First, let’s start off by explaining what a golden sample is.

Your golden sample is an approved final sample created using the same production processes and components as will be used in mass production. It is the ‘ideal representation’ of how your product needs to be and adheres to your quality standard perfectly.

Actually, once it is approved, it becomes an integral part of your standard. That’s why it is so important.

In other words, it will be used by the manufacturer as their ultimate guide to the standard expected of mass-produced products.

There will usually be more than one golden sample. You’ll store one safely, the supplier will have one (or a few), and you may also provide one to your inspectors for reference during product quality inspections.

Going into mass production without signing off on a golden sample is a huge risk. For example, the exact type of finish you require might be impossible to reach. Or the factory staff won’t have a “fully final” example to follow, and they may make mistakes.

Conversely, it may be possible for your manufacturer make a few nice samples, but very difficult to hold the same standard consistently throughout production. To achieve that, you will probably need to book product inspections.


How do we get to the golden sample stage?

This final sample is typically reached after a few rounds of product iterations during the new product development and testing process.

Let’s take the example of consumer electronics. Companies in that industry tend to follow 3 phases in question are commonly described as EVT, DVT, and PVT (1. Engineering validation, 2. Design validation, and 3. Production validation testing).

Remember, this is for new products that aim at being sold in the hundreds of thousands, or more, so it has to be highly structured…

The engineering work done in those phases validate that the product can be made as you need it to be:

  • EVT: Look and work-alike prototypes are combined into a number of early prototypes that are tested to ensure functional requirements are met. This helps the final design to be decided upon and weeds out most problems at an early stage. Most tooling is typically in place at that phase.
  • DVT: A pilot run that perfects tools, parts, and processes to be used for a consistent mass production run and ensures products look correct, as well as working perfectly. That’s when the real golden samples are confirmed.
  • PVT: It is basically the very start of mass production, at a slow pace. Not only products need to be mass-produced consistently to the quality standard, but also that needs to happen at an increasing pace and without many issues — that’s what is validated in PVT run(s).


Benefits of this final sample

A golden sample provides you with numerous benefits:

  • Your supplier can be under no illusion about exactly what you want from mass produced products. All they need is refer to the sample.
  • In getting to this final sample stage you will have tested and validated the product’s physical dimensions, component and material quality, textures, colors, functions, and performance. This is a necessarily thorough process to assure successful mass production.
  • You have a tangible way to hold your supplier accountable for any problems found in the products coming off the line.


Limitations of basing your quality standard only on golden samples

We should also mention that it is not always sufficient. As the buyer, you probably want to develop some of the other elements of a good quality standard:

  • Written specification sheet, to clarify what the tolerances are, to list and illustrate some of the common defects to avoid, to describe what tests to carry out, etc.
  • The bill of materials, to document what the product is to be made of.
  • Some samples of defective goods, if possible.
  • Some boundary samples, to illustrate what is “still OK but at the limit of NOT GOOD”.
  • A validated measurement & testing system at the manufacturing site. (Yes, as the buyer you may want to spend time confirming that.)


What happens if we go to mass production without one?

Your manufacturer will try to produce the product you require. However, without very explicit guidance, there is a chance of serious misunderstandings. For example, a garment manufacturer placed ribbons at the wrong places.

Another risk is, they assume certain variations due to the mass production processes will be insignificant to you, but they are not. A common instance for hard goods is the typical signs of using a mold (weld lines, sink marks…).

Another common has to do with color. They might say it’s ‘very close’ and ‘as we said, there is always a slight variation of color when going into production’. But you skipped the approval of the golden sample, which has to be strictly the same color as production, and now you have clear standard to enforce.


How to store and use the samples?

Samples you receive during the validation testing process should be dated and signed off so they can be traced and won’t mistakenly be used as a production template.

The golden samples are very valuable and should be signed, dated, and (when that makes sense) sealed. You want to avoid any tampering that could affect production (if a supplier decides to try to play some tricks to hide any production issues, for example).

Your inspection company is a last line of defence from receiving defective products from a supplier. They should also have a dated and sealed golden sample in their possession and will be briefed to use this as their reference during inspections. Both they and your supplier will be informed that any pieces coming off of the production line will be rejected if they do not match the golden sample.


Is providing a final sample like this enough to guarantee good quality?

Obtaining and agreeing on the golden sample is a critical step in the new product development process, but as importer, you need to be making your expectations clear to your supplier on paper and performing your own inspections, too.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clear and complete product specifications
  • A documented list of common defects, how to recognize them, and how to categorize them
  • Product inspections to help confirm that the manufacturer has fulfilled your requirements


About Adrian Leighton

Adrian is the Sofeast group's experienced marketer and has worked in manufacturing for around a decade. He has a particular interest in new product development and sharing important manufacturing news from China.If you've read, watched, or listened to some Sofeast content, Adrian has probably had a hand in it!
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