You may be thinking about getting your prototype manufactured in China due to lower costs of production compared to other countries, the abundance of raw materials, and the Chinese reputation for speed. However, keep in mind that obtaining quality prototypes is a very different step from mass production. Manufacturing a prototype in China is indeed affordable, but requires a fair amount of upfront work. Ask yourself the following questions as you decide whether producing your prototype in China is right for your situation.
Is Your Product Design in a Mostly Finished State?
Once you have found a trusted Chinese manufacturer, take a look at your own work thus far. If your product specifications are not already clearly defined, you may run into serious communication issues with a Chinese manufacturer during the product development workflow. This is especially true if you are not physically located in China — unless you have been recommended to a manufacturer for their excellent communication skills, do you really want to trust that emails sent between two different time zones, or perhaps, with a language barrier, will clear up any issues in product design?
Ideally, you should approach Chinese manufacturers once you have manufacturing-ready drawings, specifications, and pictures. If there are electrical components involved, include circuit diagrams. Chinese manufacturers are known for working in a “made to order” model rather than adhering to their own internal guidelines for quality decisions. Thus, you must specify what materials you want to be used in that product, or your supplier may choose for you.
Can You Communicate to Your Manufacturer Appropriately?
If you decide to work with a Chinese manufacturer, and some design work is still needed, be willing to work within the Chinese time zone. You will need to answer questions and give feedback during this critical period of development. Ideally, utilize a video conferencing service that allows for international calls, like Skype for Business or WebEx; this way, you can make a more meaningful connection with the manufacturer, establish a culture of auditing their progress, and see the prototype coming together with your very eyes. Be explicit about deadlines and prices, giving specific dates and numbers.
Are You Culturally Aware?
If you find yourself working the same hours as your Chinese manufacturer, you are one step closer to being in tune with your desired prototype and production timeline. Keep in mind that three major holidays in China may affect a tight production timeline: National Day (October 1st), International Workers’ Day (May 1st), and Chinese New Year.
National Day kicks off a seven-day long holiday for employees, and International Workers’ Day typically allocates three days. During Chinese New Year, factories can close anywhere from a couple of weeks to up to a month, and delays are to be expected upon business resuming once more. If you intend to have a product massively available by early spring or summer, keep in mind that the loss of progress during the Chinese New Year can cause launch day delays, or affect the sales of a seasonal product like swimsuits or outdoor cooking accessories.
Are You Willing to Invest Time and Money in Your Prototype Development?
You may consider reaching out to more than one manufacturer to see who can fulfill your prototype designed to specifications in a timely fashion. The advantage of working in China is that you have a good chance of finding multiple suppliers that will follow your requirements (provided that you have listed them explicitly). While working with various manufacturers will cost a bit more upfront, you will save when it comes time for production on a large scale by weeding out the ones that fail to deliver on time and to specifications. Perhaps start with tasking two manufacturers on the creation of your prototype, and reach out to others if those fail to provide promptly.
If your first prototype delivery from your manufacturer fails to completely please you the first time around, do not be surprised. Give clear feedback on what worked and did not work, supplying photographs, a clear outline of changes necessary, and ask for explanations of defects. If the manufacturer fails to improve in a future shipment, consider other manufacturers.
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