How to audit and evaluate the plywood or wood panels factories in China?

How to audit and evaluate the plywood or wood panels factories in China?

One of my friends always forwarded many NEW POTENTIAL SUPPLIERS’S Emails to me to check if they are real suppliers and their evaluation .

More and more importers discover that they can appoint an auditing agency to evaluate factories before they issue an order. But not all these evaluation services are equally helpful.

We can distinguish between 3 broad types of wood panesl and plywood  factory evaluations and audit . Each type is suitable for different needs on the plywood importer’s side.

1. Basic Factory Evaluation like their sanding machine (have or not and what brand name,calibrated or just for sanding or polishing  ) ,hot pressing (how many layers hot pressing plates ,are the temperature uniform always on ever area of the hot pressing plates ,any damaged parts of the pressing plates (cause imprints created by pressing faults ,clean the hot pressing plates time and how to clean )……Cold pressing clean time and how is the quality of the core veneer after cold pressing ,smooth or not smooth just check the thickness of the platform )…..
The purpose is to collect basic information about the manufacturer, such as:

•What is the address? What do the buildings look like? How big is it how much area ? orgnizable or poorly ?WHERE they stock their raw materials and where to stock the finished panels and how they arrange their production .
•What type of quality products are they making? For  which markets ,North America,Europe,Middle east ,africa ,Asia ….?
•How many people work in production? What equipment do they have?How many shifts they have day and night ?how many hous they work one shfit and where they live and where they have food ?
•Do they check incoming materials/components like glue ,core veneer quality ( if the workerew are professional or not and honest and loyal )? What type of in-process QC do they do? What type of final QC do they do?
More and more agencies offer this type of service for less than 200 USD. I think it makes sense for small factories, where the buyer does not expect to find a solid quality system or robust processes — a simple report with many photos conveys sufficient information.

2. More In-Depth Factory Audits
Most factory audits performed in China are based on an international standard. The large testing & inspection agencies encourage this because it looks very objective.

The most common standards for general consumer goods are ISO 9001 (quality management systems) and SA 8000 (social compliance). For example, an ISO 9001 type of audit will be based on a checklist as shown here.

In a perfect world, good manufacturers would get certified as compliant to those standards and would not need to get audited by their customers, thus preventing the “audit fatigue” that many of those organizations feel. However, since ISO 9001 certifications are so easy to get in China, and since SA 8000 certifications are so hard to achieve, most buyers decide to “check for themselves”.

Note that some auditing/engineering agencies decide they need their own checklist based on what they (and their clients) decide is most relevant. For example, ISO 9001 does not force manufacturers to have a set of perfect samples available in all production workshops and QC areas, but it is a good practice and I think it should be part of the criteria that impact the final audit grade.

3. Process Audits Conducted by Engineers
Most auditors have very little first-hand manufacturing experience. It means their conclusions about a factory’s reliability have limitations.

For example, an auditor who knows nothing about wood panesl and plywood manufacturing will have trouble estimating whether a factory follows the right steps to dry the plywood . There are similar critical steps in virtually all production processes, from the setup of an injection plywood machine to the way a core lay-up machine is maintained,core veneer joint machine maintance ….

Process audits are useful in catching poorly organized factories (since it also includes checkpoints related to the quality system), but they also allow to catch:

•Factories that don’t know what they are doing (e.g. jigs that allow operators to place a part in an incorrect position, a so-called engineer who doesn’t know the hot pressing temperature and pressing time and pressure rate of the most commonly-used UV grade birch or film faced plywood …),how to sanding and the sanding paper grits …how many UV paint kilograms one side and two sides ,how much base coats and how much top coats ,any sheen of the UV paint and any color pigments and colored UV paint ?How to grade white maple ,film faced plywood ,or teak blockboard ,HPL sheets or HPL plywood ….How they pack the plywood and what tyeps of packing materials ….that is very important ….
•Factories that have habits detrimental to quality ( taking shortcuts during the setup…)
•Factories that don’t pay attention to the long-term stability and reliability of their processes (e.g. in-adapted maintenance programs, machines that are running at too high a speed…)
The auditor’s findings naturally lead to recommendations that aim at working smarter: adopting best practices that improve both productivity and quality. For example, adding a control jig that catches problems more quickly and more reliably than the current method.


How to Audit a plywood Factory ?What you should audit ?

1.The basics that all plywood buyers (Factory Auditors /Inspectors ) MUST  look at ,these are some of the Major   checklist  :

1.1 Objective evaluations

  • The number of  Workers ,directors,managers ,sales people ,engineers , and the number of production lines/Machineries .
  • The capacity, in number of pieces per day, of one production line/cell (for the type of  plywood you would purchase)
  • The main plywood/panel process steps,rwa materials used ,other buyers’s products quality standards and their packing , and products being made during your visit
  • The main market: Export vs. domestic, main export market, quality standard of 2 or 3 major customers (look at the products, their labeling and carton shipping marks or PO details )
  • Raw Materials and Finished Plywood Warehouses ,keep organized or dis-organized ?
  • Production lines organizable orgnized and the whole workshop clean or dirty
  • How to handle the rejected plywood/Panels ,sell to domestic martkets at discount prices or sell to direct importers at discount prices ,check their record and what prices and what quantity
  • Check the financial documents and Manufacturing license ,bank documents,commodity inspection document
  • The factory’s quality grading rules or images /Pictures /Photos to show the main manufacturing defects or natural defects of their plywood.
  • Production machines maintenance weekly or monthly ,check the record
  • Check their production Plan documents for every customer
  • THE FACtory’s license name is the same like their name written on the outside Gate and name card ?Or any difference with the import and export license .

1.2 Subjective evaluations

  • Motivation of top managers when you describe your company project on the future cooperation .
  • Understanding of your demands/requirements by managers and technicians and boss General managers.
  • Focus of the factory: High volume at a low cost, or high quality, or constant development  improvement of   products?

If the factory has a quality system

  • Does the factory communicate requirements to its suppliers on its POs (or other documents)? Are these requirements clearly listed?
  • Are incoming QC results recorded in a formal report?
  • Are clear procedures given to each operator and to the QC staff for each job?
  • Are conform samples available to workers in production and QC areas?
  • Are in-process QC results recorded in a formal report?
  • Does final QC occur before or after packing is completed?
  • What proportion of products is checked during final QC?
  • Are there QC staff dedicated solely to final QC? How many? Do they only do QC, or also a finishing operation at the same time?
  • Are final QC results recorded in a formal report?
  • Is the first-pass yield displayed on a wall, and tracked day-by-day and line-by-line?
  • Are numbers and details of customer complaints displayed on a wall?

The financial backgroud

1.See the payment terms the factories can give you and normally used for their other customers .

2.Check their workers’s salary and payment terms


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