In This Episode…
Sofeast’s CEO Renaud and Adrian from the team are discussing why a pre-production sample is so important for obtaining your desired results once your products go into mass production.
What are PP samples? How do they evolve over time until they’re a final ‘golden’ pre-production sample? What problems do they help avoid? How to specify your exact requirements? Who pays for them? These questions and more are answered in this episode!
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✅ Introducing the episode, discussion about the COVID situation and problematic raw material cost rises (Read this post for some guidance on how to mitigate cost rises: Rising Raw Material Prices: What Strategy To Follow? 6 Approaches)
✅ What are pre-production samples and where do they fit in the production process? – a pre-production sample can be any sample that is put together before mass production starts, but the context is important. Some may be made as an early prototype just to demonstrate a finish or color, for example, whereas others are a final PP sample (golden sample) which demonstrate what the mass-produced products should be like.
- Garments – PP samples are often made using the exact fabrics, accessories, and colors, but are not made in the final cut & sew shop. They may also be made in the development phase before all the materials are purchased as a way to confirm the standard, rather than final finishes and colors. Samples for textiles are important as fit and texture are difficult to confirm in a checklist when they need to be tangible.
- Electromechanical products – There are a number of samples or ‘prototypes’ that are created in several rounds and prepared by R&D engineers and put together using machined or 3D printed parts. If the buyer confirms that the prototype looks and functions how they like it becomes an approved prototype or sample, but this is not a ‘final’ PP sample. Then trials are made using the production tooling (as there may need to be tweaks to finishes, etc), a pilot run is performed, and the pieces coming off the line are validated and once everything is confirmed fine, we get to the final PP sample which can be expected to be the same as mass-produced products.
The point is that in different industries there are different PP samples made during the pre-production process and they serve different purposes, helping to validate different features of the product stage by stage. But there will be a final PP sample which is what you expect to receive from mass-production runs.
✅ Specify what YOU mean by a PP sample – buyers need to specify that they expect it to reach all of their standards, so that would be being made with the exact materials, color, finish, texture, tolerances, functions, production processes, etc, as the first batch of finished products will be if you are trying to define that you want the ‘golden’ sample. Otherwise, your supplier may send you a PP sample that doesn’t reach all of your standards (but is still an earlier PP sample, as many iterations might be made as mentioned earlier). You do not want that earlier sample to be used as a basis for production.
✅ About ‘Golden’ samples – these are the final PP samples that should be emulated in production. Manufacturers should keep a few of these, identify them clearly, and keep them safe and clean. Typically one should be kept for the quality staff, at least one for the production staff, and one for R&D staff, too. This helps the factory stay on track.
✅ How do you assure that your external inspection company gets hold of the PP sample? – A couple of ways to do this.
- If you trust your supplier the inspector can use their PP sample as your ‘approved sample’ as long as you are sure that your factory will not play any games. This cuts costs and simplifies the process, but it’s open to abuse if someone in the factory gives them a PP sample that has been tampered with (perhaps to suit their needs, such as being able to use a cheaper material, etc).
- Send the inspection company a sample – easiest is to send it to your supplier’s factory in a sealed package which is only to be opened by the inspector once they arrive (again, if trust is an issue this could carry risks), or you can send it to the inspection company’s office, but you need to be sure that the inspector can actually get the sample before they carry out your inspection and, in some cases, it may be that the inspector is rarely in the office and could live in a completely different region. If so, allowing time for it to be shipped to them internally is necessary.
✅ Some issues that we can expect to iron out during pre-production sample development – There are a number of ways obtaining PP samples can help avoid issues that would cause trouble if they were to make it into production pieces. For example:
- The buyer may receive a PP sample from their supplier and notice that they really haven’t understood their needs well at all, such as using the wrong color. PP samples help to tangibly clarify understanding far better than a collection of photos, emails, and WeChat messages.
- They should be tested according to the QC checklist and testing plan – if you have a final PP sample that is identical to what should come off the line during mass production, it’s a good opportunity to conduct testing and assure the product’s compliance with your standard and market’s safety requirements, etc, before production starts.
✅ Is it common for the PP sample process to be skipped? – buyers should know that they need a PP sample in their hand, although for large items like furniture or machinery this may not be possible.
✅ Why do suppliers deviate from your PP sample during production and what can be done to guard against this happening? – some buyers work with a supplier after seeing a sample that seems great and ‘shaking hands’ on what will then be produced. However, they have not clearly defined their specifications and quality standard in black and white, therefore, if finished products are made with some defects or non-compliances the manufacturer may effectively say something like: “But you didn’t specify this precisely…” There will possibly variations between colours, positioning of a logo, etc, so a standard needs to made stating explicitly what is and isn’t acceptable (for example, stating that ‘this shade of blue is perfect and I can also accept this slightly darker shade, but anything darker than that is not acceptable’).
To make your standard crystal clear, a well defined QC checklist needs to be made and provided to them so there can be no gray areas or assumptions.
✅ How to reduce variations? – assure that your supplier’s sub-suppliers provide high-quality parts and materials. They need to do preventive maintenance on their equipment, train and provide good work instructions to their staff. The storage of materials appropriately, such as reducing humidity for batteries, also has an impact on the final quality of the product. Success here is connected to vetting great suppliers.
✅ Should importers pay for PP samples? – In most cases, importers shouldn’t need to pay, but if suppliers don’t take you seriously they may ask you to pay. If you can’t give any evidence that you’re an established buyer who is going to purchase a decent order size, the supplier may be worried that you are just trying to get a product cheaply straight from the factory.
✅ Does the inability to visit China or other Asian countries hinder an importer’s ability to approve samples? – Digitizing the process can help in some cases. As Greg Fleming spoke about in this episode, for apparel if customers can see the garments animated using software it may be possible to skip some rounds of samples to save time and money. For other products, like electromechanical products, the pre-production process has certainly slowed down because in the past an importer could send staff to China/Vietnam/etc to work with their suppliers and produce a number of iterations quickly in order to get to a final pre-production sample. Now, without the ability to do this due to Covid restrictions, the process is reliant on sending samples back and forth and using video calls where possible.
Do you have any questions about producing your pre-production sample? Let us know by commenting, please.
- Documenting Your New Product Development Process (for Quality & Speed)
- The Role Of Pre-Production Samples
- Reviewing Samples in China to Save Time & Money
- How much should importers pay for pre-production samples?
- Creating a QC checklist
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