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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?
If you ordered different products. is called the ‘AQL’. They help determine two key elements: How many samples should be inspected? Where is the limit between acceptability and refusal. Different inspection levels will command different number of samples to inspect.Back to basics: what is the “AQL”? The “AQL tables” are statistical tools at the disposal of buyers (for product inspections). The inspection level. the quantity of each product is a lot size. It is true even after the manufacturer has checked each individual product and has repaired the defective ones. 2. The first one tells you which ‘code letter’ to use. 4. in a supplier/buyer relationship. Thus. and is defined as the “quality level that is the worst tolerable” (ISO 2859 standard). the lot size is your total order quantity.5% for major defects (these products would usually not be considered acceptable by the end user). These proportions vary in function of the product and its market. three types of defects are distinguished. The AQL level appropriate for your market. For most consumer goods. In this article. If you ordered only one product. the buyer wants to control the quality of purchased goods. If your customers accept very few defects. There are basically two tables.5%. the code letter will give you the sample size and the maximum numbers of defects that can be accepted. you should decide on three parameters: The ‘lot size’. In practice. under “normal severity”. we will stick to the so-called “level II”. First table: sample size code letters . the limits are: 0% for critical defects (totally unacceptable: a user might get harmed. but most users would not mind it). However. or regulations are not respected). and separate inspections should be carried out for each lot. there will be defective products. 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. For example: “I want no more than 1.5% defective items in the whole order quantity” means the AQL is 1.0% for minor defects (there is some departure from specifications. It stands for ‘Acceptance Quality Limit’. you might want to set a lower AQL for both major and minor defects. Getting familiar with the AQL tables Before using the AQL tables. Components used in building an airplane are subject to much lower AQL limits. since he does not want too many defects. the supplier cannot be expected to deliver defect-free goods. Then. as described above. when it comes to defective products? Page7 The need for an objective measurement of quality In virtually every production batch.
inner packing. and that your inspection level is ‘II’. I assume you have set your AQL at 2. cartons. if you find 15 major defects and 12 minor defects.000pcs. they are accepted.Page7 How to read this table? It is very easy. the products are refused. The other criteria are usually on the inspector’s checklist. It is sometimes called “quality”.0% for minor defects. Consequently. For example. the number of defects is only one of the criteria. .5% for major defects and 4. Second table: single sampling plans for level II inspection (normal severity) How to read this table? Your code letter is “L”. If you find 3 major defects and 7 minor defects.201pcs and 10. so you will have to draw 200pcs randomly from the total lot size. which typically includes: Packaging conformity (barcodes. Besides. the code letter is “L”. shipping marks…). If you follow my example. I assume your ‘lot size’ is comprised between 3. Therefore. Note: in quality inspections. here are the limits: the products are accepted if NO MORE than 10 major defects AND NO MORE than 14 minor defects are found. or “quality findings”.
basically I have to authorize the factory to produce some defects? A: Yes. How to choose an AQL limit? . 2. Q: So. And. As you can see in the chart below.5% of 200 samples is 5 samples. Why don’t they correspond to the maximum number of defects authorized? A: It is true. for the same confidence in the inspection results. the proportion of products checked can decrease. Specific tests defined in the inspection checklist (they might not be performed on all inspected samples if they are time-consuming or destructive). 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. In the vast majority of cases. when a producer is particularly reliable. the designation of an acceptance quality limit does not suggest that this is a desirable quality level. or whatever percentage deemed appropriate? A: Here again. some defects. More info here. In our example above. the statisticians tell us it is not that simple. His agency helps buyers in China. To rejection (based on the random element when drawing the sample) checked) would be accepted. To go further Page7 Related articles: all the basics an importer should know about quality control are explained in the articles listed on this page. that’s why the numbers were make it simple. it does not mean the buyer tolerates everything as long as the number of defects are below the AQL limits. Sampling schemes [. the number of samples to check (vertical axis) increases at a slower pace than the total quantity (horizontal axis). Why this difference? There are heavy statistics behind this issue. or on the contrary fails too often. However.Product conformity (aspect.” Q: Based on my AQL. As we go up in the total quantity. It makes more sense to refuse for product conformity.] are designed to encourage suppliers to have process averages consistently better than the AQL. 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. The normal severity already allows for a good variation of sample sizes. the consumer statisticians had to account for these risks. Author: Renaud Anjoran is an expert in quality assurance and quality control. the producer runs a risk of even though his products (if they were all runs a risk of accepting bad products. these severities are used in less than 1% of QC inspections. Q: How to choose an AQL limit for my products? A: See this article. If all the products are in red color instead of orange. Q: Why not just say. ‘we’ll check 10% of the quantity’. in the same logic. but we accept the goods even if 10 samples are found with a major defect. since a factory cannot reasonnably be expected to turn out 100% good quality... In practice. workmanship…). third-party inspectors follow only the normal severity. The adjusted and seem not to make sense. there is no need to count each sample as a defect. I calculated the proportion of defects authorized.
You have to decide what your tolerance. That’s because bad part might cause death. it is not practical to inspect 100% of them (unless the quantity is very small). but it seems like I forgot one of them: What AQL tolerance is suitable to my products? Unfortunately.1 for critical defects. the higher the number of samples to check.5% for major defects. a 100% check does not yield that much more information than inspecting a statistically representative sample. when it comes to the representativity of inspection findings. 4. and inspectors are less effective as they get tired. 1. it is hard to base this on statistical reasoning.0/6.10) if you sell your products in a high-end boutique channel. To sum up: There are no guidelines for deciding what AQL limits to choose. Is it clear? Back to basics: what is an inspection level? This article introduces the different options available to buyers.0/2. you can adjust an AQL that is a bit stricter (say. So I don’t have any definite answer. 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. Page7 The right AQL depends on two things. The need for sampling. Actually. and 0. . If the whole batch should not contain more than 1. The user risk For many car and plane parts. The kind of risk the users run by using/consuming/getting close to your product. The market The most common AQL chosen by importers is 2. rather than 100% checking When controlling the quality of a batch of products. the accepted defect rate is much lower than 1%. I guess there are rules of thumb specific to each field. I also listed a few frequent questions.0% for this kind of defect. It is considered the “standard” tolerance for most consumer products sold in supermarkets in North America and in Europe. Inspection level II (under “normal severity”) is appropriate for most inspections.0% of a certain kind of defect (over the long run). 4.1) for sale on a low-end market. But it is sometimes necessary to increase–or or reduce–the number of samples to check. 1. 2.A few months ago. Based on this standard.5/0. and for pharmaceuticals.0 for minor defects. I am not very familiar with these industries. I wrote an explanation about the “AQL“: what it is and how to use it. Specialists often use six sigma tools to reduce the opportunities for defects in every process along the manufacturing cycle.5/0. then the AQL should be 1. I think: The market you are selling into. Or a bit looser (say. Inspecting a large number of products takes a long time: it is expensive.
Two examples to get an clearer understanding Let’s say you have ordered 5. S-1. Some buyers opt for level-III inspections for high-value products. quality control is usually performed under the general levels. why not check only a few samples? For these reasons. Again. if an inspection requires tests that end up in product destruction. The special levels are used only for certain tests that either take lots of time or destroy the samples. More samples are inspected. 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. S-2. you might want more products to be checked. this level is appropriate. On the other hand.000pcs of a product. the numbers of samples to check vary from 5pcs to 315pcs. whatever the inspection level you choose. Under S-3 level. and a batch of products will (most probably) be rejected if it is below the quality criteria defined by the buyer. different levels are proposed by MIL-STD 105 E (the widely recognized standard for statistical quality control). 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).General inspection levels Special inspection levels I II III S-1 S-2 S-3 S-4 . “Four additional special levels. without spending too much time at that checking. However. to be used by default. In practice: for consumer goods. Level III If a supplier recently had quality problems. Now let’s say you have ordered 40. Another situation where special levels are appropriate is a container-loading supervision–to have an idea of what is inside the cartons.But should the number of samples ONLY depend on the order quantity? What if this factory had many quality problems recently. The 4 “special” inspection levels These special levels can be applied in cases where only very few samples can be checked. where the inspection would take only one day whatever the level chosen. Level II------It is the most widely used inspection level. you can see the differences in sample sizes. you can see how many samples would be drawn under each of the 7 inspection levels. buyers can check less samples by opting for a level-I inspection. but it also means more days (and dollars) spent in inspection. In the table below. the number of samples to check is lower than under S-4. But a trained inspector might be able to do it in one day.General inspection levels Special inspection levels I 80pcs II III S-1 S-2 8pcs S-3 20pcs S-4 32pcs Page7 200pcs 315pcs 5pcs As you can see. 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. is very risky.000 pcs of a product. It can also be interesting for small quantities. and you suspect there are many defects? In this case. settling on this level by default. and so on. The likelihood of finding quality problems is lower than generally recommended. 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). in order to spend less time/money on inspections.
the inspection might take one day of work (for S-1. However. S-3. This is one of the most difficult things to explain to my clients. S-2. one inspector on site for one day). Sampling plan calculations for quality inspections Most inspections only involve 1 or 2 references. or three days (under level III).200pcs 500pcs 800pcs 8pcs 13pcs 32pcs 80pcs In this case. deciding on a sample plan is very difficult–see my previous article about shipments including many references. my designer managed to explain it all nicely in this illustration: Page7 . two days (under level II). or reduced level). and can be conducted in one man-day (i.e. Fortunately. S-4. in certain situations.
ideally. . one sample needs to be sent to the inspection company… and. At that point. 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. but that don’t get done in many cases due to logistical obstacles. It is one of these things that seem obvious. The factory develops pre-production samples until a perfect samples is approved by the customer. you should try to make sure the inspectors have a reference sample in hand. another one should go back to the factory to make sure the right prototype is their model.
the pre-production sample are used for QC purposes. I don’t agree. 1. There is also a timing problem. But where. Many of them think (and. the ideal would be the production/shipment samples for two reasons: They are naturally closer to what the inspectors will see. But the factory might tamper with the samples… In the inspection company’s office? This sounds safer. But it should catch the BIG problems over 90% of the time. The goal is that nobody can play with the reference samples. or vacuum packed…). The customer asks for production samples (or “shipment samples“. 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. One option: sealing the pre-production samples in the factory Once a pre-production sample is approved. way less than 90% of BIG problems are detected. the samples might arrive too late. . the supplier needs to re-send another set of samples). And they usually think that bribery is the main reason for this lack of effectiveness. same weight etc. in most cases. they are not necessarily wrong) that way. and sends one sample back for QC purposes. This is why. The supplier is happy because he didn’t have to pay Fedex or DHL to send the samples overseas.. specifically? Page7 Directly in the factory? Some clients have enough trust in the suppliers and accept this option. if it takes 4 days for the customer to receive and approve the samples. 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. Logistics & timing obstacles As mentioned above. one sample is sent to the purchaser. Laziness and lack of discipline Most professional inspectors are guilty of this. It won’t catch 100% of the problems 100% of the time. The client still needs to pay the international courier cost once (same cost). it can be sent to the factory and sealed (or stamped. 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”. I listed below the major reasons why Chinese inspectors sometimes fail to notice quality problems that are BIG in their clients’ eyes. and if it takes another 3 days for the samples to get back to China. Once the purchaser receives the sample and he approves it. the “good” sample is already in China. (In case they are not similar. a sourcing agent…) who compares all the samples. The other one remains in China. which are basically production samples with full individual packing). depending on who they work with. If production is on the way for 10 days when the finished samples are ready. However. If they look the same and are the same size. the samples need to be sent back to the producing country (let’s say China).2. More and more importers are disillusioned about the value of QC inspections. Another option: quick review of production samples The factory sends the samples to someone in China (it might be an inspection company. and if they are out in the field when the Fedex guy shows up.
Wrong calibration As I wrote last week. and products can be picked randomly. they don’t pick cartons from every side and every height of the pile. 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. many problems are corrected before inspection. Lack of training When they need to check garments. 4. There are actually 2 separate issues here: 1. their report is based on their guesses after checking a sample size that is much smaller than their QC plan calls for. Oh.For example. the quantity can be counted. and maybe 1 or 2 cartons are packed. QC Inspectors cannot follow different quality standards. The job gets done when only 20% of the goods are completed. The same thing happens with electronics. the high-end buyer might see defects that are important to him and that were completely undetected during the inspection. have a nice lunch. don’t ask them to check high-quality products. and avoid justifying themselves after complaints from the supplier. it is so much nicer to what he usually sees. some quality control agencies see no problem in sending inspectors who have a very superficial knowledge of textile products. Is this bribery? Yes and no. most Chinese suppliers pretend not to understand why they should pay for a re-inspection in this case. Unfortunately. More about this phenomenon here. As a result. What often happens is that suppliers are late. This is just an example. and what will he conclude? “Everything is fine”. It is easy for a factory to hide the defective products and claim they are not made yet.2 They are unwilling to bother the factory Many of them are tired of fighting. 3. They pretend not to see this little game. ceramics. When everything is packed. of course. For instance. they let the factory check (and repair!) the samples by themselves during the unpacking process. . Some sophisticated clients can suspect it after reading the QC report. The factory can’t play games. If you work with QC firms that work for cheap buyers (promotional goods. since the job got done. but it is difficult to prove. to save time but also to avoid bothering the factory. Naturally. etc. they often don’t check as many samples as they should. mass markets in South America…). What to do in this case? A re-inspection at the supplier’s charge. 1. so they ask the factory to measure… and they write what they are told. They want to work in a relaxed atmosphere. 2. And. furniture. The reason is. These inspectors are very slow in taking measurements. Send an inspector who is used to checking cheap products for monitoring a production of goods to be sold in high-end boutiques. and there are many issues that their untrained eye just can’t notice. and in the worst cases the report means nothing at all. The statistical plan is not respected.1 They take shortcuts to go faster Page7 A very common example: during the visual check or the testing.
if an issue is caught by an inspector. corruption happens. inspectors know they can get done in 2 hours.1). What do you think? Am I forgetting an important element? Procedure if a problem is detected during an in-process inspection Two years ago. The point is.2 The inspector himself compresses the time of the job After a few rushed jobs (see point 5. I have seen sampling plans including 8 different product references to check for conformity. the job should be aborted. it is not as frequent as most people think. 7. if it can’t be avoided. you are asking for trouble. and a total of 315 pieces to check visually. There are actually 3 separate issues: Page7 5. It happens often in peak periods. but is not in conformity with the client’s specifications. And. or when the QC company does not dare to say no to a client. But the best is to detect problems during an in-process inspection (before the products are finished). In the China sourcing game. letting another party guessing some information is never a good idea. 5. and the report means nothing. I already described the way corruption works in a previous article.1 above) will avoid it. because an inspector who doesn’t cut corners (see point 1. and if you don’t ensure that the inspector has a reference sample in hand. When there is a problem that is acceptable (according to the inspector’s judgment). The importer puts a lot of pressure on the supplier to ship in time. I drew a flow chart to guide importers in case a final QC inspection was failed. he is forced to take all the shortcuts he can. This is a highly dangerous habit! 6.1 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. Especially in situations with the following characteristics: The sums at stake are quite large. 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).1: the job is not done fully. 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. At this stage. Rushed job When an inspector is under intense timing pressure.So you should think now about the instructions to your QC agency/staff: should they abort the mission in such cases? 5. . This may seem obvious. *** Oh. Unclear or incomplete specifications If you don’t communicate detailed requirements. and how about factory interference? I am not including it in this list. in 1 man-day! The result is the same as in point 1. Corruption Yes. like before Chinese New Year. But tens (hundreds?) of unprofessional importers commit this mistake.
specifically for in-process inspections: Page7 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. I explained what to do: Analyze the situation and send clear guidelines to the supplier. In that article (re-inspections and corrective actions). Last month I wrote a post about the case where the buyer refuses the products and asks for rework. So I drew another flow chart. .To make sure the pieces that already bear this problem are dealt with in the right way. and present it in a way that allows the buyer to take a decision.
So I drew a flow chart that can be used as a procedure for dealing with failed inspections: Page7 A few notes. Why we shouldn’t check 10% of the order quantity Some of my new clients. For very sensitive production runs. when they book their first inspection. 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”. and (2) the proportion of pieces that are not acceptable but that can be reworked. Here is what I typically respond: . The worst for them is to short-ship or reproduce because it means materials were wasted (and it generally costs much more than labor). what to do?). the supplier communicates the percentages of (1) the pieces that are classified as fine after the sorting job. In the best case scenario. and then communicate with the supplier accordingly.If necessary. But I keep explaining this over and over to my clients. 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. for using this flow chart with highest effectiveness: The buyer should anticipate all these steps (can it be repaired? if not.
so even a tightened-level inspection would require us to draw “only” 200 samples. it will be easy for your supplier to question the scientific validity of the inspection plan.000 pcs. importers would be better inspired to spend more time communicating with their suppliers and preventing mistakes. The order quantity is 3. Nearly 100% of importers follow this standard. Neither have you considered the risk of the opposite happening (accepting a lot because of samples above average). Once again. A buyer willing to optimize the inspector’s job is likely to ask us to check 315 samples anyway. 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. Then they realize they are better off not reinventing the wheel. You would need to choose a confidence level. and come up with limits on the numbers of defects. Let’s say the product is rather simple. —— . and give me an upper limit on the number of defects. We are also better off. the statistical tables don’t allow for this situation. and they have become a standard that even your suppliers have heard of. here is what I say: Page7 We can follow your suggestion. But in case the inspection is failed. as a new inspection plan creates confusion and can lead inspectors to make mistakes. In this case. But some of them actually stick to their guns. following the “normal inspection level” is fine.Usually we follow the statistical tables that everybody in the industry works with. Another classic is trying to “optimize” the work done. calculate the impact of both risks. 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. Instead of inventing their own procedure. For 90% of consumer goods (excluding food) sourced in China. They were developed specifically for quality control. But we certainly can apply your inspection plan if you explain it to me. and an inspector can check up to 315 samples of in one day.
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