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The Process of Quality Fade


Recently, Chinese car manufacturers, Great Wall and Chery, had to recall thousands of their vehicles exported to Australia. The recall was necessary because their vehicle engine gaskets and brake linings contained asbestos. Asbestos is a banned substance in Australia (as it is in many other developed nations) due to the harmful nature of the material. All involved suffered significant losses and China’s move into the Australian auto market has been eternally tarnished.   

This now begs the question, how could both companies make such a colossal mistake? Especially given this was intended to be their first move into a top tier market.

The most likely explanation is process of quality fade. This is where manufacturer’s initial production runs meet all specified vital factors and industry standards laid out by their customer. Though over time, gradually reduce the quality and substitute their input materials for cheaper products. And as a supplier’s cost pressures mount, the problem gets worse which in turn leads to later production runs becoming completely defective or unusable.

Whether this is the exact reason or not is subject for debate. However what remains clear, quality fade is a major problem from Chinese manufacturers and presents a real danger for importers of their goods. And if true, that Great wall and Chery were willing to quality fade themselves, what are other Chinese companies capable of perpetrating on unrelated importers? The answer seems to be most Chinese companies will do nearly anything to pinch a few pennies.  

The takeaway for importers and their customers here is, as the goods become more complex to manufacture the risk of substandard quality input materials being used becomes heightened.

So what’s the solution?

  1. Don’t bank on a bad commercial reputation will deter the practice of quality fade. Most state owned and private factories operate on thin margins and are mainly concerned with day-to-day survival. Thus the pressure to stay afloat often trumps the potential of a negative reputation.  
  2. Follow through and consistently monitor the quality of your products. From manufacturing to customer to end user, seek feedback on the products and relate any quality concerns, no matter how minor, back to the manufacture. The longer minor quality concerns are left unreported to more chance that quality level becomes the new norm. 
  3. Never take current quality success as an indicator for continued good performance. Suppliers can perform well for years causing importers to relax their quality guard then, seemly without notice, quality problems will start arise. That fact is, even though a manufacture hasn’t had a quality problem in years means nothing when forecasting future quality levels.
  4. Never assume. Always clearly state your products vital factors/industry standards. We all know the proverb “when you assume you make an ass of you and me”. This is never truer than in respect to quality of input materials used. The lead paint in toys issue arose because Mattel pressured their supplier to find cost savings. Which they did in the form of using cheaper lead based paint (an industry standard in China). Mattel never specified which materials were acceptable or not acceptable to change, instead they wrongly assumed their supplier’s solution would meet North American standards.
  5. Stay relentless in your pursuit of top quality for the price point you’re paying. Nowhere in the world will you receive top quality for the cheapest price. Its basic common sense. Rather, know your product and where concessions can be made and where they can’t. Then monitor the quality along those lines.   

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for the next weeks post.

(For more than 10 years, GCP Industrial Products has successfully offered its customers a unique sourcing process that allows them to save money, streamline their supply chain and grow with new products. Our plans are to continue to grow based upon mutually beneficial relationships and the quality of our products and services to our ever growing customer base. To contact us please click here or phone 1-888-893-5427. Thank you.)