The trade show where you’ll be premiering your new product is just two weeks away, and you still haven’t received the goods. The order hasn’t even left the factory yet. In fact, your supplier hasn’t been able to give you an exact date for shipping.
You’ve granted interviews in industry-leading publications, raised a small fortune from investors and spent countless hours perfecting your product. And all of that–your reputation, your brand, your livelihood–hang in the balance.
Importing a product takes guts. Whether you’re starting your own fledgling company and manufacturing for the first time or working as a purchasing manager in a Fortune 500 company, your success or failure depends on getting a product that meets your requirements shipped on-time.
Here are three ways experienced importers avoid production delays:
1. Specify your expected shipping date early
Communicating with suppliers can be one of your greatest challenges when importing from overseas. One way experienced importers avoid production delays is by being very clear with their supplier about expectations as early as possible. Not surprisingly, this also applies to the timing of an order, not just the product requirements.
Specifying your expectations does not mean micromanaging your supplier. If you’re manufacturing furniture, for example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to dictate:
- When raw materials arrive at the factory
- When cutting starts and finishes
- When gluing and curing takes place, or
- By which date the finished goods should be packaged
In fact, attempting to dictate these production processes to the factory can actually inhibit your ability to manage deadlines. And it can hurt your relationship with your supplier.
Instead, after you’ve agreed on a shipping deadline with your supplier, check in with them periodically for an update on production. Have they received raw materials yet? Have they started production? These are questions you can ask that can help you anticipate any delays early. For more foresight you might want to obtain a production schedule or timeline from the factory."After you’ve agreed on a shipping deadline with your supplier, check in with them periodically for an update."
2. Manage production with a timeline
Meeting a deadline starts with having a plan for how you will manage your time. In manufacturing, production timelines are an invaluable tool when tracking an order. They show the progress of every project activity and its phases to ensure you can keep track and make necessary adjustments. A Gantt chart is an example of such a tool.
Gantt charts for managing production deadlines
Where you might use a GPS to help you efficiently reach a destination, project managers often use a Gantt chart to help them reach different milestones to efficiently complete a project. When applied to manufacturing, a Gantt chart gives you an overview of the different processes involved in production and their relative progress. The use of Gantt charts as a tool helps importers avoid production delays."In manufacturing, a Gantt chart gives you an overview of processes involved in production and their progress."
If you were making shoes made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), you might want to use a Gantt chart to manage the many different processes involved. A simple Gantt chart might show the planned start date, end date and percent completed of each production phase.
For example, you planned on completing the midsole injection process for a specific SKU on January 15th. You see that it’s already the 13th, and the factory’s chart shows it hasn’t started production. You can contact the supplier requesting an explanation and an update and then make the necessary adjustments in your schedule to fit the new production schedule.
|Production Schedule||Upper Injection||Midsole Injection||Printing|
|SKU||Pairs||All Materials On-Hand||Planned Beginning Date||Planned End Date||Actual % Completed QTY||Planned Beginning Date||Planned End Date||Actual % Completed QTY||Planned Beginning Date||Planned End Date||Actual % Completed QTY|
Of course, the information you receive from the factory might not be 100-percent accurate. Your supplier might give you reassurance that the order will ship on-time when, actually, the order will be delayed. When you suspect this is happening, or when you’ve had a history of this problem, it may be better to get an actual look at what’s happening at the factory.
3. Production monitoring to manage deadlines
How can you be sure your order of wristwatches is just a week away from completion? How do you know the factory is just waiting on packaging to arrive? In short, how do you know the information you’re getting from your supplier is accurate?
Production monitoring is one of the best ways to answer these questions, and many more, with certainty. And it’s one way importers avoid production delays.
Identify and address issues earlier
Production monitoring means actually visiting the factory and inspecting the product at two or more stages. By looking at the product at multiple production phases, it’s much easier for you to prepare for any possible delays or address issues that could lead to delays."Production monitoring means actually visiting the factory and inspecting the product at two or more stages."
For example, let’s say the watches you’re making require the watch face to be assembled with a leather wristband. If you inspect the wristbands before they’re assembled with other components, you can identify any issues earlier, and you’re able to address them with the supplier without delaying the order.
Some issues will be much more time-consuming to fix after assembly. If you had waited until the watches were completely assembled and packaged before performing inspection and uncovered the same issues, the watches would need to be unpacked and disassembled. Only then could the issue be resolved and production could resume again.
Hiring an independent inspector for production monitoring
Since production monitoring requires repeatedly visiting your supplier’s factory, typically overseas, you may find hiring an independent inspector to help can save you quite a bit of time and money. Frequency of production monitoring can vary from daily visits and reporting to one time every couple weeks.
An independent inspector can take the specifications and requirements that you provide, travel to the factory and verify that the product meets your expectations. If the product is semi-finished, your inspector can tell you how many pieces are finished and packaged. They can also offer insight into which processes are taking longer than expected and why.
And as a hidden benefit, they can lesion with the factory’s production manager to check and update a production timeline or Gantt chart. This way, any time you might be concerned or unsure about meeting the agreed upon shipping deadline, you can send you inspector to the factory to update the timeline.
Keeping your supplier on track is extremely important if you want to build your business. Delays can negatively impact meeting deadlines to customer satisfaction. That’s why experienced importers avoid production delays with the methods outlined above.
Following these three ways to keep to your production schedule, you can avoid the kinds of delays that cause factories to rush production, at the expense of quality.
And if you'd prefer to listen to this topic instead, check out this manufacturing podcast!