Materials Inspections are similar to taking a flight on an airplane. The ideal scenario for both is an uneventful outcome – they are both means to a greater end. If an issue arises, it creates a series of headaches for all parties involved. While we can’t prevent issues with your next flight (at least until every airline uses MaintainX!), we can help streamline your Materials Inspections and build a repeatable process to success.
Whether your team conducts Materials Inspections for ISO compliance, or to maintain internal quality standards, this article will help get you started and provide tips on best practices to help you improve.
For those who don’t have regulatory reasons to conduct Materials Inspections, you may be wondering why it’s worth the hassle. The simple answer is that it will help your team deliver the best results to your customers.
Regardless of your industry, it’s increasingly becoming more important to perform a quality audit on your suppliers. Even markets like Amazon are dealing with increased rates of fraud on items that were previously very trustworthy to bypass an inspection upon receipt. Based on the type of materials you are bringing in, you may find it useful to build a few unique materials inspection checklists on what is important to check.
It is also important to be aware of industry-specific guidelines in place. For example, the auto industry has a QS-9000 Certification. Anyone in the auto industry supply chain who receives materials or parts that have previously been certified might be able to run those audits less frequently.
However, if you fall into the majority, your company likely buys most supplies from uncertified sources and will want to perform random inspections to ensure your supply chain doesn’t cost your business.
- Don’t take your supplier quality for granted, always perform random inspections
- It is important to inspect ISO certified supplies occasionally, don’t let their potential mistake become your business’s mistake.
- Material inspections are necessary when audit checks aren’t done by the supplier.
Why Material Inspections Are Necessary
There are several situations where you want to be sure you carry out a material inspection.
› Foreign Suppliers
Chances are some of your suppliers are foreign. And many foreign countries simply don’t have the same standards we have in North America.
Assuming the raw materials you source from these countries will meet the type of quality standards you have could be a grave mistake. If your organization is in the habit of renegotiating your cost down (and really, who isn’t trying to do that), you may set yourself up for a situation where the supplier is can’t afford to provide you with their best quality materials or parts.
The money you squeezed out of them has to come from somewhere. If you end up paying the price with unsatisfied customers, material inspections might be worth the time after all. A bit of a vicious cycle, right?
› Quality Fade
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only your foreign suppliers you need to be prepared for.
Quality fade, sometimes also called quality creep, is something most of us have faced, at least as consumers. We purchase a product that we’ve been buying for years only to find that it doesn’t quite hold up and perform the way it used to.
This is because the manufacturer is either knowingly cutting costs or they’ve received substandard materials and haven’t been doing their own proper materials inspections.
While quality fade is known to be a problem with material sourced internationally, it has been increasing domestically as well.
Over time there is a very subtle but progressive degeneration of quality. If your company isn’t diligent about materials quality management you could miss this slow-moving trend toward substandard materials.
› The Costs
Make no mistake. There will be costs involved when you implement a materials inspection strategy. Time to put in effective inspection protocols and then the time required to perform them isn’t free.
However, the money you ultimately save could far outweigh your initial outlay in setting up and implementing your inspection strategy. For example, The Jesse Garant Metrology Center points out that the aerospace industry saves $1,000 for every $1 it spends inspecting for material defects before they make it to the production stage. It’s not hard to imagine how even years of non-incidents with inspections can be offset by catching an issue that prevents a large scale disaster.
Clearly, a material inspection is imperative to the quality control process.
Certified Off-Site Material Testing
Since material testing is a critical step, it should be noted that in some cases it’s not feasible or reliable to have certain materials tested in house. For example, is your facility set up for, and do your local employees have the training to do a complete analysis of chemical components? This could include testing for trace contamination and the process of identifying unknown substances.
If your answer to that is no then you need to have your materials checked and tested at a certified lab that can handle the job.
So understand that there will be circumstances when third-party material inspections are necessary.
The method you use to test and inspect can and may vary by product but inspections will help you verify that your incoming components and materials meet the requirements of your final product.
Methods of component or material testing:
- Chemical analysis
- Testing of physical properties and measurements
- Testing of mechanical properties
- Regulatory testing
Material Inspection – The Procedure
› 1. Pre-inspection Steps
Since the materials inspection is also commonly called an inbound or receiving inspection, there are some steps preformed before the actual inspection.
Your receiving department will have its process which will include things like verifying and recording the quantity received, the referencing purchase order number and whether or not the material order is complete.
› 2. Photos.
It’s a very good idea to capture photos or videos upon receipt of materials. An easy way to do this is to use a tool such as MaintainX that enables you to capture photos, tag them, and store them within each inspection form.
› 3. Review Project Specifications
This is a critical step, and it needs to be done before you start your physical inspection. You need to know the set specifications of your project in order to know if the materials you received fall within tolerances. Receiving a part or component—whether it’s a piece of metal or a liquid chemical—that falls outside of agreed-upon characteristics should never pass inspection.
Once you know the project specifications the materials are required for, you can confirm whether they comply with the requirements of the contract and purchase order.
› 4. Physical Condition of Material
How this is handled will clearly depend on the material, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eyeball every single piece that was delivered. Have a sampling process where you randomly pull materials and check their physical condition.
Have a set criterion, which if isn’t met, means the shipment isn’t fit for production.
› 5. Make & Manufacturer
This is a fairly simple step. Confirm that what you received is from the confirmed manufacturer or trademark holder.
› 6. Confirm Certifications
If the materials you are receiving should meet certain standards—for example, UL or CSA—make sure they are appropriately marked.
› 7. Storage Requirements
Assuming your materials have passed inspection, check for any special storage requirements. If so, materials should be marked or tagged appropriately. It may even be wise to include a final photo requirement to show the materials in the place where they need to be – if a shipment of refrigerated produce arrives cold, but sits in receiving for 24 hours before being stored away properly, that defeats the purpose of the whole inspection.
The Importance of Material Testing
Whether your product is bound for an end consumer or another manufacturer in the supply chain, it’s critical to test the materials coming in so the product you ship out meets quality and safety standards.
A materials inspection will help to catch defects before production starts. And remember, a business with quality material inspections is a business that grows.