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Chinese manufacturing

3251 Views 36 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Brian Considine
With supermarkets in Britain issuing recalls and rumours of more toys of Chinese origin failing to meet CE requirements it could be a very good holiday season for Hornby and Bachmann as their products could literally be the only toys left on the shelves this Xmas!

It is absolutely absurd to think that Hornby and Bachmann will fall into the same trap as other toy manufacturers who appear to have been lackadasical with CE. Hornby take their CE very seriously and no doubt Bachmann do also.

I do wonder though about some of the American imports into the UK as it does seem on the evidence presented that the Americans have less than rigourous quality control procedures.

Whilst not wishing to sound puritanical it does make me slightly angry that companies take capital advantage of poor CE control procedures for commercial gain and I hope every single one of culprits gets caught and locked up for 20 years!

Happy modelling
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Hi Gary - Hornbys QC and product spec is pretty average really. There is NO relevance in your question. Why blame the chinese - its the company product managers and buyers who are careless and who want stuff for nothing that are to blame.

We shouldn't blame the source - we should blame the buyer and reseller for such problems.

Hornbys record in this area is pretty poor actually.... (Their disastrous Digital is a perfect example - Select should never have been sold as it was and is not fit for market)

Apart from that... In the last week I've seen from new hornby over-oiling, no oiling, bad assembly, poor wiring practice & loco's wrongly wired, poor assembly procedures etc. This is a HORNBY product specification and QC specification problem, NOT a Chinese issue... they get what they ask for and specify - and their results are based on what they are prepared to pay for it, no less.

Hornbys better detail and sharper tooling quality on the other hand is largely down to the better quality engineers and machinery that Sanda-Kan have compared to Margates antique gear, and the experience they gained thanks to US brands giving them the expertise during their learning curve.

Frankly, ANY brand could make products as good or better than the current H products - providing their cashflow and product management skills were up to it.... and the chinese could well and truly build a better Rolls Royce if the client would specify appropriately and agree to pay them properly to do it!

On the up side: Their new Royal Scots tooling and general design is a credit to Hornby - Thanks mainly to Sanda-Kans world class engineers, modern machinery and skilled manufacturing staff :) :)


Hi Peter - not sure where U are coming from with this comment...

Quote "I think you need to see a chinese factory! Its very difficult to translate "quality control" into chinese!"

****I have long experience dealing with China (including indirectly with Sanda-Kan more recently) and the truth is that they can produce with at least as good a quality as any Japanese, EU, UK or US manufacture - and do so at a lesser price because of lower labour costs and controlled costs for materials / services.

example: When Alpine, one of the premiere brands in car stereo moved much of their manufacture to China, their warranty failure rate (already very low) actually dropped close to a further 50% - this was largely down to the fact that the Japanese laid down a rigid QC procedure and materials standards specification. They were amazed that things got better not slightly worse, but then realised they had ASSUMED that Japanese factory people would always do a perfect job, while they rode the chinese hard all the time....

So... The whole issue of quality control SPECIFICATION is down to the company buying the product.

Another much smaller and less significant example, for my my own electronics & other items made in Asia I specify acceptable brands for key components and pay more because of it - as to assembly, all are are 100% QC checked with an active test procedure on every single one - and I pay more because of that too.

As a result I add a few percent to my costs but can confidently offer a goof proof warranty knowing that problems will be consumer created not product related....

The real culprits for supposed "chinese quality" are the brands who drive the brands down at any cost so they can buy cheap and sell dear.... and the cost of their heavy handed approach is usually in lesser material, less time taken (so less checking) and lack of ability so apply standards they won't pay for, so they pay nothing and get equivalent quality.

Anyway... As to the rash of "quality problems" recently, this is largely a political spin issue:

Did you notice that just before it happened, the US had demanded that China revalue their currency or else.. and then China had reminded the US that they could easily dump a HUGE amount of in US bonds if they so wished, effectively lowering the USD value so raising a middle finger to US heavy handedness...

Personally... Give me well specified product out of china in place of most other places every time - they have the skills, the most modern technology and the finest production machinery money can buy, and will respect a Mfr who sepcifies properly and will pay the small amount extra for an excellent product - and do it faster and cheaper than any EU, UK or US source...

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Gary - You said:
Hornby now require 4000 Chinese staff to manufacture their models.

Hornby had 600 manufacturing staff in the UK just prior to the move to China.

Hornby turnover has doubled since the move to China so you could argue that it takes 2000 Chinese staff (half of 4000) to produce the models that we see today compared with 600 staff to produce the models of the type Hornby produced 10 years ago.

So the amount of labour required to provide models with great detail is over 3 times what it used to be to produce models with moulded detail. That might give you some idea as to the likely cost of such a model if manufactured in the UK!

****Actually, Hornby only use some of the manufacturing time of Sanda-Kan - and not a particularly large part of it from my understanding. Yes, you are right < :) > however even given the longer time the labour cost is much lower by a considerable amount, and the actual cost of making the locos, from tooling to assembly has therefore also dropped at the same time the detail and quality has improved.

it would be prohibitive to make outside china as they are now - and take much, much more hard investment in tooling and time than the chinese take with their ultra modern gear. Modellers should be happy the move happenned, or the lists would be full of pricing complaints.


Gary: Re the Select, I can't be bothered with you on this - simple facts have already been covered there ad nauseum. Its was, is and will always be a bad product, no matter what level they are aimed at. Probably explains their quick graduation to 99p ebay sales I suspect.
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Hi Peter - you said:

Some of your points i agree with but i'm afraid others i do take issue with. My criticisms of chinese manufacturing are really on 2 main points. the first is perhaps not relevant to your field of electronics (at least not mainstream) and that is the general level of clenliness in the chinese factories. Many chinese simply dont realise that in order to produce precision items (such as model railway equipment) you have to keep the room clean. i am sure we have both watched the programmes on telly where they show the modern call centre spotlessly clean. i am sure buy your writing that you have been to china on a few occations and will know as i do that this represents a very small part of chinese working culture. often if you go up a floor you will see what its really like.
This is not me making out that chinese factories are slums. but this is a fact that is readily recognized buy the chinese government (who are doing their best to sort out the problem).
As i am sure you are aware, in chinese manufacturing, maintainance of equipment very much takes a back seat. and preventative maintanance practicies that we would concider routine in the west are virtually non existant. Again i accept you are from an electronics backround and so things may well be better in that area.
Also this is not an issue of cost. how much does it cost to tell an employee not to keep spitting on the floor

The second point i take issue with is that in your reply you quoted an examply of a japanese manufacturer that moved production to china. to start with i dont think it is fair to compare an ordinary japanese manufacturer to any other one that has someone breathing down their necks all the time (i would also like to know how the figures you have quoted have changed over time. and not just after the initial move. again as the factory starts to degrade and the building that was put together in a hurry starts to leak and the lack of maintanance kicks in)
I would far rather have a japanese product than a chinese one. because the japanese take pride in their work. generally speaking the chinese dont (my girlfriend being the exception of course!!)
If i buy a japanese model, i know it has been put together carefully, i know it has been properly washed before painting, i know the paint shop was imacculatly clean and i know there is absoloutly no contamination whatsoever in the paint (i am talking about dust and foreign object contamination and not lead) i know it has been handled with care throughout the manufactuing process. i simply cant have that confidence with a chinese manufacturer.

You are from an electronics backround so you may have a different slant on this and i think this may be a case of different industries doing things differently. but i would be astonished if a chinese manufacturer could maintain a high standard without building a new factory about evry 2 years.

My initial thoughts about the lead contamination issue was spin as well. but it wouldnt supprise me in the slightest if it was true. The food stories that the chinese government are passing off as spin are totally believe


I think you need to sort the wheat from the chaff: There are a zillion little subcontacting companies who certainly are little more than sweatshops and home based businesses, relying on the labour of people who work between seasons and go home for the harvest. There are a LOT of chinese companies that are every bit as professional and "clean" as any in Europe - these are the core of Chinas future, as the low labour cost won't last long - already the wages are starting to rise...

I think the mistake is to wash up all in the mass - there are more highly qualified graduates in many chinese factories than in any in the West.

To Cover a couple of others comments: (especially ME 26-26) Its always the responsibility of the buyer to specify well and to set the parameters. A brand that respects their own products will, no matter where they are, maintain a strong quality approach at each stage - product planning, design, tooling, manufacture and after sales service - this shouldn't vary no matter where it is made.

Therefore, a chinese making it or an EU or US Mfr shouldn't matter it the client also does his part. The Mfr works for himself and part of that is the preservation of business - a buyer works for himself, and his responsibility is to specify properly, minimise cost without compromising quality.

Subcontracting is NOT an issue - if both Mfr and eventual client both specify and then quality check properly, the supply sequence should be unimportant.

Finally: Peter - my last ten years in major corporate life saw me in Asia several times per year - all over. There are good and bad companies in any country if you look for them - east or west!

No, Re Alpine quality didn't slip with time, because the quality control demands from both client and Mfr were manitained - that is all it takes, consistency in requirements and good management!

Yes, I saw many places I'd not deal with, but many that amazed me with their quality in everything from tooling to management professionalism to canteen to shop floor. Personally I don't think the source country is an issue - the management from start to finish of a project - in both client and supplier, are the whole key to quality.


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Hi Peter

You Said: A lot of clean factories?? where? which is the luckey province? i have travelled china many times and i have to admit there have been a couple, literally just a couple. i think i can count 3 i have been impressed with and that i would concider up to western standards many of them have their posh bit then you find out where the work is really done and my heart sinks.

*** It probably helps that my partner is a Local AU resident very well educated and skilled Chinese (30 yrs, but chinese born and back in China monthly on business) who finds most of the Mfrs I need ahead of my visits - He knows me well enopugh to know that I won't consider dealing with anyone who isn't up to scratch.

As I've said, there are quality sources in every product category, and the key is close specification and insistence on quality standards - consistently, not just on day one.

Good simple example: We are sourcing model people in several scales - (1:24 thru to N scale).

I arranged / prepared the painted samples (multiples as they will use low cost subcontractors) using myself and a couple of top modellers to paint them, and then also created a paint chart of all options and and will accept nothing less than that quality level, and each batch will be compared to my masters. We also offered to provide the paint if needed.... Its hardly a bulk amount :) :)

The added cost isn't insignificant, however the result will still be better than Preiser etc yet still very competitive. AND it will be consistent for as long as we make sure that they are being watched, and that anything below par will not be paid for.



PS: What takes you to China so often??
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You asked: "Am I correct in assuming that all factories in China have been sent jigs, tooling and plans from such manufacturers as Hornby, Bachmann and to a certain degree Heljan to name a few"

***Not really - Asian Mfrs aren't just cheap labour - they are very intelligent people.

Possibly some tools may be sent where H etc didn't want to invest for totally new tooling on its taken over stuff and wanted a quick buck for not much added investment, however most Asian Mfg is done on tools 100% created in Asia - usually to a better quality, made faster and to a higher accuracy than the original EU and UK stuff as most of the toolmaking / CAD design stuff and machinery in Asian Mfrs is very much state of the art.

All of Bachmann is Asian made tooling and always has been. The sending of tools is the exception, not the rule, and is only ever a stopgap - as I said at the beginning - better tools can be made more cheaply and faster in Asia.

The same will be true of all brands who make in Asia.

At the most, design specs and some CAD work may possiblyly be transmitted to the Asian Mfr, but they are very capable of doing it from the ground up based on accurate prototpe data, needing only approval checking for the final design stuff from the Brand concerned.

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