How to manufacture in China
Manufacturing outside the UK isn’t just for big companies with large-scale orders any more. As the focus of British industry shifts and dealing with businesses abroad becomes ever quicker and more easy thanks to technology, more and more UK businesses are waking up to the benefits of manufacturing abroad.
Virgin StartUp-funded business Mous create unique phone cases which keep your headphones from getting tangled and broken thanks to a simple yet ingenious design. Their products are created in China, and here’s their advice for anyone else looking to do the same.
Why manufacture in China?
We decided to manufacture in China for two main reasons.
Firstly, simply, they are much better at injection moulding tools then we are in the UK. They’re actually much better at a lot of things.
Secondly, it’s also much cheaper. We have now partnered with a manufacturer that creates prototypes and design work for us for free, and lets us pay in instalments for our tools. This hugely reduces our financial risk as we avoid many of the upfront costs we would normally have. It just wouldn’t be possible to do this in most other countries. In addition to China, the Philippines is quickly becoming the go-to place for manufacturing as they have similar costs, but more of a Western influence then China.
The first step is to go out to China and visit factories for yourself. There are many middlemen who will offer to do this for you – however, there is no substitute to doing your own due diligence and building a personal relationship with the owner and project managers you’d be working with. It is worth seeing multiple factories to get a feel for them all and compare.
Going from an idea to production is a very hard thing to measure. Specifically for what we do (Phone cases that hold and retract headphones), prototypes for plastics typically take three working days to make and two to three days working days to ship. You could need anywhere from three prototypes if you make an awesome CAD (Computer Aided Design) render, all the way to seven or eight prototypes. This process tends to take around one to three months – in our case, it took us one month.
When you’ve got a prototype, tooling your product (aka creating it) takes a standard three to four weeks; you can pay for an express service, though we’ve yet to test that out. Once you’ve got the tool ready to work, you need to do, say, three small trials to ensure the tool is producing the product you want (maybe two to three weeks). You then need to allow for shipment times, which will obviously be much slower if you go by ship versus air.
We have faced (and you will face!) so many hiccups. Our biggest of all must be quality control. The previous factory we used were not cleaning our tool properly, were not following our quality control process - and this meant that almost 50% of our products were defective! We tried to educate the factory workers and improve things, but they just weren’t getting better.
We therefore took the decision to move our tools to an entirely new factory. Josh, co-founder of Mous, spent two months in China building a strong relationship with them (to the point he went on holiday with the owner of the factory). Even though we are much more confident with this factory, we have made the decision to move Josh to China for an indefinite duration. He can then personally oversee quality control and also receive prototypes much quicker, hugely speeding up our manufacturing process.
Maintaining quality control
The way we are managing quality control now (and which is working!) is to give them a process to go through with each unit. Initially, we got them to send very small batches of quality-controlled units to us in the UK which we then reviewed and made amendments to the quality control process accordingly. We send them clear videos to ensure the message got across very easily and we get them to send us videos back. We are constantly communicating via WeChat, the Chinese version of WhatsApp, which significantly helps to improve communication.
For me, there are a few golden rules:
- Do your due diligence on a Chinese factory and if you can, go out to China yourself. You will learn a lot and build a much stronger relationship with the factory you partner – it is 100% worth the cash investment to do this.
- Motivate your factory with pre-orders to ensure them they are working towards a successful product. You can do this via crowdfunding, creating a simple website where people can preorder, and more.
- Get WeChat!