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Never has it been so evident that quality is an issue in China as it has been lately. Mattel has pulled 1.5 million toys manufactured in China from the shelves because of high lead content in the paint. RC2 recalled toy sets from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway line, also made in China, because of lead paint.
Earlier this summer, U.S. pet food, imported from China, was discovered to contain melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, fertilizer and fire retardant, which led to many animals that ate it becoming sick and dying. Toothpaste made in China was found to contain diethylene glycol, a substance found in solvent and antifreeze. More than 450,000 tires imported to the United States from a Chinese manufacturer were found to be missing, or having an insufficient amount of, the strip that binds the belts of the tires together. Tread separation was at risk, so the tires were recalled. Since October 2006, the Federal Drug Administration has detained all imports from China of many types of seafood, citing the presence of a harmful antimicrobial agent-which can be carcinogenic and/or create antibiotic resistance.
Are these recalls symptomatic of all Chinese manufacturing? No. Most of the products coming from China pose no risk to the consumer. The problem has been some unscrupulous manufacturers in China.
At an August press conference, the Chinese government announced that strict new policies and programs would be put in place to correct these problems and factories, and that Americans could trust the products being made in China.
That statement, for anyone who has been involved in manufacturing, ignores the fact that it requires time to institute any new program. Chinese manufacturers responsible for these products can’t make the necessary quality changes in the short amount of time that the press conference promised.
U.S. manufacturers must take the lead in insisting on quality. While the Chinese manufacturers who produce faulty goods bear most of the blame, U.S. manufacturers must step up their inspection of all the products they receive from China. Consumers should, and will, demand increased inspection and hold companies accountable that do not prevent harmful products from reaching the market.
Informing and educating Chinese manufacturers about quality also is part of the solution. Many measurement, test and inspection tool makers doing business in China are leading the education effort of quality to Chinese manufacturers. The more knowledge Chinese workers, from management to shop floor operators, have about quality, the better all of us will be. Quality Magazine will join in that effort.
Quality Magazine has published several Chinese language issues already. We have distributed them to manufacturing and quality engineers and management, as well as corporate management. In addition, we are at key manufacturing events in China. During 2008, we will expand our commitment to 10 issues, including Quality, NDT and Vision & Sensors, plus monthly digital distribution of our magazines. We will continue to be present at the key quality events in China, as well.
There are some who are critical of any Chinese-made products. For them, it will not matter that it’s too late to “turn back the hands of time” and not purchase goods from China. The fact of the matter is that Chinese goods, just as Japanese goods that first arrived here during the 1970s, are here to stay. U.S. consumers like them because they are inexpensive. U.S. consumers want them to be of the same quality level as more expensive products. Just as U.S. quality gurus and manufacturers helped to educate Japanese manufacturers about quality, leading to better made products, it’s now the time to lend our insight, expertise and education to Chinese manufacturers.
Improving the quality of Chinese-made goods, ironically, brings to mind an old Chinese proverb. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” We’ll be one of the many with lit candles.
What are your thoughts on quality in China? Let me know at williamst@ qualitymag.com.