You are Wrong: Chinese Factories Dont Only Make Poor Quality Products
A handful of high-profile news stories in recent years have led to China’s reputation as a manufacturing hub that churns out low-grade, cheap products.
One example is Mattel’s 2007 recall of chilrens toys, products which contained unsafe levels of lead paint.
And China’s own Department of Quality Supervision found that nearly 50 percent of firecrackers sampled in 2017 didn’t pass product inspections and testing, revealing that millions of domestic consumers were at risk during Chinese New Year celebrations.
But the press paints a picture that doesn’t always reflect the reality of Chinese manufacturing capability at large. Nor is it consistent with the experience of the many successful importers that continue sourcing products from China.
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese manufacturers are increasingly focusing on producing valuable products, developing world-renowned brands and using sophisticated technology. Though not true of every factory in China, the country’s manufacturing industry as a whole has certainly made progressive strides in recent decades.
We’ve seen this on the QC side as more Chinese suppliers, independent of their customers, request third-party inspection services. These suppliers value independent oversight that reveals how to improve their quality to better meet their customers’ expectations.
And those of us outside the industry can see this growing emphasis on quality apparent in other ways.
China’s growing competitiveness in high-tech manufacturing
The rapidly developing electronics and mobile phone industries in China provide strong evidence of its leaders’ desire to ascend the industrial value chain.
Chinese mobile phone brands have quietly entered the global market in the last few years. They’re challenging established competitors like Apple and Samsung and furthering the nation’s reputation as one that values quality and innovation.
Three Chinese smartphone brands, Huawei, Xiaomi and OPPO, are now the second, fourth and fifth largest smartphone suppliers in the world, respectively. Huawei overtook Apple with 41 percent growth between 2017 and 2018.
But China’s advanced manufacturing isn’t limited to phones. Dubbed “the drone dominator” by Time Magazine, Dajiang Innovation, or DJI for short, controlled 72 percent of the global drone market in 2018. Their drones sell for as much as $4,999, can fly for up to 31 minutes and can capture high-resolution video.
Emulating Japan’s quality revolution
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan was busy rebuilding itself and shifting production from wartime to consumer goods. And Japanese goods were not initially well regarded or known for their quality.
But that changed as manufacturers embraced the concept of total quality. Japanese quality and efficiency began threatening American manufacturing in the 1980s, notably in both the consumer electronics and automotive industries.
Despite an abrupt economic decline in the 1990s, Japanese industry is still world renowned, largely thanks to total quality and Toyota’s “lean manufacturing” production model. Only after Japanese manufacturers began to focus on improving organizational processes did they see a dramatic improvement in quality.
Now Chinese manufacturers are beginning to follow in the footsteps of their Japanese counterparts.
China opened it’s first “unmanned factory” in 2015, replacing the need for 600 assembly line workers with just 60 robots. The cell phone module factory’s defect rate has reportedly dropped from over 25 percent to under 5 percent while production capacity has nearly tripled since installing the robots.
Even some manufacturers in traditionally labor-intensive industries like garment manufacturing say they’ve adopted lean manufacturing practices. As one Chinese CEO says, “we definitely have to be a lot more efficient if we’re going to survive” amid rising local wages.
These companies represent only a fraction of China’s high-tech capabilities. These companies and their advanced manufacturing represent a growing desire throughout China to reach beyond making simple, cheap produc