Experiences with Chinese manufacturing and selling business

This blog is about the nature of Chinese manufacturing and selling business and how it appears and affects to small players outside China.

I haven’t travelled to China to arrange buying materials and parts for the machine; this is not big enough business to justify that. On some items, I have to go through dealers, which can make life difficult. The Ebay and Alibaba stores seem to come and go, and even the more stable dealers don’t get exactly the same item repeatedly. Running a small business myself, I understand them very well: If the item has the same description and specifications, there is little point making sure it is exactly the same – but the devil is in the details.

On some items I get or must to deal with the factories directly. I found out this the hard way: For example, if you have followed the story closely enough, you would have noticed that the type of chain kit has changed. I bought lots of different type of chains to find the best choice. After I decided which chain to use, I ordered plate set and chains for the first lot. When I got the chains, they were slightly different than my samples. That mishap was correctable by modifying the attachment piece. Although usable, the result was not at the quality I was aiming for. I didn’t want to scrap usable chains, but I didn’t want to sell them either. I ended up sending free chains with the first machine.

Next time I wasn’t so lucky. I redesigned the plate set to match the chains. The chains I got that time did not fit, no matter what. They did sort of fit the description in the on-line store, however. The local hackerspace got more chains than their robot and 3D printer projects needs and a metal recycling place got 20kg of steel. Bummer.

I can’t re-design and re-manufacture the laser cut plate set again every time I buy more chains to the store! So, I had to locate a factory that wants to deal with me directly, so I can keep getting exactly the item again. Fortunately I had the money and the storage room for a year (or more) cables for my store.

Lesson learned: It seems to be rather difficult to buy the same exact item again from China, especially when the item is considered to be a commodity. And in China, items that here would get a type number and a stable specification sheet can still be commodity items.

At the time of writing this, I’ve bought three lots of cameras. The store I first used is no more, and even though the description and appearance of the cameras in another store are exactly the same, the products are not. The USB identification string of the cameras changed a little. This did not make a difference in my application, but it is easy to imagine an application where it would.

What made a difference is that the “10mm outer diameter” specification is rather loose and different enough. Today, I had to add a note to instructions to use a piece of tape if the cameras don’t fit tightly to the holders. I’m not too happy about the situation, but I hope my customers agree the above to be a reasonable workaround in this case.

On the other hand, I knew this: I have been in high end audio business, and I know all too well that not all “10nF, size 1206, NP0” capacitors or even 10k resistors are the same, when you apply parts so that the unspecified characteristics (like above, the tolerance of 10mm) actually do matter.