Importing Electronics from China is riddled with pitfalls, and puts high requirements on both the buyer, and the manufacturer. In this product guide, we explain what you must know to select a reliable electronics manufacturer, OEM production and private labels. We also guide you through complex product regulations, and explain why hoping for the best isn’t a wise decision.
Electronics Product Development and Customization
Electronics importers have two options: Buy an OEM product that is custom designed from scratch, or import an ODM product, or private label product. Developing OEM electronics is not for every company, as it requires technical expertise and large funding. For natural reasons, Chinese manufacturers don’t offer free product development services. The buyer is always expected to provide all relevant technical specifications, and files, including the following:
- CAD files
- PCB design files
- Source code
- Print files (.ai format)
For many Electronics Startups it makes more sense to buy an ODM product, essentially a factory standard design that not only be branded, but also customized to a certain degree. Click here to learn more about ODM products when buying from China.
What you Need to Know Before Selecting an Electronics Manufacturer in China
The electronics industry is highly concentrated in China’s southern Guangdong province, in the cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou in particular. That being said, components are manufactured worldwide, some by domestic manufacturers, with others being imported from suppliers in Japan, South Korea, Germany and the United States.
Electronics manufacturers, regardless of product, are not all equals. The industry is crowded with everything from minor traders and agents to large scale manufacturers. The size of the average factory is smaller than what many importers assume. Many factories don’t consist of much more than two to three assembly lines, staffed by 50 to 100 workers. Electronics assembly is not necessarily rocket science, and most components and materials are purchased from subcontractors. When you select an electronics manufacturer, regardless of whether you buy ODM or OEM, you must consider the following:
1. Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with applicable safety standards and directives (e.g. FCC Part 15, RoHS and the EMC Directive) is mandatory when importing electronics to the United States, the EU, Canada, Australia and many other countries. Most Chinese manufacturers cannot ensure compliance, and therefore previous compliance (e.g. Test reports and technical documents) must be verified before selection. Making compliant products’ requires more costly components (e.g. RoHS compliant ICs and solder), as compared to electronics not made according to comply with strict safety standards and regulations.
2. Production Capabilities: Some suppliers put together assembled PCBs, casing and other components, purchased directly from subcontractors. Other manufacturers, however, design and assemble PCBs in house, and some may even refine and cut fabrics, TPU, silicon and other materials used in their products. Working with the latter type of electronics manufacturer makes it easier to develop new products, and customize existing designs. It also makes it easier to resolve design and functional flaws, which is to be expected when developing new products.
3. Quality Management System (QMS): A QMS (e.g. ISO 9001:2008) is applied to track quality and prevent quality issues throughout the production process. Quality issues can multiply rapidly, and ruin an entire batch of products, unless testing is carried out continuously on the assembly lines. Most electronics manufacturers have at least one or two testing stations, but few comply with comprehensive Quality Management Systems, such as ISO 9001:2008. Spending more time on quality management comes at a cost, therefore resulting in such suppliers quoting slightly higher prices. Yet, a reduced defect rate often makes it a wise investment.
Electrical Safety Standards & Labelling Requirements
As already mentioned, previous compliance is critical when selecting an electronics manufacturer. Most suppliers lack the technical capability, knowledge, experience and subcontractor network required to ensure compliance with European, American and Australian safety standards and regulations. The ‘compliance rate’ differs between industries, but less than 5% of the suppliers can ensure compliance, in most industries. Suppliers with the capability and experience to ensure said compliance often share the following characteristics:
1. Main markets include the European Union and/or the United States: Many suppliers focus on the domestic Chinese market, while others are geared towards Asia, therefore not giving them an incentive to comply.
2. Large registered capital: Suppliers with a large registered capital (> RMB 5,000,000) tend to be more sophisticated than smaller suppliers. Machinery and equipment may also be included in the registered capital.
3. Price: Ensuring compliance with electrical safety standards and substance regulations comes at a cost. Electromagnetic shielding, RoHS compliant components and lead free paint cost more money to procure.
When importing electronics from China, you may need to ensure compliance with more than just one regulation or directive. There are primarily four types of regulations to consider:
- Electrical safety standards / directives
- EMC standards / directives
- Substance regulations (applies to plastic cases and components)
- Labelling requirements (e.g. CE, WEEE and ‘Made in China’ markings)
Different regulations apply depending on the market, product, usage and its function. The table below lists some common regulations that US and EU importers must keep track of:
|US||FCC Part 15 (Intentional Radiators)||
An intentional radiator is a device that is intended to emit radio energy. This scope includes any WiFi and Bluetooth Enabled device.
|US||FCC Part 15 (Unintentional Radiators)||
An unintentional radiator is, in 47 CFR 15.3, defined as any electrical device “operating at over 9000 pulses per second (9 kHz) and using digital techniques”. This definition includes most consumer electronics containing a chip, such as USB enabled devices, even if not equipped with a WiFi or Bluetooth transmitter.
|US||UL||Underwriter laboratories developes safety standards for eletronics and components. While UL compliance is not required by law, most retailers will not buy products that are not UL certified / listed.|
|US||CA Prop 65||
California Proposition 65 regulates more than 800 substances in most consumer goods. While CA Prop 65 only applies in California, you must ensure compliance if you are either based on, or selling to consumer in, the state.
|EU||Low Voltage Directive||
The LVD applies to electronics, and components, with an input, or output, ranging between 50 to 1000 volts AC, and 75 to 1500 volts DC.
The EMC Directive is applicable to fixed electronic appliances. The purpose is to ensure that electrical equipment don’t interfere with other electronics, and signals, in its proximity.
The R&TTE directive is applicable to radio and telecommunication equipment. The scope of regulations includes both final products and individual components. Therefore, products with radio, WiFi and Bluetooth transmitters and receivers are required to comply.
The RoHS directive restricts the amounts of certain substances in electronics, including lead, cadmium and mercury.
REACH regulates substances, including lead and cadmium, in all products sold in the EU.
Labelling requirements, for example FCC marking in the United States, C-Tick in Australia and the CE mark in the European Union, signal compliance with all applicable regulations. As such, importers must first confirm which regulations apply, and then verify whether the manufacturer can prove previous compliance.
Neglecting electrical safety regulations, or just hoping for the best, is not an option. Importing non-compliant products is illegal, and for good reasons. Cheap and substandard, therefore non-compliant, electronics can cause electrical and fire hazards. Take a look at the photo below, which illustrates the difference between an authentic apple charger, and a counterfeit. The latter lacks components, essential to ensure that the charger don’t overload and explode.
Photo credit: Gizmodo.com
Compliance and safety comes at a cost, and is not a matter of negotiation. Some importers assume that the manufacturer is ultimately held responsible, but that is not the case. It’s up to you to ensure that the items are compliant, and provide the necessary documentation (e.g. Declaration of Conformity and Test Reports) to prove so.
Electronics Trade Fairs in Hong Kong and Mainland China
Canton Fair (Phase 1) (Guangzhou)
- Consumer Electronics
- Electronic and Electrical Products
- Computer and Communication Products
- Household Electrical Appliances
- Lighting Equipment
HKTDC Electronics Fair (Hong Kong)
- 3D printing
- Drones & Unmanned tech
- Audio-visual products
- Branded electronics
- Eco-friendly products
- Packaging & design
- Navigation systems
electronicAsia – Oct 13 – 16 2013 (Hong Kong)
- Computer & Peripherals
- Electronic / Electrical Component & Accessories
- Solar Products
- Audio Equipment
- Video Game Accessories
Global Sourcing Fair (Hong Kong)
- Consumer electronics & accessories
- Telecom Products
- Electronic Games
- Audio & Video Products
- Mobile intelligent devices & accessories
- Mobile intelligent terminals
- Computer Accessories
- Accessories for Apple