Quality Control & China: A Discussion of LED

Published by: Doug Wack

When it comes to getting LED in China, there are many levels of quality available. Typically, there are a handful of suppliers that are really top tier and they’re very good and international. They’re supplying products to the large brands. Those suppliers' products are typically more expensive because they are using the materials and the production practices that they need to use to make the quality level that their customers require.

Then there’s some that are tier two, that are relatively hit or miss. Then there’s a huge field of others that are really not at that quality level. They are more servicing the Chinese domestic market and other markets in the world that aren’t as developed or sophisticated as western markets. Here, what the client or customer demands is not as great, or they aren’t as savvy.

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Often times in the US, we have a hard time processing this and discerning which companies are at what level, because you look at the LED and can only see that the LED makes a good picture and that the price is good. What you don’t understand is where the company is buying the components, or what the quality level is of these components or the manufacturing process. You don’t know what you don’t know. Because you’re not an expert, you don’t think to ask those questions.

If you really want to get the best out of China, you have to understand those processes and what the requirements need to be to make the quality level of product you want. I even take it a step further when I’m dealing with China. There are so many suppliers out there that aren’t that sophisticated, that don’t use quality control measures, that really use the cheapest possible parts they can find, and that have a fairly unskilled labor force. Because of this, companies that are good are not offended when you say “I want to check what you're doing.”

One of the best practices that I came up with is to do a QC check on a shipment before it ships. That’s key, because once you receive it in the US, it’s nearly impossible to send it back. If you really wanna prove that the product is what you’re expecting, you need to go to China and do the inspection before it ships.

But it starts even before that. It starts with understanding what makes a good Chinese company, and then going into what makes that product good and understanding that. Going to China and seeing for yourself is key. First, checking that they have the capability, then checking to make sure that the production that they make for you meets the requirements. It’s capability, then practice.

Sometimes there are tier two suppliers that, given the right instructions, can make some pretty good product. Other times, they can’t. I’ve worked with suppliers across the spectrum. I’ve worked with some people who you really have to watch and oversee in order to hold them to a standard. It was really cheap, but you had to be there all the time.

If you don’t have that kind of time, then I suggest you go with the top tier suppliers. Those are the ones that big US brands use. And they’ve had success all over the world because they listen to their clients, offer quality products, and have the systems and service to deliver quality products.

If you don’t have the capability to go and check it yourself, my recommendation would be to find someone who can. I would not, based on a trade show or a product sample, place an order. I wouldn’t recommend it. If you do, though, and if you get it and it works, seemingly, as it’s supposed to, you’re lucky. If you make it past that first hurdle, then what you have to understand is that it could degrade very quickly. Without really understanding what the bits and pieces are that you need, understanding what specifications everything needs to meet, you can quickly get yourself into trouble.

For anyone who doesn’t have the capability or desire to go to China and look at the operation, I wouldn’t recommend them to do it alone. They should engage with someone who knows what they are doing and stand by whatever it is that they recommend.

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