For products that Lone Star builds
Alibaba is a great way to find companies. If you’re making a one-time purchase and you don’t care about small variances, then it is a great way to buy products. My company doesn’t try to compete in this area.
If you need precision, due diligence is necessary.
Meeting a supplier is the first step. After that, you need to make sure your specs and drawings are in good order and very clear. Ask questions to make sure your supplier really understands what you want. Even a golden sample is not enough unless you use that sample to spec every measurable part of the design. Variations between samples and the actual production will happen, so I am ready to inspect a pilot run and be around for production. A good factory will understand what stations and tests are necessary.
I’m always looking for new technologies and ways to add to my supplier network, so I’ll use Alibaba to find factories then I go visit them! I’ve found that half are not factories, but sales teams that have no idea about how to produce the product. By going there, I’ll ask to see their factory. For the half that can show me a real factory, they’ll keep my interest. The other half who only have a sales office and limited knowledge of the technology, I’ll thank them for their time and move on.
When I visit a factory, I want to understand if they care about quality and how they manage it.
Smart factories manage their 3rd party suppliers by providing all the materials to avoid fakes or “cost-down” materials. Other things I look for are their SOPs to be visible, and I can ask workers how they know what to do. If they can tell me, then they have been trained to do their job. If the boss blames the workers, be wary. If equipment has up-to-date calibration stickers, then they are on the right track. If there is an extensive qualification lab, then they know quality.
I also look at the setup of the production line.
There will be buckets for units that don’t pass. I want to know how they deal with these. An advanced factory apply knowledge for other product issues to avoid issues. I want to know they have an engineer that’s responsible for thinking about the possible risks.
To protect my investment, I also inspect goods before final payment.
If you’ve selected a vendor, consider purchasing an audit from Lone Star before you’ve sent money to China
Ideally, customers ask me to audit at the beginning. However in practice, I’m often called to go solve an urgent problem where it is for production that doesn’t match the samples or just to find ways to improve schedules.
So if you are considering purchasing from Alibaba and you need reliable, high-quality parts, let’s talk about your project and any risks you may have either in the design or with the factory.
Basically, you’re hiring a manufacturing pro to go check for you, take photos, videos, and keep your project on track. If you’re having trouble getting an answer to specific questions, Lone Star can help with this part as well.