When it comes to Quality Control in manufacturing, aim for only good surprises

A worker's hand inspecting and performing quality control checks on a sports product in a manufacturing facility

Beyond the sports industry's standard definition of "quality"

Of course, your protective sports product meets industry standards, and you have a quality control process in place. 

But what additional steps can you take to avoid jeopardizing your brand?

Your design team will ensure that your product serves its purpose and catches the eye, while your marketing team convinces customers that your brand is the best choice for their budget. 

But right in the middle of the process of bringing your product to market is your manufacturing plant. The factory diligently follows your documentation, checks the specifications, and communicates with your team regularly.

The issue, however, is that Quality goes beyond the outlined sector standards and documentation that the factory follows.

Quality parameters for safety do not change, but other aspects of quality do.

In fact, certain types of Quality are subjective. 

For example, while your designer envisioned a helmet sticker in a specific spot, what variation of this placement is acceptable to you as a brand - and will the customer notice? 

Is placement 3 centimeters to the left okay, or 3 millimeters to the left a tolerable difference? 

Different cultures and different individuals can alter a product to what may seem an insignificant degree to them, but not to you! 

The only way to catch these perfectionist details is oversight by someone who knows the brand and your consumer. You need oversight on the ground, in person, and at the precise moment required in the manufacturing process.

When something is wrong, it is wrong. There is no going back. 

Our industry is seasonal and inconsistent. Steady quantities mean continuous Quality Control is easier for factories, while fluctuations make quality harder to guarantee.

6-8 production runs each year in our industry lends itself to a more significant margin of error. Also, there is employee turnover on the factory floor, so knowledge may not have been transferred. So can the new guy know what you expect when it comes to Quality? 

A manufacturer should welcome your involvement. You are the client with a legitimate interest in the utmost excellence and need a Quality Control manufacturing partner that doesn't stifle your participation in quality assurance.  

How often should your team visit the manufacturing plant for Quality Control?

Astonishingly, most brands in our industry (especially those heavily emphasizing marketing) would say "zero." The rationale is that there is no need because the factory staff handles the Quality. 

The correct answer is 8-10 times during the production run until FOB. 

Your brand probably doesn't have a dedicated team to handle this level of supervision. 

Company employees have family and certainly aren't interested in exhausting travel to far away locations to work in uncomfortable factory conditions. But an independent Quality Control sector expert is an alternative.

Pressure versus Quality Assurance 

When pressure eases, Quality diminishes. I am unsure if there is scientific proof of this assertion, but in my professional experience, this is a true statement!

The control cannot let up even when it seems the process is complete. Cherry-picking randomly for inspection doesn't work, but examining every shipment does. 

One client contacted me to manage the second shipment of goggles sent to Japan from Europe. 

During the first shipment, without control on the ground before loading into the container, the client instructed the factory to save money by packing the goggles to save space so that more goggles could fit. 

The idea might have worked, except that products transiting 6000km are fiercely agitated, and the temperature on board a ship can reach 80º C. If the airport roughly handles your luggage, imagine a box of goggles on a ship for over a month! 

And, as you know, once on the ship the cost of an error like this must be absorbed by the brand.  

What is the cost of quality control oversight?

3rd party, independent quality oversight during raw materials vetting and production is probably the single most important investment your company can make. It is just as important as your design and marketing. 

While some multinational Quality Control providers can take 30% of your margin, a smaller independent company has lower overhead. It can charge much less: in the range of just one-digit percent of FOB. The difference is that an independent consultant has less overhead, no fixed local infrastructure to maintain all year long, the right trusted local contacts, and convenient proximity to the manufacturing plant location for frequent monitoring trips.

As I have done with so many clients before, I will jump on a plane and firefight your sports product manufacturing emergencies anywhere in the world. Contact me for more information about my services. 

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