QA activities, like supplier evaluations and product inspections, can take place both on and off-site today and the optimal approach is sometimes a blend of both.
For example, most importers are familiar with an auditor going to their supplier’s factory and evaluating the quality systems. Now, can some of the procedures be sent beforehand and checked by the auditor off-site, as a complement to the on-site audit where the daily practices can be focused on more strictly? Definitely.
Today’s best practice: Following a hybrid QA approach
In more and more cases, we suggest a hybrid QA approach of both traditional on-site and off-site activities to our clients in order for them to achieve their QA objectives.
Some examples of hybrid QA activities
Here are some examples of hybrid QA activities along with guidance on where they will take place:
Quick evaluation of many suppliers (from off-site to on-site)
Let’s say you need an initial evaluation of 10 potential suppliers in order to “screen out” those that are not the best fit. This supplier evaluation doesn’t need on-site attention at this point in the process. Skilled QA staff can get adequate information from documents and research in order to provide a solid recommendation for you to move forward with.
There are 2 jobs to be done here that can be achieved without going to those factories:
- Legal Records Check – Our experts check existing local-language legal documents about the supplier for accuracy (without them knowing about this). We gather information online to research basic and important information and provide a report including evidence of any red flags that may deter you from working with the supplier.
- A quick review of some documents of the supplier’s QMS, and categorization of the supplier into one of the 4 common factory types.
Then, once you have 1 or 2 solid candidates, the time for on-site evaluations by auditing the factory will come. It is always better to collect observations first-hand by being present, of course. But the cost per supplier is higher, so it makes more sense later in the supplier qualification process.
Audits with the need of a specialist (On & off-site)
It’s always good to have a process specialist look at 1 or 2 of the factory’s critical processes. Checking how they do setups, how they maintain the equipment & tooling, how to keep the process under control, etc. can be quite technical.
While a general quality auditor is at the facility, a technical expert can be accessed via a video feed for a short period of time, and it can add greatly to the pertinence of the supplier assessment. Remote work occurs during off-site audits.
Step by step control, as a product gets made for the first time in a given factory (On & off-site)
We sometimes set up a program that is a combination of the following elements:
- Weekly calls to review progress on product development, with a report to the client
- Comparison/inspection of pre-production samples in our office, and/or testing of performance/reliability in our lab
- On-site pre-production meeting
- Remote inspection of the first articles produced
- Comparison/inspection of production samples in our office
- On-site inspection during production (if issues were detected before that point), or remote inspection
- On-site final random inspection
- Remote supervision of a critical step of container loading, if needed
A good example of this is the Production Monitoring Program that we provide for apparel and soft goods.
Inspections with the need of a specialist
We sometimes have to go and check a certain type of product that requires a highly specialized inspector… and, unfortunately, there is no such specialist in the factory’s general area.
It may make sense to send an inspector to pick samples randomly, count the quantity, check the packaging, and do the other “simple” work, and to set up a call with a specialist during the inspector’s time in the factory who guides them through that part of the work. There is actually not much downside to this, we have found.
Continuations of quality inspections into a second day or late at night
Let’s say batteries have to be discharged & recharged a number of times while tested for certain parameters. Keeping one person at the factory’s lab for days makes no sense. However, working with the lab’s technicians so they set a webcam and our office staff can keep an eye on the activity and the findings from time to time makes a lot more sense.
Another typical example is a final inspection that ends at, say, 5 pm. We prepare the report and send it to the client on a tight deadline. The loading into containers will (probably) take place at 11 pm. Our clients just want a few photos to show how the loading was done. Setting up a couple of short video calls with the factory during the loading is sufficient, and there is no need for us to be on site. It saves some of the overtime charges, and our field staff is fresh to do another job the next day.
Again, an off-site inspection that takes place in our office is suitable here.
In some cases, working remotely is a must
Off-site work that takes place in the inspector or auditor’s office provides some impressive benefits:
- No access restrictions due to the pandemic (we can do off-site work with factories located anywhere).
- Shorter lead time to get it in place (no travelling, etc).
- Cheaper than other on-site projects such as inspections if they’re short jobs (in some cases it takes only 2 or 3 hours).
- Can easily be arranged at several stages of production, and ideally done at the end of the assembly line. Can be in complement to an on-site inspection happening on another day.
- A good way of confirming some specific points, for example how the packaging & labeling are done. Great if a supplier is doing something for the first time and you want to keep a close eye on it.
- Can be a good complement to a self-inspection program, whereby the competence of certain inspectors is monitored and confirmed periodically.
Due to the pandemic, we developed off-site audits and off-site product inspections in order to maintain our customers’ control and peace of mind over their productions, even when access to their suppliers’ factories is temporarily unavailable for inspectors and auditors. Some of our customers have already benefited from using these during supplier lockdowns.
Add these off-site checks to traditional on-site audits, inspections, and programs from our teams around Asia and you’re getting the real view from the factory floor you expect from these solutions, but with the faster answers that off-site checks can provide.
A blended approach to Quality Assurance activities is a direction we’re increasingly moving in. Today’s technology with HD video calling, cloud-based sharing, etc, allows our inspectors, auditors, and sourcing specialists to do a lot more for you more quickly, without the need to travel long distances and spend a lot of time in transit.