The discourse in the current political arena seems to suggest that Made In China is a dirty word. For consumers, it is synonymous with "cheap", "poor quality", "disposable"...
The very first thing we hear out of the mouth of anyone looking to source or manufacture products in China is the perception that China is synonymous with poor quality. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are plenty of “poor quality” products made in the USA and Europe, therefore it is clear that the quality factor has absolutely nothing to do with location.
China is a world-class producer of goods, evidenced by products such as iPhones, flat screen tv’s, automobiles (BMW, Mercedes, GM, VW all have manufacturing plants in China). No one would ever venture to suggest that these products are of poor quality, in fact, they are considered benchmarks in their categories.
In the 1950’s, Japan was associated with cheap, poor quality products and so was Hong Kong in the 60’s. What could have changed? Obviously the people in those countries did not suddenly develop a quality gene.
What changed was the introduction of systems and methods that dealt with the issue of efficiency and quality in a systematic way. Methods introduced by Deming and his disciples demonstrated that anyone brought up in a system of Total Quality Management and Lean Management would be capable of delivering quality consistently and contribute to make improvements on a continuous basis.
The lesson to be drawn from the successes in Japan, Hong Kong and eventually China is simply that Quality is a factor of design, planning and execution. The suggestion that a cheap product is necessarily of bad quality is erroneous.
There is no question that electing to use inferior materials for the sake of cost saving will lead to inferior products and so will the choice to use a supplier that is incapable of managing it’s processes and cuts corners in the manufacturing process.
The fact that China is rife with corruption and businesses willing to take short cuts for a fast gain only suggests that the selection of a partner is even more critical. The willingness to engage with a partner, share business values and participate in the operational excellence of the supplier is critical.
All this leads to the ineluctable inference that quality is not only a factor of the choices made by the contracting company (the designer) but that of the selection of the manufacturing partner.
No amount of Quality Control will ever balance a poor design or a poor choice of manufacturer.
Western companies contracting with suppliers in China seem to think that delivering a stringent “specification list”, monitoring design and pre-production and performing pre-shipment quality checks will insulate them from quality issues are sadly mistaken.
What is required, assuming the chosen manufacturer is carefully vetted, is a complete immersion on the part of the contracting entity thus insuring that the issues are discovered and dealt with as they happen.The Chinese worker’s psyche always tends to minimize the issues, find shortcuts and attempt to fix the issues in silence, until it is too late to do anything about it.
How many times have you said to your manufacturing partner:
- Why am I hearing about this now?
- I thought we had already tested this material?
- The pre-production sample was perfect, what happened?
- Why is our testing in the US not matching your results?
- What do you mean by “the approved material was not available”?
I could go on… It is all about communication, control and the inherent fact that the sentence that applies best in China was coined by Ronald Reagan talking about the Soviet Union: Trust But Verify
Try it, and you are assured of getting what you designed and more importantly, what you paid for, or, better yet, open your eyes to the true cost of manufacturing overseas, perform a Total Cost exercise and make the decision to manufacture close to your consumers.
Richard S. Ellert
Lean Six Sigma - Black Belt | Founder - OnShore Advisory Group LLC