Doing a factory audit. More tips

I did a factory audit in China a few weeks ago. This was a fairly standard Chinese factory, located in the South of China. This factory does a lot of MDF product, mostly decorative boxes and storage containers. They have about 100 workers and the management is extremely friendly. Based on the management’s attitude it is a factory I would consider working with. I mean I really liked these guys. But there were red flags during my audit.

1.) Lighting in the factory was very poor. Lighting is very important especially when workers are doing detailed work as these workers were doing. Small factories tend to run budgets on a shoestring and often work without lights in daytime. I suspect this factory was no exception. But it is good to pay attention to this. Areas where touch up and QC work are performed should be well-lit, if not with fluorescent lighting then with natural light.

2.) The factory seemed to have no in-line QC process. When I asked about this I was told that there was a dedicated QC area. In fact it was the packaging area. QC at this factory was workers doing cursory inspections as they wrapped each product in EVA foam. I watched one worker QC several boxes and her MO on each piece was different. On one box she inspected the inside, on another box she did not inspect the inside, on a third box she inspected both inside and outside but didn’t even look at the bottom of the box. This told me that there really was no QC procedure to speak of. I would also add that a production schedule-board I saw – which outlined the steps of production from carpentry to packaging – had no mention of QC. A good factory will usually have QC procedures printed out and taped on a wall. At the very least they will be written on the wall.

3.) There was no dedicated area for storage of packaging materials. Corrugated cartons can pick up intense amounts of moisture in China – especially in the late spring and early summer – during rainy season. If they are not stored in a cool location then they run the risk of becoming damp and will damage easily during transit. All of the cartons I looked at were stored in one of the main workshops and were extremely damp. Most small factories, of course, do not have temperature controlled storage units but packaging should be stored in the coolest location in the Factory. In another factory I visited on this trip, this was the case.

In short, take your time when you are inspecting a factory. Look around, spend time watching QC, ask the tough questions, and take notice of small details. Small details can sometimes tell you a lot about a factory.

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