“No, I specifically said the promotional keychains should be three inches tall and five inches wide. I didn’t say they should be five centimeters tall and three centimeters wide. Weren’t you listening to me when I told you what I wanted?”
If this conversation sounds familiar to you, you know that communicating with suppliers can be difficult. Quality standards and product specifications can easily be lost in translation—or unheard altogether. The result is often products that don’t meet your or your customers’ expectations.
Quality control inspection checklists can be an easy remedy to this problem. A quality control checklist goes by many names—an inspection criteria sheet (ICS), a QC checklist, a quality assurance checklist or quality control sheet. All these names refer to a document that outlines quality requirements and specifications in a clear and concise manner for your supplier.
Inspection checklists are one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to clarify requirements and prevent defects in your goods (related: 5 Essentials of a Quality Control Checklist [eBook]).
Why create quality control inspection checklists?
Quality control inspection checklists serve two main purposes:
- Outline quality standards and product requirements the supplier is expected to meet and
- Provide objective criteria for inspecting the product to ensure it meets customer’s expectations
It’s helpful to share a detailed quality assurance checklist with your supplier, even before starting production. This gives the supplier an opportunity to review your requirements and notify you if any are unreasonable or need adjusting before mass production.
A QC checklist would likely prevent the dimensional issues in the keychain example used earlier, since a checklist typically specifies dimensional tolerances and measuring methods. Your supplier can refer to this document, along with an approved sample, to understand your requirements throughout production.
When it comes to checking the product before shipment, the quality control checklist should provide the standard for inspection as well. The checklist is not only helpful for internal QC staff checking the product, but also essential for you or any third-party inspector you hire to inspect on your behalf.
Meeting regulatory standards with inspection checklists
Meeting regulatory standards can mean the difference between your product reaching your customers and being seized at customs. Effective quality assurance checklists can ensure your products meet regulatory standards before shipment.
A QC checklist typically includes a section which defines the market of sale and regulations or standards the product must meet.
For instance, a quality control checklist for a plush toy intended for the US market might include the following section:
Compliance with ASTM F963 is mandatory for all toy importers under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
Because regulatory requirements differ by country, you might also consider creating different checklist templates for different markets—even for the same products. For example, rather than those sold in the U.S., a plush toy destined for the EU market will need to meet EN71 standards.
In this way, quality assurance checklists can help clarify to the manufacturer what regulatory requirements the product needs to meet, especially if you’re exporting to multiple markets.
Other benefits of creating a QC checklist
One of the less obvious benefits of collaborating with your supplier on developing quality control inspection checklists is that it can improve your relationship with your supplier.
Your supplier might have their own quality manual. But there are often differences between an importer’s requirements and the factory’s standards. Ensuring consistency between your requirements and the factory’s requirements helps minimize miscommunication and prevent quality issues.
Working with your supplier on the quality control sheet shows them you value their feedback. And your supplier may even be able to suggest ideas to improve product quality that you might not have considered.
What information should you include in your quality control checklist template?
Your quality control sheet needs to be direct and written in a clear format. Remember you aren’t the only one reading your quality control sheet. Your supplier and any third-party inspector you hire also need to be able to easily interpret it.
It may also be helpful to have the document translated into the supplier’s native language. You can often find a freelancer on websites like Upwork or Guru for this purpose.
An effective quality control checklist template should cover the following technical areas.
This first major section should contain details about the shipper carton, any inner carton and any retail carton or packaging. Packaging requirements are important for your supplier to reference here, regardless of whether you will verify packaging during inspection.
The packaging section should typically contain the following:
- Packaging weight and dimensions
- Shipper carton labeling and marking requirements
- Shipper carton material requirements (e.g. single or double layer, binding method, white or brown cardboard)
- Packaging method and assortment
- Retail packaging printings, graphics and labeling
When it comes to creating a quality control checklist template, including a section with product requirements might seem obvious. But many importers tend to overlook what this section should entail.
Product requirements shown on the quality control sheet should include:
- Product weight and dimensions
- Material and construction
- Product color (consider including Pantone color codes where applicable)
- Markings and labeling (e.g. UL or the voltage rating for electronics)
On-site tests and checks
Almost any product inspection should contain some on-site tests and checks. Including this information in your QC checklist helps inform the supplier of what tests you expect the product and packaging to pass.
This section should also outline the procedure for each test or check, the criteria for pass or fail and any related tolerance for the inspector (related: How Product Inspectors Use Quality Control Checklists).
Some examples of on-site tests and checks are:
- Barcode scan check (for any items with a barcode)
- Carton drop test (for packaging)
- GSM check (for fabric density)
- Moisture check (for wood items, such as furniture or moldings)
- Cross hatch adhesion test (for enamel-coated cookware items)
- Vulcanization test (for rubber items, especially footwear)
- Function test (applicable for most items)
- Hi-pot test (for electrical items)
Required inspection equipment
Let’s say you’ve told your inspector they need to conduct a GSM check of fabric used at your supplier’s factory. Without notifying the supplier in your QC checklist, that inspector might arrive at the factory to find the equipment needed for the GSM check isn’t available.
Since you wouldn’t have any way to verify fabric density at that point, you might be forced to:
- Reschedule the inspection, needlessly costing time and money or
- Ship the goods without knowing fabric density, which could result in unhappy customers or receiving unsellable product if density is too low.
Simply stating the required tests and checks for a product isn’t always adequate. It’s highly recommended that you also include which equipment is necessary for each test and check. If you aren’t sure which equipment is needed, your supplier or third-party inspector should be able to advise.
Specifying who will provide equipment
Just as important as specifying the required equipment is clarifying who will provide it.
In the fabric density example above, you might have included this test and the required equipment in your quality control inspection checklist. But the supplier could mistakenly think the inspector will bring the testing equipment.
Likewise, the inspector might assume the factory will have the equipment available on-site. To prevent this mix up, include who should provide each piece of equipment in your quality control checklist template.
Suppliers generally should be responsible for providing any larger equipment that’s difficult to transport, such as a metal detection machine for garments or a large container scale. The inspector typically brings smaller tools like calipers, measuring tape and Pantone color swatches (related: 6 Essential Tools for Product Inspection).
This part of a quality control sheet is one that many importers are familiar with—though often less directly and in limited detail.
You might mention specific quality defects or other issues to your supplier and tell them which ones you can and cannot accept. You might even provide photos of these and describe the level of severity of different issues that’s acceptable.
But a much better way to provide objective tolerances for quality issues is to include a section in your QC checklist for classifying defects. This section should point out any and all potential quality defects and classify each as either “minor”, “major” or “critical” (related: 3 Types of Quality Defects in Different Products).
This section of your quality control checklist template also tells the supplier and inspector about your tolerances for product defects.
For example, you might classify a gap between product components as “minor” if it measures 3 mm or less but “major” if it exceeds 3 mm. You might specify that glue residue on a product is a “minor” defect if it can be easily removed but “major” if it cannot be removed.
Clarifying defects in a QC checklist ensures that everyone is using the same standard for assessment.
Creating a quality control inspection checklist should be among the first steps you take to develop an effective quality control program. Creating a quality control checklist template for all subsequent inspections will help ensure consistency in reporting and results.
A detailed checklist can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. As a handy reference for workers on the factory floor, it can prevent sub-standard or non-conforming goods. And since this document is in writing, it can also serve as a reference if you have a disagreement with the factory about product standards.
Getting an absolutely perfect production run every single time is nearly impossible. But you can bring that goal closer to reality by preventing confusion and conveying expectations with a clear QC checklist.
And don't forget to check out the manufacturing podcast episode that covers this topic!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Do you have any tips for what else is important to include in a QC checklist? Share them in the comments below!