I.C. Medical maintains total in-house control over its design, engineering and production processes, including the sourcing of components, precision manufacturing procedures, testing and packaging.

Why does this matter? U.S. manufacturers have learned that outsourcing to low-labor-cost countries, such as China, Mexico, India, Vietnam and others, is a practice laden with problems, frustrations and ethical concerns.

Quality fade: Quality fade is a deliberate production strategy in which quality is gradually reduced in small incremental amounts over time. With each successive production run, unethical suppliers shave off a little more. Because the quality deterioration is subtle and progressive, the manufacturer often isn’t aware of what’s happening. 

Fueled by greed: The practice of quality fade is essentially about increasing the supplier’s profit margin. Dubious tactics that negatively impact product integrity, safety, and quality can include: short-cutting fabrication specifications, altering product formulations, substituting lower quality inputs, curtailing sanitary standards, and even abusive labor practices.

Reports of foreign-made pet food tainted with prohibited chemicals, construction materials that contain toxic levels of formaldehyde, infant formula adulterated with melamine, toys covered with lead paint, and tires that fall apart at high speed have been attributed to these types of shoddy manufacturing practices.

In some foreign jurisdictions, quality fade tactics are enabled by lax oversight and lack of enforcement of product safety requirements. On top of this are the pressures of massive volumes of work, tight deadlines, language barriers, communication from thousands of miles away, delivery issues, inadequate training and workforces that are in continuous churn. The situation is often further exacerbated by the practice of sub-sourcing work to smaller, grittier facilities that can skirt environmental controls and safety standards for products and workers.

Monitoring and curtailing quality fade is difficult. Suppliers often bury substandard products in a shipment, confident that company inspectors do not have the time to examine each and every item that arrives. What’s more, quality fade often occurs in the last place an importer thinks to check, such as packaging.

Quality assurance programs can be implemented, but suppliers are cunning about circumventing such controls. Some companies look to third-party testing as a solution, but this too is not fail-safe, particularly when a supplier sets out to game the system.

It is tough for an importer to curtail the practice of quality fade. Once discovered, problems are often attributed to “production errors” or blamed on sub-suppliers. Efforts to terminate a supplier relationship can be fraught, and finding and cultivating a new supplier takes time. What’s more, there is no guarantee that the next supplier won’t engage in the same shady behaviors.

I.C. Medical does not outsource its production processes. Every I.C. Medical device and accessory is produced, assembled, tested and quality assured in-house at the company’s manufacturing facility in Phoenix, AZ.

I.C. Medical employs more than 200 well-trained and highly skilled employees at its headquarters and manufacturing facilities, all of whom are committed to the company’s quality ethic and take pride in the quality, integrity and reliability of I.C. Medical’s surgical smoke evacuation products.

# # #


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Companies find outsourcing can backfire as quality, customer service suffer

By Rick Barrett



Dealing with China’s Quality Fade

By Paul Midler

Forbes 2007