COVID-19 exposed many fraying wires in the inspection industry’s long-held systems, but it was inspections themselves that turned out to be particularly vulnerable to disruption.
Brands and retailers lean heavily on inspections to uphold the quality of their products, maintain visibility over their supply chains, and avoid costly defect/return cycles. But when inspectors could no longer visit factories — as a result of travel restrictions due to the global pandemic — many supply chains came to a screeching halt.
Self-inspections have proved to be the remedy. Companies that implemented a self-inspection program were able to continue production through even the darkest days of early- to mid-2020, allowing managers and other stakeholders to see what was happening inside their factories. Digitized supply chains therefore began this difficult chapter from a much better starting point than their counterparts.
Having performed exceptionally in such a hostile proving ground, the inclusion of self-inspections as part of a larger quality management strategy is rapidly becoming the new status quo across the industry and is providing benefits beyond the pandemic. Sourcing Journal noted how brands with self-inspections programs were more “efficient, agile and insulated from risk.” They represent a cost-effective business strategy, empowering organizations to keep their overseas manufacturing plants operating at high standards. It is clear that self-inspections, which are conducted by a factory or vendor’s own personnel to inspect the quality of products at their own facility, have proven to be beneficial for improving supply chain collaboration and overall quality.
What is a self-inspection program?
A self-inspection program is a quality assurance program in which vendors or factories are empowered to conduct their own quality inspections on behalf of their clients (Brands and/or Retailers).
It is common that self-inspections are conducted while providing clients with full visibility over the execution of the inspection, thereby ensuring the integrity of the inspection data collected, and leveraging the clients own pre-configured quality standards, for example inspection workflows, AQLs or defect classifications.
Generally, self-inspections are executed with a pre-determined frequency, calibrated based on predictive and prescriptive analytics used to assess factory risk, and as part of an overarching quality management strategy.
Below we lay out the benefits of self-inspections in quality assurance, and how to implement the technology to make a self-inspection program work for your organization.
Why activate self-inspections?
1. Self-inspections save resources and cut costs.
For factories with consistent quality, self-inspections are the logical next step. Building on a relationship of mutual trust, brands and retailers can empower such partners with self-inspections. This saves resources and costs by removing the need to send your own quality team to the factory, or hiring a third-party inspection agency to conduct an inspection.
Vera Bradley reported that assigning self-inspections to factories in good standing, as well as automating the processes of scheduling and conducting the inspections, freed up resources to work with higher risk and underperforming factories.
2. Self-inspections continue even during major disruptions.
A robust self-inspection program builds resiliency. In today’s world, where disruptions of 1 month or longer will likely occur at least every 3.7 years, reducing dependence on outside parties to conduct inspections is critical.
Garment manufacturer Yunus reported that, by using self-inspections during COVID-19, “management could easily overview quality trends, …evaluate inspector performance, and…evaluate what was happening at the factory at that moment it was happening.”
When major disruptions occur, your quality assurance and control operations will continue despite the challenges, because you do not depend on external factors to reach or access factories. In normal operating times, self-inspections continue to save brands and retailers money by reducing travel costs and expensive third-party inspection fees.
In addition, self-inspections can help you assess the status of production when accessibility to factories is limited due to a major disruption. In this way, self-inspections bring visibility into your supply chain at all times and help you manage unexpected events with agility.
3. Self-inspections nurture a relationship of collaboration and trust with supply chain partners.
Self-inspections have the effect of empowering business partners with accountability, ending the dynamic of brands policing their factories and vendors. With a centralized source of data, true supply chain collaboration becomes possible. Vera Bradley, for instance, leveraged full visibility over defects by analyzing self-inspection reports as soon as they were complete, which allowed them to move resources toward underperforming partners and boost overall quality.
By the same token, factories and vendors can demonstrate their commitment to quality to brands and retailers by building transparency and undertaking continuous improvements. According to Yunus, the ability to validate self-inspection results allows them to spend resources on those partners whose self-inspections are less accurate. For Interloop, this proactive collaboration promotes “better relationships and less policing as a means of risk reduction.”
With a centralized source of data, you and your partners share access to all information. Delta Galil, one of the world’s top apparel vendors, found that eliminating silos by moving to a centralized quality platform helped them “improve operational efficiency and transparency.” By creating a culture of continuous improvement, such capabilities change the overall mindset from policing to accountability.
Self-inspections are mutually beneficial to all parties in the supply chain — not just big retailers.
How you can implement a self-inspection program
1. Establish clear communication channels.
Communicate clearly with the people at the factory as well as the manager who would be monitoring self-inspections. Everyone needs to be aware of who to contact and what to do when an issue arises.
Having a streamlined process of communication is key for the success of a self-inspection program. All stakeholders involved in the self-inspection should have access to inspection standards and visibility over the status of an inspection to build integrity and reliability. Lastly, stakeholders should be able to communicate quickly with each other, in a centralized channel or platform, to tackle issues in a timely manner.
2. Upskill employees to operate new technologies.
To adopt new digital technologies, people must know how to use them and why they are doing so. As McKinsey writes, “new digital approaches can accelerate the capability-building process and allow employees to develop new skills remotely.” With software, you can help workers develop the skills to conduct self-inspections from anywhere.
This step is critical for the success of a self-inspection program. An effective way to upskill employees is through E-learning. E-learning programs are used to teach new skills through electronic methods, making remote training possible. Investing in the training of vendors and factories on how to conduct self-inspections, in accordance with your quality standards, is an investment that will pay off – both in the short-term and the long-term.
3. Prioritize real-time data collection through mobile devices.
By collecting metrics, photos, and videos during the inspection, you will maintain detailed oversight over product quality. This step allows you to collect real-time data and speeds up the time it takes you to receive and analyze inspection information.
Collecting data from the source in real-time through electronic devices, such as smartphones or tablets, will set your self-inspection program up for success by enabling you to verify the accuracy and trustworthiness of the inspection data and, later on, analyze and extract value from data that was previously unrecognized.
4. Establish clear KPIs and monitor/evaluate them.
When you have data in hand and can quantify your inspection processes, you can then monitor and evaluate key performance indicators (KPIs) and extract meaningful insights from them. Having the ability to measure performance allows you to evaluate how your self-inspection program is doing, and adjust as necessary. When you have constant access to data, you can easily adapt to become better, faster, and more efficient in your quality assurance and control operations.
Note that certain KPIs are ideal for monitoring self-inspections. For example, the comparative ratio of self-inspection results to third-party inspection results. This can help you gain a deeper understanding of the accuracy of the self-inspections, and find issues that were unnoticed. The ratio of self-inspections to third-party inspections can also inform on the performance and efficiency of your vendor or factory partners across the supply chain. Read more about other important KPIs for quality performance evaluation here.
5. Use advanced analytics to drive your decision making.
Perhaps no part of a digital self-inspection program makes you more agile or adds more lasting value than advanced analytics. At any moment, you can gain specific, accurate, and up-to-date metrics on your quality operations, across your supply chain eco-system. This allows you to implement smart continuous improvement programs based on data-driven analysis, as well as create a culture of accountability through full visibility of factory performance.
Why choose a digital self-inspection solution?
Digitization is the most efficient and scalable way to implement a self-inspection program. The benefits of a technological solution are as follows:
1. Software gives you full, remote visibility over any type of inspection.
With a digital solution, you are able to monitor both self- and third-party inspections (including in-line and FRI inspections) in real-time from anywhere. This capability ensures the integrity of inspections and empowers organizations to exercise full visibility over their factory partners.
2. It is the only scalable solution.
Configure your workflows and AQLs, roll out new standards and self-inspection guidelines at scale, and implement network-wide changes with unprecedented agility with a digital solution. Without this ability to standardize and configure, different partners would follow their own parameters and self-inspection results would be unreliable. The trustworthiness of this data is compounded by the fact that all workflows, reports, and CAPAs are entirely automated, thereby removing the risk for human error or manipulation.
3. It makes analysis of enormous amounts of data possible.
All data from every third-party and self-inspection is being continuously fed into a data lake, which can be drawn on at any time for analysis and comparison. This creates new degrees of agility, allowing you to identify defects with predictive analytics and rapidly manage supply chain risk.
The ease of this comparative analysis stems from the fact that digitized inspections allow you to roll out customized and standardized workflows at scale. With the sheer enormity of data being collected by the digital platform, analytics and AI capabilities are essential to create actionable insights for decision makers.
You can conduct self-inspections as often as you’d like and benefit from the additional data. This helps identify issues more quickly, save time and money, and allocate resources more effectively to organizations that need improvement.
4. It allows a proactive, coordinated response to issues.
As we have noted elsewhere, the pandemic is far from over and more disruptions are certain to be on the horizon. Remote inspections allow you to continue production and maintain quality standards despite external challenges. CAPA collaboration also occurs in real-time, allowing you to identify and resolve issues immediately for improved resiliency.
5. It addresses the industry’s most common pains.
A digital self-inspection program addresses many of the challenges to resiliency faced in supply chain management. It increases visibility, centralizes data and communication, aids in production planning and collaboration, and enables data-driven decision making instead of subjective assumptions.
A fully scalable self-inspection software
Drive productivity from afar with Inspectorio Sight, which has helped businesses of all sizes improve product quality and increase available resources. Our centralized platform gives you real-time data that is continuously updating to incorporate new changes in your production ecosystem. By empowering manufacturers and vendors with better accountability and clear incentives, you can take your supply chain from a culture of policing to one of true partnership, and in doing so, provide the means to increase productivity and save costs.