We get calls all the time from customers who want to send a sample to China to get a production quote.

If the product is a simple item such as a stuffed doll, clothing, a glass, or a simple wood product that doesn’t need to mate with other parts or products, a sample alone may be enough.

But once we get into a metal, wood or plastic part with multiple parts or made from multiple materials, and especially, if they have to function in a certain way or mate to another part or product, sending a sample alone without drawings becomes a high stakes risk.

When a factory in China receives a sample without an objective set of standards (engineer’s drawings), they will quote and make the product from the materials and tolerances that are convenient to them. This means they will take the liberty to substitute materials that might be easier for them to source, or they can get at a lower price. If there are no drawings, they’ll assume the product doesn’t have critical dimensions, tolerances, or features, and will plug in the specs that are convenient for them.

Manufacturing companies in China get a lot of products to quote; they’re not going to take the time or expense to send your product out for chemical analysis so they know the exact materials your product is made from. This means they’re either taking their best guess, or if they might know what the material is, they could still substitute a different material anyway.

None of this is to say that sending a sample to China might not be enough; some projects are okay with this approach. But I’ve seen many times over the years when a customer sends a sample, places the order, and when the factory sends them the first article production sample for approval, it’s not the same as they sent over.

When this happens, the first words out of the customer’s mouth are usually “I assumed”… Factories don’t manufacture to assumptions.  Without objective standards in the form of drawings, you’re rolling the dice.

When a new customer calls and wants to send a sample without drawings, I try to walk them through the factory in China’s thought processes and help them understand that getting engineer’s drawings made is always in their best interest. Not only does it give you a clearly defined set of objective standards to hold the factory accountable to, which is critical, but now you have a complete record of how your product should be manufactured.

Recently a customer contacted me who had made a product in China on his own and was unhappy with the results. The material the factory had used to make a key part was of sub-standard quality, and he wanted to give me a sample of his product to ship to China for a quote.

I asked him if they had specified the material for the key part to their original supplier, and if they had engineer’s drawings. His answer to both questions was no. I then explained that what had happened was that the factory had taken their best guess on the material, or sourced it from a raw material supplier that was convenient for them, and, as is often the case, guessed wrong. I then encouraged him to contact a professional engineering company I know in the U.S. who could create drawings for him, and he is now working with them.

While he will have the added expense of creating the drawings, it will save him thousands of dollars later as he will eliminate the risk that comes with the factory using the wrong materials or making his product to incorrect dimensions.