Manufacturing Our Pump In China - Communications Were One Of The Problems We Encountered.

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Manufacturing Our Pump In China

We had determined that we could not make a profit with our product without finding a way to manufacture it for substantially less money than it was costing us at the time.  My partner who does the marketing had met a gentleman (Jerry) who was having several products made in China and selling them through U.S. and Canadian companies.

Jerry was familiar with our product and believed it could really be a big seller if we could get it off the ground.  Jerry had an associate, Sue, a Chinese woman who lives in Shanghai and works with him doing translating and acting as a go between for several small factories.

Our product, a small pump that installs under sinks to bring hot water fast to the fixture without running water down the drain, would require a motor, an injection molded pump, an electronic circuit board, and the case.  Since we had to have new tooling made we wanted to make some improvements and changes to the pump at the same time. 

Our old pump was a gear pump and made a lot of noise.  We sent our old pump, a small centrifugal pump similar to what we wanted to switch to, and a set of drawings of what we wanted to end up with.  We also sent a schematic, circuit board layout, and even a fully functional sample circuit board.

After about 30 to 60 days, I don’t remember exactly, we received the first set of prototypes.  There were a host of problems with the parts, and we sent back instructions how to bring the parts up to par. 

For some reason the Chinese had made changes to the circuit board even though we sent them a functional working sample.  Part of our arrangement with the Chinese manufacturer called for the product to be listed with ETL labs as complying with the UL standards for motor operated pumps.  I could see that some of the traces on the circuit board were too close together to be approved.  After a couple more changes we got the circuit board problems straightened out. 

Pretty much the same held true for the pump, motor, and case.  All parts made in China had initial problems, but after several tries the factory got it right, and we place our first order, a sample size of 250 pumps. 

My partner headed off to China for the first run of 500 pumps, and it was a very good thing he did.  It took about 2 weeks, but they finally got those first 250 pumps assembled and tested.  We placed great emphasis on testing.  The circuit boards are functionally tested before the pump is assembled, and each motor is tested before being assembled to the pump head.  After everything is assembled the pump is hooked up to water lines and tested again.

One of the problems we encountered at first was difficulty with translations and things like being able to view drawings and get files to open. 

The Chinese manufacturer is just as concerned as we are with quality control.  He wants lots of orders and he knows they won’t come if we have quality control issues with the product.

Even with all that testing, the real test begins in the field.  We got about 30 percent of the pumps back from that first batch.  There were a number of problems that showed up.  Not enough testing apparently.  We had to beef up some of the injection molded parts, make some small changes to the mold tooling, and do a much better job of testing.  The same thing happened with the following two small batches of 250 pumps, and we had finally reached the point where were confident enough to put in our first big order…well to us it was big…of 1,000 pumps.

In the meantime we were having all kinds of problems with ETL labs in Shanghai.  The factory kept having difficulties with the ETL engineers, so they would ask me to intervene, and I would then get into an email exchange with an engineer at ETL labs in Shanghai.  It seemed to me like they didn’t really understand what they were doing.  For instance, at one point they told us that the 2.5 amp fuse we were using was too small and we needed to put a 4 amp fuse in.  Excuse me…that is crazy, the fuse would never blow!

It took about half a dozen emails and some data sheets from the manufacturer to convince ETL Shanghai to let us use a smaller fuse.  There were several more strange requests from the Chinese ETL engineers, but we finally got everything resolved and obtained our ETL listing for the units being made in China. It seemed to me that most of the problems were probably due to translation problems with the UL Standards documents.

Now things are proceeding quite smoothly.   We were fortunate to stumble onto a very good situation. Jerry travels to China frequently and Sue is a very good translator and has a good relationship with the manufacturer that we are dealing with.   The manufacturer recognizes the importance of producing a superior product, and has bent over backward to comply with all of our wishes.

If you can find good people to deal with and good translation, and if you are willing to travel to China a few times, it can be quite worthwhile to have your manufacturing done in China.


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