype. That means even more likelihood of unforeseen challenges that will creep in and cause us to spend many more resources than planned (and paid for). This type of “waterfall” approach tends to lead to long delays and to spending a lot more hours than planned.
When Sofeast does R&D work on our product, are we locked into paying a fixed price or do we have flexibility?
We do not lock you into R&D projects by requiring a fixed price.
For the design phase, you can pay block by block, for example starting with a number of hours of industrial design work, seeing what we provide, and then, once you’re satisfied, paying for the following block of work, and so on.
Paying step-by-step or paying a fixed amount per week during the feasibility and early prototyping phases is usually the best approach for our clients as there is a lot of ‘discovery’ to be done at this stage.
Here are 2 reasons why paying for work in blocks and proceeding one step at a time is appropriate at this early stage of your project:
- The cost of the materials needed for the prototypes is not known at this stage
- The scope might change – this is very common, as the designs or the components we suggest might give you some new ideas. A new scope comes with a different workload.
At any point, as long as you have paid for everything we have done and all the expenses we have incurred (and that you know of) you can decide to stop the project, and the intellectual property of our work belongs to you alone as specified in our contract.
Quality assurance solutions
Product inspections are one of our most popular solutions and we perform throughout China, Vietnam, India, and SE Asia.
Explore them all on this page, or hit the individual inspections below to go to their page and get a quotation:
If you are a new client, contact us and give us the product details & photos, as well as the order quantity breakdown. We will suggest an inspection plan and, once we know what city the factory is located in, we will confirm a quotation.
If you are a new client, simply log in www.sofeast-booking.com and schedule the inspection. We will get back to you shortly.
If you need guidance on how to use the system to set up your inspection, please read this page.
Follow this link to explore the product inspections that we offer, and learn more about what they include, their cost, and how long they take.
This video also introduces Sofeast’s product inspection solutions further, too.
Here’s a list:
- Production Monitoring Reporting (PMR)
- Inspection During Production (DPI)
- Final Random Inspection (FRI)
- Full Production Check (FPC)
- Container Packing & Loading Supervision (PLS)
- Off-Site Product Inspection (OSI)
We also produced this interesting infographic explaining more about Final Random Inspections, and also an infographic providing examples of common inspection findings, too.
Once you have selected the product inspection that you require, you will need to use our simple booking system to organize your inspection.
You first need to create your company’s private account.
Then, you need to log in at https://sofeast-booking.com, select the right service, and fill out the form.
It is all explained in How To Use Sofeast’s Booking System For Product Inspections.
After we conduct product inspections for you your inspector will provide you with a detailed inspection report which outlines the results.
Take a look at some real sample reports here:
The reports include:
- Inspection checkpoints
- Images (of defects etc)
Product quality inspections can’t guarantee 100% perfect quality, because a product’s quality comes from its initial design, the inputs used, and the production processes, as well as other factors, too. Rather, inspections will help you reduce risks and find quality issues early enough to make a difference (such as before a production run is completed).
We see ‘quality’ as a continually improving concept (a robust Quality Assurance Plan can help this happen) and inspections are a part of that.
But to truly guarantee better quality, work needs to be done at an earlier stage with product design (DFQ), reliability testing, and controlling risks in your supply chain. We can help with reliability testing and lab testing, so contact us to discuss these.
In general, we use random sampling inspections where the inspector will use AQL tables to produce the correct sample number. This allows us to randomly select a sample of products from a given batch which will be representative of the overall quality of the batch.
Not all inspections benefit from this method, though, and so other inspections, such as 100% inspections (where every piece is checked), are also provided.
Unfortunately, some product inspections fail for whatever reason/s, as the products don’t reach your quality standard. A positive of this is that you found out before products were shipped to you all the way from China!
We will help you take the next steps to solve the issues. Here’s how…
- You may choose to accept all of the products anyway after receiving the inspection report. Perhaps it’s possible to negotiate a rebate or discount with the supplier?
- You may follow up the inspection with a 100% inspection to filter out the ‘good’ products which can then be shipped to you, while the ‘bad’ products are returned to your supplier for repair, rework, or scrap while you get a rebate.
- The supplier can send staff to our facility in Dongguan to do rework or repair. Alternatively, we can do the repair/rework for you with our own team, too.
As we’re a 2nd party firm, you can expect us to provide some guidance on why the quality issues are occurring and how to fix them in the future. Our supplier performance management solutions can be very helpful if you need help in pushing suppliers to reach your standards.
Yes. The rate we’ll charge for clients who consistently use us for product inspections is negotiable starting at 5 regular man-days per month.
If you are a current client and have any questions about this, contact us or speak with your project manager who will be happy to come to an arrangement with you.
Let’s take a quick example question.
If Sofeast conducts a product inspection on a batch of our goods in China, passes them as reaching acceptable quality, and then upon arrival to us in the USA it’s found that there are unacceptable defects; does Sofeast bear liability for these defects and have insurance?
As a quality inspection agency, we have a cap on our liability in case there are clear signs of negligence in doing our work. Basically, that cap is not high, so it never makes sense to sue us. It’s the same for everybody in the industry.
The only circumstance in which this will change is if you book many thousands of inspections a year through a company like ours. If so, you can probably negotiate for a high liability and force the inspection agency to contract liability insurance. Below that level, no inspection agency will accept to be associated with “insurance”. In this business, we are paid to do a job, not to be responsible for some risks.
For very high-risk products where defects can put lives at risk, we suggest contracting insurance for your company or working with a manufacturer that has a liability insurance policy. Inspection companies can provide some extra assurance here, but not in the form of insurance.
Fundamentally, this is why it is so important to work with good manufacturers and to ensure they have solid systems & processes in order to reduce the risks of ever needing to litigate due to product defects causing dangers when in the field.
Here’s how we can help you reduce risks…
As you know, we conduct product inspections, but in order to reduce supply chain and product quality risks some key parts of our business are:
Yes, we work with you to create your checklist as per your requirements so suppliers are very clear on what’s expected. Explore this affordable solution here.
When we build out your QC checklist we use our in-house IT system to create it.
The QC technician carrying out your inspection then uses the system to input results against your standards, results are fed back to you in a PDF report, and they’re also saved for traceability.
Learn more about how we use our IT system to create your QC checklist.
Do your quality inspectors confirm that the products are fully compliant based on certificates provided by the factory?
We always look at product safety during inspections. For example, we know the difference between Class I vs. Class II for the hi-pot test and their parameters, conduct incline tests for furniture regularly, and know that drawstrings on children garments are dangerous. We perform these kinds of tests every day in our organization.
And of course, we do look at certificates. In particular, for electrical products, sometimes the client sends us a certificate or requests that we check the certificate provided by the factory, and we use it. For example, we look at the CDF (Constructional Data Form) and we compare it with what we see on the critical components (same appearance, same marking, etc.), and that’s quite typical.
However, our inspectors are not compliance consultants. They won’t call the issuer of a certificate or report in order to confirm authenticity or ask for missing results on key standards. That has to be documented in advance by the compliance/quality manager of the importing company. The compliance/quality manager has to know what is required and has to archive all that information in a technical file for years to come.
Importers need to know what the safety requirements of their products are. We do not pretend we can replace your compliance manager.
Medical face masks have become an increasingly popular product type for importers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As such, we have been inspecting them regularly, have plenty of experience with medical devices in general, and can help you. We are ISO 9001 certified for product inspections, and one of the process steps in that activity is random sampling.
We put our generic checklist for surgical masks online, so this will give you some idea of how we approach these inspections.
The price for 1 inspector to go to a warehouse in most major manufacturing areas in China and perform a final random inspection on the completed masks is 299 USD all included (we also provide inspections during production if you prefer).
In terms of timelines, we need about 2 days’ notice after we’ve received all of the necessary project information from you.
You may find these resources useful:
- Exporting Face Masks from China: Know the Basics about Regulations & Standards
- Importing Face Masks into the EU: Know the Basics about Regulations & Standards
- Importing Face Masks from China to the USA: Know the Basics about Regulations & Standards
- The different names & classifications for face masks and respirators
Sofeast provides you with product inspections in numerous countries around the world.
Please note that our key operating areas are China, most of SE Asia, and Turkey, but we can provide inspections in many global countries thanks to our regional offices in China, India, and Italy (different costs, quoted in advance, may apply depending on the country or area, so please ask us):
- South Africa
You can learn more about our operating areas, and please note that different solution costs and travel fees, quoted in advance, may apply to countries outside of our core operating areas in Asia.
When sourcing a product quality inspection provider you have these 2 options:
- Work with a company that identifies itself as part of the “testing, inspection, certification” (TIC) industry
- Work with a company that can help you manage quality in addition to detecting issues
Sofeast is the latter, and you can read more about why this is beneficial in comparison to regular quality inspection companies here.
Factory audits are one of our core solutions and we provide them throughout China, India, Vietnam, and SE Asia.
Here are the individual audits for your information. Hit the links to explore them and get a quotation if you like:
Yes, we can!
However, re-auditing suppliers often only covers the same points repeatedly, but in our experience, we’ve found that this doesn’t always drive improvements in a supplier. Rather, it creates a mountain of paperwork to deal with and more/better excuses for the supplier.
A better approach is to perform a layered process audit on the quality systems and on the operational & support processes in a systematic monthly re-auditing cycle for a period of time where each audit focuses solely on one theme, in more depth. This is especially important for key suppliers with whom you want a long-term relationship.
By focusing on one process or system per month, the auditor maximizes the chance that your supplier can make meaningful improvements incrementally, rather than trying to handle multiple points (on top of their usual work) which can lead to exhaustion and failure.
No, it’s possible for us to conduct a remote audit for you.
Traditional audits where our auditor visits the factory are always recommended. However, a remote audit allows the auditor to obtain a lot of useful information about the supplier’s processes, systems, and capabilities for you (as well as things they’re not doing so well at), providing fast and convenient answers.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, factories and countries are increasingly limiting access for visitors, so remote audits using video calling, email, photos, and phone interviews are a good workaround and complement on-site audits well.
Sofeast quality engineers and technicians can help reduce your quality risks in a preventive manner. They put in place processes that are better controlled, resulting in more consistent quality products. The ultimate goal is to lower your costs and reduce unexpected delays.
Explore this solution further here.
If you work with us on a manufacturing project we commonly provide a customized Quality Assurance program for you covering all of the QA/QC activities that fit your project’s needs.
What is a QA program?
The program will vary from project to project as we understand that your product and needs are unique, but it is a plan that guides activities throughout the manufacturing project in order to reduce risks that could lead to poor quality and will, roughly, include the following sections:
- Defining product requirements
- Planning for compliance, quality, safety, and reliability
- Monitoring during production
- Process improvement
Why you need one…
By implementing a Quality Assurance program you will:
- Identify and reduce key risks.
- Implement preventive measures such as defining product specifications, clarifying your standard and explaining it to the factory staff, finding weaknesses in your product’s designs, documenting a process control plan, etc.
- Stop problems from recurring.
- Assure that your suppliers have a framework in order to maintain great quality.
To get a better understanding of what the QA program includes, take a look at an example on this page and get a quotation for yours if you like:
Supply Chain Management Solutions
Take a look at our supply chain management solutions page, but here’s a list of individual solutions, too:
Sofeast carry out these checks to assure you that a potential supplier is not a ‘scammer’ and has their story straight, is offering competitive pricing, and is a good match for your business.
If you are concerned about being scammed or employing a middle-man posing as a factory to produce your orders (and you should be) then you should run background checks.
Is there a reliable website that tracks costs of cold rolled steel, aluminum, zinc, plastics, corrugate, etc?
Yes, we can help you to source export-ready components suppliers in China, Vietnam, India, or SE Asia.
We’ll need to know information such as:
- Product you want to buy (description and photos/drawings)
- Is it an existing product or completely new?
- Desired quality standard
- Expected volume (amount you plan to purchase)
- Have you already contacted some suppliers of this type of product?
- In what country(ies) will you sell this product?
If you’d prefer to take a hands-off approach, we can also act as your procurement office where we not only source suppliers, but also take delivery of components or products, inspect them, pack and ship them, and pay the suppliers on your behalf.
Yes, we can!
As you know, leaving your tooling, which is an expensive investment and important IP, at your supplier’s facility opens you up to certain issues:
- It may not be stored correctly and could be damaged.
- They may decide to use it without authorization, producing copies of your product which are then shared or sold without your knowledge or agreement.
So in order to prevent your supplier from holding all of the cards, we provide a tooling custody and management solution where we pick or receive your tooling and store it safely and securely at our Dongguan facility, returning it to your supplier only when needed once more.
Yes. If you’re getting plastic injection molds made in China we can send an engineer who is experienced in tooling fabrication and usage to your toolmaker’s shop to supervise their final testing and validation of the molds. This means that the risks of you or your plastic injection parts supplier receiving defective tooling are vastly reduced as it’s confirmed that your tooling has reached your standards.
Since tooling is such an expensive investment, it pays to thoroughly check it at the toolmaker before it’s sent to be used in mass production.
Here’s the solution you can choose: Mold Capability Validation Supervision (in China)
Supply chain management solutions pricing
Instead of always paying for hours of work, is it possible to pay Sofeast a percentage of the orders?
No, we have never done this. Think of us as a professional service provider. We always have to be paid for our work. We can sometimes propose flat fees for specific deliverables, but we never do work on a contingency basis.
We fulfill many of the same functions, but our business model is a bit different. We keep our clients by providing value, not by making ourselves indispensable, and certainly not by keeping certain information close to our chest (our clients know everything).
Note, that we do provide a solution where we take on the role of your procurement office.
First, what is a good factory for importer A may not be a good factory for other buyers.
Second, we can probably help you source a supplier, and you can select this solution here. We will activate our network of suppliers, get them to confirm they are interested in your business and screen them to ensure they are a good fit for your project.
Yes, absolutely. This can be done in various ways. The easiest and fastest is to simply check their registration status with the government. We can do a more in-depth background check. We can also put you in contact with a lawyer who can drill down on the legal side, or a consultancy who can collect a lot of information about their operations. See our due diligence service.
Price and payment terms are linked to your order quantity, and to the supplier’s motivation to get your business.
What we can say is, we have a proven process to find what the market price is. If you can “sell” your project to a potential supplier, it is often a good idea for you to talk to the short list we came up with, and to try and get their price down.
However, for many importers, the search of the ever-lower FOB price often leads to issues that raise the total cost of ownership of the goods. It is not always a good idea.
To determine the average market price, we typically request quotations from 5-10 suppliers (depending on the product/component) and compare prices. We also encourage our clients to look on Alibaba.com and GlobalSources.com, to see what offers they get first-hand.
Based on the short list of the top 3 suppliers, we request samples to check the quality and review their capabilities, as well as clarify some critical points further.
Here is how we usually proceed:
1. Collect product requirements (from the client)
2. Run a quick market study to evaluate the time we will have to spend
3. Provide a quotation for the first service, and get approval from the client
4. Identify a list of suppliers from various sources
5. Provide a report in Excel with information collected and full contact details.
When working with us to identify new suppliers, this is basically the process we follow for you.
First, we need to know what your needs are, including quantity, quality standard, special requirements, etc. We encourage our clients to look on Alibaba.com and GlobalSources.com and to point some potential suppliers to us, as it clarifies your expectations.
Then, if we see this is something we can help you with, we start our proven process for searching and screening suitable suppliers. From experience, taking a shortcut is a mistake in most cases.
Please keep two things in mind. We don’t get paid a percentage of the order value like most agents do. We charge based on the time we spend. And we can’t share with you the information we gathered for other clients (we have a strict confidentiality policy).
Please go to this page for more details about our supplier identification service.
New Factory Identification
China is blessed with the world’s best manufacturing resources for complex products, such as consumer electronics.
The tech hub of Southern China (where we’re based) is known as ‘China’s silicon valley.’
There are too many suppliers to count here, but before you start searching on Alibaba or Global sources, give this list of recommended contract manufacturers a try:
We are looking for a supplier who’s as cheap as possible, but with acceptable quality. Can you help?
When sourcing suppliers, we usually help our clients get a reasonable price and optimize for low risk, high R&D capability, or something of that nature. We are probably not the best fit for this situation.
If your main goal is sourcing products or components at the lowest possible price, Alibaba will probably be the best option.
Please Note: Buying cheaply from Alibaba usually doesn’t mean it’s the lowest cost in the long run, though, when ‘surprises’ such as quality issues, delays, etc. come up. They end up costing a lot more to the buyer.
During the sourcing and new product development and manufacturing process you’ll receive a BOM (Bill Of Materials) and this document will be adjusted and referred to a lot.
Your BOM is a complete list of parts that make up your product, and the document will usually include supplier, cost, and quantities purchased. It may also include second and third supplier options, too, as redundancies against supply chain disruption.
The BOM may evolve over time, but it’s recommended to ‘lock’ it before production and not to change it, otherwise, the products being made may wind up using non-approved parts that could lead to quality, reliability, and safety issues.
Costs for air freight are based either on volume or weight using the below formula:
Length (m) x height (m) x width (m) multiply by volumetric factor*
*If volumetric weight > actual weight, volumetric weight is applied to the shipping rate OR If volumetric weight < actual weight, actual weight is applied to the shipping rate.
The minimum weight of air cargo is 45 kg.
We recommend using air freight when:
- Total weight > 150 kg, depending on different countries
- Total volume > 0.5 CBM
- High density, high-value cargo (i.e. Jewelry, Electronics)
Shipping insurance may be suitable for you if your business has a low tolerance for risk, loss of packages, or you are shipping high-value products.
It is not normally not included in quotations.
The average cost is 0.3% of goods value.
If you need help arranging shipping insurance, please speak to us, we can help.
To help you:
For US – http://hts.usitc.gov/?query=9503
For EU – http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/dds2/taric/taric_consultation.jsp?Lang=en
For Canada – http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/trade-commerce/tariff-tarif/menu-eng.html
The formula you should use to calculate import taxes is as follows:
Import Duty ($) = Customs Value ($) x Duty Rate (%)
US – Goods value (FOB)
EU – Good value + Insurance + Shipping (CIF)
These import duties are to be paid by the importer (you) at the destination, following customs clearance.
In the international shipping industry, “peak season” refer to months leading up to holiday seasons resulting in shipping costs to increase and warehouses to blast.
- Peak season – October to February
- Off-season – March to May
- Normal season – June to September
Shipping costs can also increase if the carrier is on strike or due to bad weather.
Lead-time given is only for international transit time, customs clearance at the destination is excluded from this and may vary.
- Express courier: 4-5 days for Priority shipments and 7-8 days for Economy shipments
- Air shipment: 7-10 working days
- Sea shipment: 29-45 days
Transit time between booking and loading onto the ship is approximately 3-7 days.
Transit time at the destination for cargo clearance is 1-3 days.
Yes, we are a 3PL (third-party logistics warehouse) among the many other things we provide such as product quality inspection, product engineering, sourcing, and more.
In our fulfillment facility in China we provide all of the types of activities that companies who are manufacturing products in China need to ship them to customers globally:
Take a look at our 3PL services and see pricing here:
Product Engineering Solutions
If you have a very clearly documented project, you are used to developing new products for manufacturing in Asia, and you are comfortable managing all the technical work, Upwork may be a great place to find engineers. We will still be happy to provide reviews and guidance where and if you need.
We need to review your product idea, and how mature it is. If you don’t have a design yet, we can put you in contact with a design house. What we can do at an early stage is a review of your project in order to identify the main risks and challenges you will encounter.
Before you get a reliability & durability testing quote from us, we need to know what your needs are.
Maybe you already have a testing plan. We will also need to know what your product is.
Our lab requires the following info:
- Can we test this product? (Based on your product info)
- How much time and manpower it will take
- Cost of tests (for example, use of specific materials)
- Time to gather data
- Time and cost to report results
Maybe you also need us to work on a testing plan. We will need to know not only the product information but also the typical use case and the expected lifetime (until failure) of the product.
By the way, we’re happy to sign an NDA to protect your confidentiality.
Please understand that, if we have no product information, we can’t quote because the question would be what are we testing? An airplane or a mobile phone? Both may require the same tests but are very different.
When you’re designing your new product you need to find a way to work out what is and is not realistically feasible. Industrial designers are often concerned that their products are manufacturable, and so they choose to work together with manufacturing experts who will suggest what is more or less difficult or expensive when it comes to product design in a ‘DFM review.’
Our product engineering team provide you with such a DFM review, which will hopefully allow you to avoid unpleasant surprises such as expensive and lengthy product redesigns or products being shipped which have problems or defects that could have been found and fixed at the design stage.
Working with us on a DFM review provides you with the following benefits:
- Some parameters are checked with suppliers to ensure they are valid, like wood CNC tolerances for example
- A DFM’s key goals are to reduce risks and problems during production, resulting in better quality, cheaper production, and easier assembly for your products
- We meet you to review our results, offering explanations and possible actions
Our own checklist formulated by our in-house product design engineers includes 70 points for mechanical design and 20 points for electrical/electronic design, as a starting point. It documents how your product can be designed for better manufacturability.
Here’s an excerpt of our DFM review checklist so you can see some of its detail and the checkpoints our engineers cover:
What kinds of design file adjustments will Sofeast engineers suggest?
Following the DFM review, our engineers will suggest some design improvements that will make your product more manufacturable. Here’s an example design improvement we’ve made before about improving ultrasonic welding on a product:
In terms of deliverables aside from the checklist, our engineers will typically:
- Review your files for manufacturing the custom-designed parts, and for assembly when it comes to the whole system. We let you know what is difficult, not advised or just not feasible at all — for both fabrication and the surface treatment and finishes — and we suggest alternatives that will be consistent with the design intent.
- Hold reviews for quality and/or for cost, depending on your priorities and the maturity of your design to ensure the project can be a commercial success. If a failure in the field (or in the hands of users) will be costly, a risk analysis for durability & reliability can be done.
- Provide you with our engineers’ suggested adjustments to your design files that will improve the manufacturability of your product.
We will also sign an NNN agreement for your peace of mind to protect your IP.
To learn more about how and why Sofeast can help you perfect your product design and make it more feasible to manufacture without being too costly or difficult, for example, take a look at our DFM review solution.
Poor manufacturing and non-compliance to specifications leads to quality issues and it can usually be detected during or right after production. The typical consequence is the disposal of or rework of some/all products.
Poor design and poor choice of materials lead to reliability issues, and they usually appear once the product is being used, often 3 to 12 months after shipment. Depending on the product application and warranty terms, this can lead to major customer dissatisfaction, poor reputation, extremely high costs and/or a recall, a class-action lawsuit, and/or injury or death of some users.
Outside of medical/pharma/auto/aerospace applications, we have observed that only the top 0.5% of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian manufacturers ensure product reliability without their customers requesting it.
There are two main reasons for this:
First, they might have never been exposed to it, and they don’t suffer from after-market complaints directly.
Second, showing that the design has weaknesses slows them down on the road to mass production (which is where they make money), so they prefer to skip all sorts of validations.
Then, the buyer may be surprised by customers complaining about partial or total failure. The buyer also may not be able to make the difference between quality and reliability issues.
Typically, well-experienced development teams conduct highly accelerated testing on prototypes, all the way to failure.
The objective of this kind of reliability testing is to discover the weaknesses of the design and to make improvements (which are then confirmed by a new round of testing).
There are also a lot of good practices to “design for reliability”, as we explained in this video.
Pre-production reliability testing such as components and suppliers testing, testing to failures (design limit test), drop testing, thermal testing, and vibration testing, usually happens on parts off tooling (if tooling is involved), and, if possible, on products put together in the same conditions as mass production.
The objective is to validate that the final pre-production samples meet the ‘useful lifetime under expected usage and conditions’. It is a big milestone, usually taking place in parallel with compliance testing and/or certifications.
Once these hurdles have been cleared, it is a green light for proceeding with mass production. A lot of money is at stake and it is important to validate the product and the process design before that.
Many companies do ORT (ongoing reliability testing) on every batch, in a systematic manner.
It helps confirm that the reliability of the product didn’t change as a result of manufacturing. (From one batch to the next and even from one production shift to the next, little variations in materials or processing parameters, and sometimes changes in product or process design, can hurt the products’ reliability.)
For most product categories, there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ reliability testing plan. It takes an experienced reliability engineer and an understanding of the expected usage type & usage conditions of your product to create a relevant plan.
When it comes to packaging, there are widely-used standards (such as ISTA 1A), but they are probably far from replicating the stresses endured by your products throughout your supply chain.
We are happy to quote for preparing a reliability and durability testing plan that is customized to your product and its intended usage, and for the testing work itself.
There are 7 logical steps when investigating the causes of product failure:
- Obtain those samples
- Document any information about the failure (get user feedback and batch number)
- First analysis (categorize the products as follows: no longer functional / mostly functional / only an aesthetic issue / known or common issue / no issue found)
- Deeper analysis (explore what triggered the problem, discussion with product engineers may help, especially examining their design FMEA if possible)
- Is there a need for immediate containment? (If a user safety issue is found proceed to alert the users of the batch and action a recall if needed)
- Planning for corrective action(s) (you know the cause of the issue/s, if serious enough time to prevent them from returning, new prototypes and testing may need to be done to confirm the fix is beneficial)
- Implementing corrective action(s) and following up (if required action the fix on future products and follow up to assure this doesn’t trigger new problems)
If one of your products is experiencing failures, we are happy to quote based on a description of those failures.
Sofeast 3PL (Warehousing & Fulfillment)
There are 2 cases.
Materials coming from outside mainland China
These MUST be sent by following these rules:
- Do no use express courier.
- Use only air freight (to Shenzhen or HK airport) or ocean freight (to HK port only).
Materials coming from mainland China
These have to be exported by your supplier (it means your supplier needs to complete all export formalities) and to be delivered FOB Pingshan.
[Last update: Feb. 2021. please, contact us for confirmation before you send us anything.]
The best way to describe how Sofeast can help you with fulfillment, including warehousing, is to look at it in a visual format:
You have parts or products coming in from your suppliers to our facility (the Agilian Technology facility in Dongguan, near Shenzhen airport).
Then these services may be appropriate in the order you’d use them from warehousing through to them being shipped out to you (or your customers).
Dongguan facility fulfillment services
Read about our warehousing and consolidated shipping services from Dongguan, too.
We have a riveting machine that can be used when assembling products and components that require this method of fastening.
A section of our warehouses is temperature and humidity-controlled. Sensitive materials such as lithium batteries and other electronic materials are kept between 20 and 27 degrees C. (Highest cost applies when materials need to be controlled this way.)
We try to be flexible on MOQs as we work with businesses that place both small and large orders.
For kitting and assembly we have an MOQ of at least 500 pieces per batch of products. If under 500pcs, we have an extra fixed cost of $300 for setup.
For dropshipping we have an MOQ of 500pcs per batch at least for dropshipping projects.
For co-packing, product repair and rework, and fulfillment, if an order is less than 1,000 pieces it’s unlikely we’ll be able to take this job.