SAMPLING PLAN FOR PRODUCT INSPECTION The different types of sampling plans for QC inspections If an inspector controls the
quality of your products in China, he probably checks only a portion of the whole batch But how does he decide how many pieces to pick for his inspection? In other words, what sampling plan does he follow?
The most commonly used is the single-stage sampling plan by attributes. What does it mean, and what are the other options? A ”single-stage sampling plan” dictates that a certain number of pieces (n) should be drawn and inspected. That number n depends mainly on the size of the batch (and also on the inspection level). If the number of defects is under the AQL limit, the result is passed. In a “double-stage sampling plan“, the inspector would start by taking a smaller number of sample (n1). If the number of defects in n1 is above certain limits, more samples are picked. An “accept on zero” plan is a weird animal that is usually not a good idea in China. Some importers, who are sensitive to legal litigation by their customers, accept batches only if no defective unit is found. The only advantage is the fewer samples need to be checked. More in-depth information here. A “sampling plan by attributes” classifies the samples as either “non defective” or “defective”. There is nothing in between. A “sampling plan by variables” allows for a finer evaluation. For example, the length of the product is measured, and the exact findings are taken into account when a decision is made. A “rectifying sampling plan” is applicable if the defects that are found can be corrected immediately. It is not very different from a sampling plan by attributes, but it takes into account that the batch is of higher quality after the inspection… and, in case of inspection failure, the whole batch should be inspected. “Continuous sampling” is the best plan when products are made individually in a continuous flow. It makes no sense to pick samples inside each “batch”. It consists of several phases: At the beginning, each piece is checked (that’s the “screening”). After a certain number of pieces were found satisfactory, only certain pieces are checked randomly (that’s the “sampling”). If a piece is defective: back to screening.—– If you want to use one of these plans, you should visit the excellent SQC Online website and get the numbers you will need. And if you want more in-depth information about these plans, you should read Practical Acceptance Sampling: A Hands-On Guide. It was pointed out to me a few months back by Etienne Charlier. I pasted this book’s description (from the publisher) below. I should add that it is a college textbook first, before being a practitioner’s guide. Acceptance sampling plans provide criteria and decision rules for determining whether to accept or reject a batch based on a sample. They are therefore widely used by manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors, and service providers in a wide range of industries. The book introduces readers to the most popular sampling plans, including Military Standards and civilian ISO and ANSI/ASQC/BS standards. It covers the design, choice and performance evaluation of different types of plans, including single- and double-stage plans, rectifying and non-rectifying plans, plans for pass/fail and continuous measurements, continuous sampling plans, and more. What do you think?
5% for major defects (these products would usually not be considered acceptable by the end user). since he does not want too many defects. Different inspection levels will command different number of samples to inspect. there will be defective products. and separate inspections should be carried out for each lot. under “normal severity”.0% for minor defects (there is some departure from specifications. and is defined as the “quality level that is the worst tolerable” (ISO 2859 standard). But what does “too many” mean? How to set the limit between acceptability and refusal in a way that can be agreed upon and measured? Definition and application of ‘AQL’ The limit. It stands for ‘Acceptance Quality Limit’. the limits are: 0% for critical defects (totally unacceptable: a user might get harmed. as described above. If you ordered only one product. If you ordered different products. The first one tells you which ‘code letter’ to use. The inspection level. but most users would not mind it). It is true even after the manufacturer has checked each individual product and has repaired the defective ones. the code letter will give you the sample size and the maximum numbers of defects that can be accepted. Then. These proportions vary in function of the product and its market. when it comes to defective products?
The need for an objective measurement of quality In virtually every production batch. 2. or regulations are not respected). However. three types of defects are distinguished. The AQL level appropriate for your market. the buyer wants to control the quality of purchased goods. Thus. For most consumer goods. If your customers accept very few defects. the supplier cannot be expected to deliver defect-free goods. you should decide on three parameters: The ‘lot size’. is called the ‘AQL’. There are basically two tables. Getting familiar with the AQL tables Before using the AQL tables. the lot size is your total order quantity. Components used in building an airplane are subject to much lower AQL limits. we will stick to the so-called “level II”.5% defective items in the whole order quantity” means the AQL is 1. In practice. you might want to set a lower AQL for both major and minor defects. 4. in a supplier/buyer relationship. For example: “I want no more than 1.Back to basics: what is the “AQL”? The “AQL tables” are statistical tools at the disposal of buyers (for product inspections). In this article. They help determine two key elements: How many samples should be inspected? Where is the limit between acceptability and refusal. First table: sample size code letters
. the quantity of each product is a lot size.5%.
so you will have to draw 200pcs randomly from the total lot size. If you follow my example. here are the limits: the products are accepted if NO MORE than 10 major defects AND NO MORE than 14 minor defects are found. which typically includes: Packaging conformity (barcodes. the code letter is “L”. if you find 15 major defects and 12 minor defects. shipping marks…). I assume you have set your AQL at 2. I assume your ‘lot size’ is comprised between 3.Page7
How to read this table? It is very easy. Note: in quality inspections. Besides.
. It is sometimes called “quality”. the number of defects is only one of the criteria.5% for major defects and 4.0% for minor defects. Consequently.000pcs. or “quality findings”. they are accepted. If you find 3 major defects and 7 minor defects. and that your inspection level is ‘II’. Second table: single sampling plans for level II inspection (normal severity) How to read this table? Your code letter is “L”. Therefore. The other criteria are usually on the inspector’s checklist. inner packing. the products are refused.201pcs and 10. For example. cartons.
for the same confidence in the inspection results. there is no need to count each sample as a defect. However.Product conformity (aspect. since a factory cannot reasonnably be expected to turn out 100% good quality. And. basically I have to authorize the factory to produce some defects? A: Yes. In the vast majority of cases. More info here. Frequently asked questions about AQL Q: What are the reduced and tightened inspection severities? A: They are designed to be used in very specific situations. or on the contrary fails too often. In our example above.] are designed to encourage suppliers to have process averages consistently better than the AQL. Why this difference? There are heavy statistics behind this issue. the statisticians tell us it is not that simple. How to choose an AQL limit?
Q: Why not just say.
As you can see in the chart below. If all the products are in red color instead of orange. the number of samples to check (vertical axis) increases at a slower pace than the total quantity (horizontal axis). Specific tests defined in the inspection checklist (they might not be performed on all inspected samples if they are time-consuming or destructive). or whatever percentage deemed appropriate? A: Here again.5% of 200 samples is 5 samples. that’s why the numbers were make it simple. Why don’t they correspond to the maximum number of defects authorized? A: It is true. Please see below the note issued in the ISO2859 standard: “Although individual lots with quality as bad as the acceptance quality limit may be accepted with fairly high probability. In practice. His agency helps buyers in China. workmanship…). The adjusted and seem not to make sense. some defects. As we go up in the total quantity. ‘we’ll check 10% of the quantity’. the producer runs a risk of even though his products (if they were all runs a risk of accepting bad products. Q: So. when a producer is particularly reliable. To go further
Related articles: all the basics an importer should know about quality control are explained in the articles listed on this page. the consumer statisticians had to account for these risks. To rejection (based on the random element when drawing the sample) checked) would be accepted.” Q: Based on my AQL. in the same logic. Sampling schemes [. it does not mean the buyer tolerates everything as long as the number of defects are below the AQL limits. The normal severity already allows for a good variation of sample sizes. I calculated the proportion of defects authorized. 2. the designation of an acceptance quality limit does not suggest that this is a desirable quality level. Author: Renaud Anjoran is an expert in quality assurance and quality control. but we accept the goods even if 10 samples are found with a major defect. It makes more sense to refuse for product conformity... the proportion of products checked can decrease. Q: How to choose an AQL limit for my products? A: See this article. these severities are used in less than 1% of QC inspections. third-party inspectors follow only the normal severity.
I am not very familiar with these industries. and for pharmaceuticals.0/2.A few months ago. Actually. 4. I wrote an explanation about the “AQL“: what it is and how to use it. 1. The need for sampling.5% for major defects. the accepted defect rate is much lower than 1%.
The right AQL depends on two things. then the AQL should be 1.1 for critical defects. That’s because bad part might cause death. it is hard to base this on statistical reasoning. Inspection level II (under “normal severity”) is appropriate for most inspections. a 100% check does not yield that much more information than inspecting a statistically representative sample. 1. you can adjust an AQL that is a bit stricter (say.1) for sale on a low-end market. but it seems like I forgot one of them:
What AQL tolerance is suitable to my products? Unfortunately.0/6.5/0. and 0. The question becomes: how many products to check? Why different inspection levels? There is a fairly obvious principle in statistical quality control: the greater the order quantity.0% for this kind of defect. Or a bit looser (say. Inspecting a large number of products takes a long time: it is expensive. 2. it is not practical to inspect 100% of them (unless the quantity is very small). The user risk For many car and plane parts. when it comes to the representativity of inspection findings. To sum up: There are no guidelines for deciding what AQL limits to choose. I also listed a few frequent questions. 4. the higher the number of samples to check. Specialists often use six sigma tools to reduce the opportunities for defects in every process along the manufacturing cycle. So I don’t have any definite answer. If the whole batch should not contain more than 1. I think: The market you are selling into.10) if you sell your products in a high-end boutique channel.
.0 for minor defects. Based on this standard.5/0. You have to decide what your tolerance. It is considered the “standard” tolerance for most consumer products sold in supermarkets in North America and in Europe. The market The most common AQL chosen by importers is 2. rather than 100% checking When controlling the quality of a batch of products. Is it clear?
Back to basics: what is an inspection level? This article introduces the different options available to buyers. The kind of risk the users run by using/consuming/getting close to your product. But it is sometimes necessary to increase–or or reduce–the number of samples to check.0% of a certain kind of defect (over the long run). I guess there are rules of thumb specific to each field. and inspectors are less effective as they get tired.
“Four additional special levels. The likelihood of finding quality problems is lower than generally recommended. you can see how many samples would be drawn under each of the 7 inspection levels. you might want more products to be checked. Now let’s say you have ordered 40.General inspection levels Special inspection levels I II III S-1 S-2 S-3 S-4
. The 4 “special” inspection levels These special levels can be applied in cases where only very few samples can be checked. Some buyers opt for level-III inspections for high-value products. the numbers of samples to check vary from 5pcs to 315pcs. Another situation where special levels are appropriate is a container-loading supervision–to have an idea of what is inside the cartons. different levels are proposed by MIL-STD 105 E (the widely recognized standard for statistical quality control). the number of samples to check is lower than under S-4. buyers can check less samples by opting for a level-I inspection. However. quality control is usually performed under the general levels. Under S-3 level. but it also means more days (and dollars) spent in inspection. shouldn’t the sample size be drastically reduced? And if the quality issues are always present on all the products of a given batch (for reasons inherent to processes at work). why not check only a few samples? For these reasons. The special levels are used only for certain tests that either take lots of time or destroy the samples. you can see the differences in sample sizes. It can also be interesting for small quantities. to be used by default. S-2. More samples are inspected. if an inspection requires tests that end up in product destruction. whatever the inspection level you choose. But a trained inspector might be able to do it in one day. In the table below. Level II------It is the most widely used inspection level. Level III If a supplier recently had quality problems. and a batch of products will (most probably) be rejected if it is below the quality criteria defined by the buyer. in order to spend less time/money on inspections.000pcs of a product. and you suspect there are many defects? In this case. settling on this level by default. Again. this level is appropriate. and so on. is very risky. In practice: for consumer goods. On the other hand.But should the number of samples ONLY depend on the order quantity? What if this factory had many quality problems recently. Two examples to get an clearer understanding Let’s say you have ordered 5. without spending too much time at that checking. The 3 “general” inspection levels Level I Has this supplier passed most previous inspections? Do you feel confident in their products quality? Instead of doing no quality control. S-3 and S-4 […] may be used where relatively small sample sizes are necessary and larger sampling risks can be tolerated” (ISO 2859 standard). where the inspection would take only one day whatever the level chosen. S-1.000 pcs of a product. It is usually the buyer’s responsibility to choose the inspection level–more samples to check means more chances to reject bad products when they are bad.General inspection levels Special inspection levels I 80pcs II III S-1 S-2 8pcs S-3 20pcs S-4 32pcs
200pcs 315pcs 5pcs
As you can see.
deciding on a sample plan is very difficult–see my previous article about shipments including many references.e. the inspection might take one day of work (for S-1. or reduced level). my designer managed to explain it all nicely in this illustration:
. S-3. This is one of the most difficult things to explain to my clients. S-4. and can be conducted in one man-day (i. However. two days (under level II). Fortunately. in certain situations. one inspector on site for one day). or three days (under level III).200pcs 500pcs 800pcs 8pcs
In this case. S-2. Sampling plan calculations for quality inspections Most inspections only involve 1 or 2 references.
another one should go back to the factory to make sure the right prototype is their model. It is one of these things that seem obvious. Where do these samples come from? Here are the two most frequent cases: 1.Page7
How to arrange reference samples for QC inspections? If you pay for quality inspections on your products before they are shipped. you should try to make sure the inspectors have a reference sample in hand. At that point. The factory develops pre-production samples until a perfect samples is approved by the customer. ideally. but that don’t get done in many cases due to logistical obstacles.
. one sample needs to be sent to the inspection company… and.
Anybody has other experiences/suggestions? How your inspectors can fail to notice quality problems Performing a quality inspection prior to a shipment is like a filter. If they look the same and are the same size. the supplier needs to re-send another set of samples). the pre-production sample are used for QC purposes. But where. One option: sealing the pre-production samples in the factory Once a pre-production sample is approved. Once the purchaser receives the sample and he approves it.. It won’t catch 100% of the problems 100% of the time. There is also a timing problem. it can be sent to the factory and sealed (or stamped. But how do the samples get in the right inspector’s hands at the right time? It is not feasible when inspectors live alone and far from the office.
. But it should catch the BIG problems over 90% of the time. The goal is that nobody can play with the reference samples. But the factory might tamper with the samples… In the inspection company’s office? This sounds safer. It eliminates discussions such as “but the customer accepted this when we went into production” or “but the colors are never exactly the same in the bulk and on pre-production swatches”. and if it takes another 3 days for the samples to get back to China. and sends one sample back for QC purposes. 1. However. Laziness and lack of discipline Most professional inspectors are guilty of this. More and more importers are disillusioned about the value of QC inspections. way less than 90% of BIG problems are detected. same weight etc. And they usually think that bribery is the main reason for this lack of effectiveness. The supplier is happy because he didn’t have to pay Fedex or DHL to send the samples overseas. The customer asks for production samples (or “shipment samples“. the samples might arrive too late. specifically?
Directly in the factory? Some clients have enough trust in the suppliers and accept this option. If production is on the way for 10 days when the finished samples are ready.2. This is why. they are not necessarily wrong) that way. and if they are out in the field when the Fedex guy shows up. The other one remains in China. Logistics & timing obstacles As mentioned above. which are basically production samples with full individual packing). depending on who they work with. in most cases. a sourcing agent…) who compares all the samples. (In case they are not similar. one sample is sent to the purchaser. if it takes 4 days for the customer to receive and approve the samples. Many of them think (and. I don’t agree. the “good” sample is already in China. Another option: quick review of production samples The factory sends the samples to someone in China (it might be an inspection company. or vacuum packed…). the samples need to be sent back to the producing country (let’s say China). The client still needs to pay the international courier cost once (same cost). I listed below the major reasons why Chinese inspectors sometimes fail to notice quality problems that are BIG in their clients’ eyes. the ideal would be the production/shipment samples for two reasons: They are naturally closer to what the inspectors will see.
Wrong calibration As I wrote last week.2 They are unwilling to bother the factory Many of them are tired of fighting. and maybe 1 or 2 cartons are packed. they don’t pick cartons from every side and every height of the pile. the quantity can be counted. 3. and in the worst cases the report means nothing at all. Oh. mass markets in South America…). Lack of training When they need to check garments. 2. More about this phenomenon here. The same thing happens with electronics. 1. to save time but also to avoid bothering the factory. Unfortunately. The factory can’t play games. There are actually 2 separate issues here: 1. have a nice lunch. so they ask the factory to measure… and they write what they are told. They pretend not to see this little game. the high-end buyer might see defects that are important to him and that were completely undetected during the inspection. And. don’t ask them to check high-quality products. etc. What to do in this case? A re-inspection at the supplier’s charge. Naturally. This is just an example. Is this bribery? Yes and no. Poor timing of inspection Many buyers don’t understand why ONLY a final inspection (after production is over) can confirm the average quality of a batch. and products can be picked randomly. since the job got done. ceramics. When everything is packed. of course. and what will he conclude? “Everything is fine”.For example. their report is based on their guesses after checking a sample size that is much smaller than their QC plan calls for.
. If you work with QC firms that work for cheap buyers (promotional goods. What often happens is that suppliers are late. it is so much nicer to what he usually sees. and there are many issues that their untrained eye just can’t notice. but it is difficult to prove. they let the factory check (and repair!) the samples by themselves during the unpacking process. The statistical plan is not respected. For instance.1 They take shortcuts to go faster
A very common example: during the visual check or the testing. As a result. It is easy for a factory to hide the defective products and claim they are not made yet. QC Inspectors cannot follow different quality standards. and avoid justifying themselves after complaints from the supplier. furniture. some quality control agencies see no problem in sending inspectors who have a very superficial knowledge of textile products. they often don’t check as many samples as they should. Some sophisticated clients can suspect it after reading the QC report. 4. They want to work in a relaxed atmosphere. many problems are corrected before inspection. The reason is. These inspectors are very slow in taking measurements. The job gets done when only 20% of the goods are completed. Send an inspector who is used to checking cheap products for monitoring a production of goods to be sold in high-end boutiques. most Chinese suppliers pretend not to understand why they should pay for a re-inspection in this case.
2 The inspector himself compresses the time of the job After a few rushed jobs (see point 5. The point is. Rushed job
When an inspector is under intense timing pressure. *** Oh.1 The inspector’s manager decides on an unrealistic sampling plan This happens when the client is allowed to choose the sampling size in an online booking system. you are asking for trouble. there are 2 objectives: To make sure the same problem won’t be present on the pieces that will go through that same process later. But tens (hundreds?) of unprofessional importers commit this mistake. Some of them conclude that they can do one job in the morning (for their employer) and one in the afternoon (on a freelance basis). in 1 man-day! The result is the same as in point 1. This may seem obvious. if an issue is caught by an inspector.
. When there is a problem that is acceptable (according to the inspector’s judgment). and how about factory interference? I am not including it in this list.So you should think now about the instructions to your QC agency/staff: should they abort the mission in such cases? 5.1 above) will avoid it. 7. I already described the way corruption works in a previous article. And. or when the QC company does not dare to say no to a client. and if you don’t ensure that the inspector has a reference sample in hand. and a total of 315 pieces to check visually. It happens often in peak periods. Especially in situations with the following characteristics: The sums at stake are quite large. and the report means nothing. Unclear or incomplete specifications If you don’t communicate detailed requirements. At this stage. In the China sourcing game. There are actually 3 separate issues:
5. I have seen sampling plans including 8 different product references to check for conformity. 5. like before Chinese New Year.1: the job is not done fully. The importer puts a lot of pressure on the supplier to ship in time. corruption happens. This is a highly dangerous habit! 6. it is not as frequent as most people think. the job should be aborted. if it can’t be avoided. inspectors know they can get done in 2 hours. he is forced to take all the shortcuts he can. because an inspector who doesn’t cut corners (see point 1. Corruption Yes. But the best is to detect problems during an in-process inspection (before the products are finished). letting another party guessing some information is never a good idea. but is not in conformity with the client’s specifications. What do you think? Am I forgetting an important element? Procedure if a problem is detected during an in-process inspection Two years ago.1). I drew a flow chart to guide importers in case a final QC inspection was failed.
To make sure the pieces that already bear this problem are dealt with in the right way. So I drew another flow chart. specifically for in-process inspections:
What do you think? Anything to add to this procedure? Procedure for dealing with failed inspections Quality inspections are only a way to collect information. and present it in a way that allows the buyer to take a decision.
. Last month I wrote a post about the case where the buyer refuses the products and asks for rework. I explained what to do: Analyze the situation and send clear guidelines to the supplier. In that article (re-inspections and corrective actions).
when they book their first inspection. the supplier communicates the percentages of (1) the pieces that are classified as fine after the sorting job. Here is what I typically respond:
.If necessary. change the scope of the inspection. the buyer can send an inspector to check the reliability of the sorting job and the effectiveness of the repair job. what to do?). For very sensitive production runs. The worst for them is to short-ship or reproduce because it means materials were wasted (and it generally costs much more than labor). and then communicate with the supplier accordingly. But I keep explaining this over and over to my clients. for using this flow chart with highest effectiveness: The buyer should anticipate all these steps (can it be repaired? if not. The factory’s incentive is to sort out quickly the biggest issues and repair them grossly to be a little closer to the standard (“cha bu duo”). tell me “please check 10% of the order quantity”. In the best case scenario. So I drew a flow chart that can be used as a procedure for dealing with failed inspections:
A few notes. and (2) the proportion of pieces that are not acceptable but that can be reworked. Why we shouldn’t check 10% of the order quantity Some of my new clients.
The maximum number of defects you gave me does not take into account the risk that the whole quantity is acceptable while the samples we have selected are worse than the average. If we randomly select 10% of the order quantity for checking. and give me an upper limit on the number of defects. Another classic is trying to “optimize” the work done. it will be easy for your supplier to question the scientific validity of the inspection plan. You would need to choose a confidence level. importers would be better inspired to spend more time communicating with their suppliers and preventing mistakes. Then they realize they are better off not reinventing the wheel.000 pcs. Neither have you considered the risk of the opposite happening (accepting a lot because of samples above average). Instead of inventing their own procedure. A buyer willing to optimize the inspector’s job is likely to ask us to check 315 samples anyway. and an inspector can check up to 315 samples of in one day. We are also better off. They were developed specifically for quality control. For 90% of consumer goods (excluding food) sourced in China. In this case.Usually we follow the statistical tables that everybody in the industry works with. But some of them actually stick to their guns. and they have become a standard that even your suppliers have heard of. Once again. calculate the impact of both risks. so even a tightened-level inspection would require us to draw “only” 200 samples. But we certainly can apply your inspection plan if you explain it to me. But in case the inspection is failed. Nearly 100% of importers follow this standard. The order quantity is 3. what is the maximum number of major and minor defects that you will accept? Generally this is enough to convince them to follow the relevant standards. following the “normal inspection level” is fine. and come up with limits on the numbers of defects. Let’s say the product is rather simple. the statistical tables don’t allow for this situation. here is what I say:
We can follow your suggestion.
. as a new inspection plan creates confusion and can lead inspectors to make mistakes.