Electronics Manufacturing Quality in China

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China is a global electronics powerhouse, exceeding the U.S. and Japan in production. Yet importers face persistent quality challenges. This case study will illustrate Pro QC’s approach to supplier quality management, supplier verification and quality control in China.

China’s Enormous Manufacturing Draw

China mainly carries out assembly activities. It imports vast quantities of components mainly from its close Asian partners and exports final products to the rest of the world.

With more than 600,000 engineering graduates every year, China-based manufacturing benefits from a large engineering talent pool. The most common engineering specializations in China are electronics & electrical (45%), mechanical (19%), civil (12%), light industry (12%), transportation (6%), and chemical (5%). The high number of students and engineers in electronics & electrical engineering in China is a true asset for electronics companies.

Despite these advantages, outsourcing production to China comes with defects and delays. To ensure product quality, close communication with suppliers and control of production are essential.

Case Study

A large European company in the electronics industry (specifically power supplies) contracted with ProQC to manage their three suppliers in China.

The mission was to improve quality performance, improve quality control procedures, and ensure product quality before shipment. Our team helped the client identify risks related to their potential and existing suppliers and define an action plan to eliminate them.

1) Our Client’s Challenges

Two Potential Suppliers (Suppliers 1 and 2)
Our client was looking for new suppliers of electronics components. They found two potential suppliers in China and wanted to evaluate if those suppliers could meet their project requirements in terms of reliability, production capacity, and quality.

The client used to do the audits themselves, but they faced language challenges. Their internal auditors do not speak Chinese, so they would miss critical information.

An ideal supplier qualification would involve meeting suppliers, visiting their factories, evaluating their performance and collecting samples before placing the first order. Our client recognized it is not always easy and economical to go through these steps, especially when suppliers are based abroad, and you have no one on site.

Current Critical Supplier (Supplier 3)
Our client had worked with a supplier for over five years and the components were rated critical. Lately, they detected a rise in the defect rate and deemed it an unacceptable risk.

The client suspected that the supplier was outsourcing the assembly to external companies, that the tests were not conducted on 100% of the production, or that their testing procedures were not effective and could not guarantee good product reliability. Despite the supplier’s assurances and test reports, our client found products that never worked and could not have passed the tests, such as products with free screws inside, with missing or non-welded components.

Moreover, the supplier’s inspection process was inadequate: they performed end-of-life (EOL) inspections and shipped the products to the client warehouse in Europe where they were inspected by the client. This process was costly for the client and they faced product recall issues.

The client estimated that it was less costly to improve the quality performance of their current supplier than to switch to a new one. They sought out a quality assurance company operating in China to clarify the situation and to develop a plan to improve it.

Their search led them to the right place as they unlocked Pro QC International’s proven suite of solutions.

2) Pro QC’s Solutions and Results

ProQC listened to the client’s needs and studied the situation to deliver a tailor-made solution for their project.

Supplier 1 & 2 evaluations
To reduce the risk related to new supplier selection, Pro QC provided a supplier quality audit to the client. This on-site assessment offers the information needed to verify supplier reliability, compare suppliers and make strategic decisions. The audit checklist follows the main elements of ISO 9001:

  • Engineering
  • Quality Assurance/Control
  • Incoming inspection
  • Manufacturing
  • Packaging
  • Control of non-conforming parts/materials
  • Corrective action
  • Inspection and test equipment

The outcome of the service, for each potential supplier, was a report containing all the details of the service, photos, the supplier’s weaknesses and strengths, the risk level and Pro QC’s recommendations.

Supplier 1 results: HIGH RISK

Findings: Audit score: 17%. There were many major issues with this supplier that could affect our client’s business. We advised them to source another supplier, as the supplier had not established a Quality Management System.

Some of the problems detected:

  • Operators and inspectors were only trained verbally according to a statement from the factory.
  • No control plan was established.
  • No incoming material inspection instruction was established.
  • No maintenance plan and records existed.
  • No corrective action procedure existed.

Supplier 2 results: LOW RISK

Findings: Audit score: 90%. The system is acceptable, with minor nonconformities. ProQC advised the client that they could use this supplier, but they should keep pushing for improvements.

Some of the problems detected:

  • Some inspectors did not understand inspection standards such as Acceptable Quality Limit (AQL) and Critical-Major-Minor Defect List.
  • The safety representative does not have the required safety certificate.
  • Environmental aspects were not defined in the evaluation checklist for external providers/sub-suppliers.
  • There were no records of corrective actions.
  • Samples and inspection areas were not properly identified and labeled.

Supplier 3 Results

Supplier Management Solution

To solve the quality issues the client faced with this supplier, ProQC’s team first conducted a manufacturing process audit. This helps find the origin of defects during production. The team then developed a corrective action plan to improve quality performance.

A) Manufacturing Process Audit

Pro QC organized an on-site Manufacturing Process Audit for two days of the client’s production runs for that specific product. The audit encompassed the production line, from material Incoming Quality Control (IQC) to the finished product warehouse. It focused on quality control, traceability, equipment and machines used, manufacture, technical documentation, management responsibility, and calibration.

The team provided the client with an audit report, which included a risk-based process control analysis of the factory, Pro QC’s risk recommendations, on-site observations, performance score and high-resolution photos.

B) Corrective Actions Identified

1. The electronic scale should be integrated into the calibration plan and be calibrated promptly.
2. Work Instruction should be available for each station, for example at the plug-in line.
3. Aging test machines must have daily maintenance as required, with records visible on site.
4. The factory must install a device to ensure enough dehumidification in the finished goods warehouse.
5. The non-conforming goods in Surface-Mount Technology (SMT) must be effectively segregated from qualified goods to avoid any risk of mix-up.

Pro QC’s Supplier Management Team provided a detailed corrective action plan. The plan charted how to develop a close working relationship with the supplier to fully resolve product manufacturing quality issues, and ensure production stability and sustained, optimal factory performance.

C) Quality Inspections of Electronics

Identifying defects at an early stage was crucial to reducing the cost of inspection at the client’s warehouse in Europe and reducing the number of product recalls. ProQC implemented pre-shipment inspections at the supplier’s factory in China to control the quality of the client’s electronic products before the goods were shipped. This check ensured that the production conformed to the product specification and allowed pre-shipment verification of workmanship, functionality, packaging, labeling, quantities, and other criteria as required.

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