China - under siege or under-appreciated?

28 August 2007

Tim Fryer

Last week China was under fire for the quality of its manufacturing, this week it is the centre of attention for more positive reasons.

China takes centre stage once again this week as the first major exhibition of the autumn gets underway in Shenzen. The ‘nuts and bolts’ feel of this show, compared to the more international feel of its sister exhibition in Beijing, demonstrates a real depth and strength in manufacturing in the region. It also underlines the important position that China holds in the global manufacturing industry.

However, I am sure I was not the only person who picked up a certain satisfaction in some quarters at the latest in a fairly short list of problems associated with Chinese manufacturers. The recall of some 18 million Mattel toys after 3 children had swallowed some magnets and some lead-containing paint was found, suggests an almost ‘over-responsible’ attitude, rather than one of not taking its manufacturing seriously. The other problems involving food, toothpaste and tyres have not touched the electronics industry, but there does seem to be an undercurrent, particularly in those countries that have smaller manufacturing industries as a consequence of the rise of China, that these problems make welcome news.

As anyone in manufacturing knows, problems happen. Whatever country you manufacture in the same rules apply – if your product is bad then people won’t buy it. The people responsible for sourcing from China (both internally and externally) will not tolerate sub-standard products. They will buy from another manufacturer, probably also based in China, who will have learned the lessons of its predecessor and will not produce faulty or dangerous products. I can’t help feeling that ‘Made in China’, which until very recently was actually quite fashionable irrespective of the business reasons, is now being used as an equally convenient catch-all for people with a different agenda (i.e. to promote their own manufacturing capabilities instead of offshoring to China). But the only consequence of any difficulties is that standards will ultimately improve. In fact, in the long term, having a few problems along the way may help improve China’s manufacturing from both quality and perceptual viewpoints.

As Nepcon Shenzen opens its doors today, I expect it to be a vibrant and healthy show, reflecting the industry in China. Highlighted on this newsletter are a few of the products that will be launched at the exhibition.

Also new on the newsletter and website this week is the next in our series of ‘The next 25 years’ (click here online), this time the words of wisdom coming from Peter Grundy. Peter guardedly predicted evolution rather than revolution – unless there is a revolution. Well it caught my eye that a revolution was taking place back in the 1982.

It was 25 years ago when the collaboration of Philips and Sony came up with the CD – the first one off the presses being Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. Now as someone who had invested heavily in vinyl (and would continue to do so for many years to come) this came as something of a blow. However, for those who do remember the size of an old ‘Long Playing’ record it is hard to imagine how we could fit in the equivalent of the 6 CD changer like the one I have in my car. And they might jump a bit too much as well! The next revolution in the music industry is of course well underway as MP3 players rule the roost. And it least this time round there is the consolation of the back catalogue being digitally transferable – that mountain of vinyl still haunts me!

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