The gadgets world is amazing. New ideas pop up here and there every day, some of them really worth doing. It is very competitive too, and many startups hurry to start production and launch their products earlier, forgetting the most important rules of manufacturing setup that are crucial to build a sustainable business.
Today I’d like to cover some of the very important things about Factory Audits.
Rule 1. Call it an Audit, not a Factory Tour
Already started to look for an ideal ODM partner for your project? Fine, then you’ll soon be invited for a factory tour by them. But don’t just say “yes” to the invitation; the right answer would be, “Sure, we’re ready to visit your factory to make an audit.”
It’s important to set ODM’s expectations right from the very beginning. They need to know that you are a professional, and they need to treat you like one. It’s even good to ask your ODM to prepare for the audit in advance and see whether they took your request seriously.
Request your ODM to invite to the audit someone who really understands how the factory works, not just some account manager or sales guy who is only trained to do a quick tour and show the best piece.
There is a huge difference between an audit and a factory tour. An audit must be led by you. Ask questions; get inside their processes, and talk to their engineers and line managers. Be proactive.
Rule 2: Make sure it’s their factory
As silly as it may sound, there are a lot of companies out there who try to resell products and services from other ODM companies. A friend of mine was brought to the very same factory by two different ODMs; later on they stated they were “solution companies”.
It’s not difficult to understand that the ODM actually owns and manages the factory. Ask them about each product that you see produced on production lines. Ask as many technical details as you can, which market they make it for, and for how long. The ODM always knows everything about their products. A “solution company” only knows what’s in the product specification (in the best case) and is only aware of a few products that they promote. Find out about the history of the factory and products or technologies roadmap.
Finally, ask for a meeting with the engineering team. The “solution companies” never have access to the ODM’s engineering resources.
Rule 3: Follow the material flow.
This is one of the key principles of the factory audit that I once learned from one of our partners who has built a very efficient production himself and whom I’m very thankful to.
So, don't just go to different floors and rooms, insist they show you exactly how the material flows, and ask them to lead you through the factory as if you were the material.
It will help you to realize how the factory really works:
- how they take care of security
- whether the warehouse is well-organized and if they take good care of the goods
- how professional their staff is
- if they have all required equipment and make the full production cycle in-house
- whether or not they really follow the processes that they have on paper
- if they have enough capacity for your new project
- and many other things
Rule 4: Check the Quality Control on each step of the production
Don’t forget to find out what quality metrics they use during each stage and ask for particular examples for products that you see on the lines. Check what ISO certificates they have.
Make sure you spend enough time checking the key quality control processes, such as
- IQC — Incoming Material Quality Control
- IPQC — In-Process Quality Control
- OQC — Outgoing Quality Control
Besides, ask if they are using an ERP system. Ideally it must be a single system used on each production stage from receiving goods till product shipment.
Rule 5: Professionally and Personally
If you are not very familiar with the production yet, I strongly recommend that you ask a professional to assist you in the audit. However, don’t just hire someone to do it for you.
Always be present on an audit. Nobody knows your product better than you do, so you are the one who knows best what is important. You’ll be surprised to know how many things can be observed based on your common sense. For example, you can understand how important your project is for the ODM just by looking at how busy the production lines are.
In addition, your presence will help you to establish better personal connections with the factory management and define step-by-step what needs to be organized by ODM for the production of your product.
Remember, the results of a proper factory audit usually play the biggest role in your final decision about the ODM selection. So, better make sure you’ve done it right ☺