If you have been considering sourcing to injection mold makers China, you probably know that it isn’t nearly as easy or straightforward an endeavor as it sounds. There are several ways to establish a provider, a number of different aspects to consider before making your final selection, and a variety of negotiations that need to be made based on the source you use.

As you start researching your options, it can quickly get overwhelming because there is such a wide range of things to consider. Ultimately, the decision could end up costing you money, and worse, customers.

To start, there are three types of sources, each with their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses:

Direct sourcing, or working directly with a Chinese company

Broker sourcing, or working with a company who negotiates with Chinese companies

Domestic sourcing, or working with an American company who has a Chinese partner.

As you begin questioning the companies or brokers you are considering using, there are three primary considerations:

Material used by the company

Sampling employed by the company for quality

Typical shipping and lead times you can expect when using a particular provider.

Finding the Right Channel

When you start to research if you should begin sourcing your molds to China, the first consideration is the channel you will use. There are three very different methods of obtaining a Chinese provider.

Going Directly to a Chinese Mold Maker

The first method that most people consider is going directly to a Chinese provider. It tends to appear to be more cost effective once the project is set up and the mold is in process. However, there tends to a be a much higher upfront cost not included, such as the potential language barriers and time difference.

Benefits of Finding Your Own Chinese Mold Maker

During an initial assessment, this channel will probably appear to be your best option. Without having to deal with a middle man, you are able to noticeably reduce the cost. This alone can make the direct channel very appealing because it accomplishes the biggest draw to using a Chinese mold maker – the significantly lower cost of production. However, it is also the only major benefit.

Disadvantages to Finding Your Own Chinese Mold Maker

The disadvantages of going directly to a Chinese provider are much more likely to negate the major benefit, particularly when you consider the additional costs required to cover the potential issues.

The language barrier can be a significant problem when working directly with a Chinese provider. It may become necessary for you to hire a person or a small team who can speak the Chinese language fluently to ensure that plans, designs, timelines, and other aspects are clear. Even if the Chinese provider has people who are considered fluent in English, such a specialized area has terms and concepts that will make it more difficult to discuss on a deeper level.

Your company will be responsible for verifying the QA effort. This means you will need to pay for onsite inspections and your own evaluations of the site before you can commit to the project. This is because the difference between Chinese and American standards is significant.

It is your responsibility to determine your direct provider’s current level and bolster with any additional instructions and specifications that meet your needs. This can be an incredibly expensive endeavor that nearly negates the savings you get from using a direct supplier.

You will be responsible for certain aspects that the other two channels handle, such as setting up shipping, transportation, and possibly material.

The time difference means you will need to have people available during the late night and early morning in case of issues at the Chinese facility.

It is likely that currency will be an issue as you will likely have to convert the cost to USD for all aspects of each mold you request.

The majority of the burden of the design reviews will fall on you and your company. With the other potential issues, this could be the final point that persuades you to look at the other channels.

If you are already set up to work with a Chinese provider for other areas of the business, you probably already have the tools and knowledge to overcome most of the issues. However, this is not the case for most businesses, and the initial cost to get set up may be prohibitive.

Hiring a Broker

There are a number of brokers who can handle many of the issues that you would have to face on your own if you were looking for a direct provider. They can offer you several  different options of companies that can work with you and your designs. However, they are not intimately familiar with the providers, which means that a considerable amount of the burden is still on you and your company.

Advantages of Using a Broker

While a broker will look more expensive when you look at the cost of production, it actually removes some of the upfront costs. They are able to make suggestions for some of the areas that are solely your responsibility if you were to select a direct supplier, with transportation being a key benefit.

Brokers do have established connections with the providers they recommend. They will also handle things like the monetary conversion, so you will have a clear picture of the cost (including their fees).

Disadvantages of Using a Broker

They are only brokers. This means they do not have the specialized knowledge necessary to ensure the product meets your specifications. The burden of design reviews and the quality of the product will still be yours to bear. This can lead to longer times to get a project started as design reviews take longer and quality requires more time to verify.

There may be unavoidable delays the broker will be unable to provide answers to questions that the Chinese mold maker poses without first channeling them through you.

Verification of the facility may also fall on you and your company. The cost of going through the facility and determining if the standards meet your requirements will be roughly the same as a direct provider.

Ultimately, the only real difference between a broker and a direct provider is that the broker can eliminate some of the initial research, give you costs in USD, and actually find a qualified source.

Finding a Domestic Provider with a Chinese Partner

Initially, finding a domestic provider with a Chinese partner will appear to be the costliest channel because they include a lot of the costs you don’t see for the other two channels. However, they take the guess work out of the majority of the areas that tend to be problematic for the other two channels.

Advantages of Working with a Domestic Provider

A domestic provider with a Chinese partner or affiliation is intimately familiar with both the industry and the provider. They are able to manage communication, the time difference, and potential language barriers, and take on the responsibility of ironing out all potential issues before submission to you for approval. Their expertise means that you will not need to be as

heavily involved upfront. Your primary job will be to provide the necessary information, such as

specifications and requirements.  In addition to full and complete mold builds, the domestic provider can also provide “hybrid” molds composed of components made in China, but assembled in the US. These “hybrids” are considered domestically produced molds, and are often provided at a price point far less than that of a pure domestic mold.

Disadvantages of Working with a Domestic Provider

The biggest perceived disadvantage is cost. Working with a domestic provider means you will have a higher cost for the completed project. However, you should consider that it includes all costs, not just the cost of production, which is what you will receive from the other two channels. They take on the majority of the burden that would otherwise fall on you. They are still competitive with the other two providers, and much more so than a domestically produced mold.

Reviewing and Selecting the Right Material

Selecting the right channel for your business is the first and most time-consuming aspect of selecting a Chinese mold maker. The next step may not be as difficult, but it is no less important – selecting the material for your molds. You actually need to know what materials you would like used as part of your material content before you select a source because this may narrow the number of companies you will consider.

Materials Made in China

If you are not upfront about the materials you want, you may not end up with a mold that meets your standards. Without having a requirement to use certain materials, Chinese mold makers are almost certain to use steels that were produced within their own country.

This means that you will be getting goods that were made with materials that met Chinese standards, which are likely lower than European or North American standards. The end results could be a product that is more fragile, wears quickly, and requires you to replace it at shorter intervals.  Chinese steels tend to be of a lower quality than steel from other countries. It is important to get information on the materials they intend to use before you sign any contract or make any agreements.

Materials Made in Europe

The most cost effective solution to material issues is to use steels that were produced in Europe. The distance is considerably shorter and the standards are comparable to those in North America. Chinese producers tend to have the best results with these European imported steels, especially those steels made in Germany.

Make sure to note any other materials that are required for your molds. This means carefully reviewing all requirements for the intended product to ensure that the materials in the mold optimize the results of that product. It is likely that the Chinese mold maker will be able to get components from companies like Progressive, Incoe, and DME, but you need to specify that before production begins. If you do not, they are likely to opt for cheaper materials to make the mold.

Mold Testing

Mold testing usually requires sending a representative to the facility to check the functionality of the mold, and the quality of the parts produced from that mold. Often times Chinese pricing will include provisions for sampling and “tune-in’s” required to bring the parts into dimensional tolerance.

It is often best to wait until the majority of these “tune-in’s” have occurred before sending representatives to the China facility as this process can take several attempts with bench work in-between each sampling. It’s fair to note that this “tune-in” process can ultimately save thousands in comparison to the same process performed domestically, and it is one of the key advantages that Chinese molds offer.

Once you are assured that the mold is producing relatively good parts, then you may consider traveling to China to see the mold in operation prior to releasing it for shipment to the US.

Many Chinese mold makers actually include tune-in as part of the process, which allows you to request changes during the sampling. Ultimately, this can end up being a significant cost savings.

Tune-ins can end up saving enough money to more than cover the cost of sending a representative to sample the product.

Lead Times for Shipping

The last consideration if you are thinking about using a Chinese mold maker is the lead time and shipping details. Some of the shipping issues are managed if you use a domestic source, while others are universal.

Lead time is a critical factor since this, along with the potential savings can end up being the reason why you decide to use a Chinese provider. Often times, Chinese mold makers can produce your molds faster, however, you may lose that benefit because of the amount of time it takes to ship the mold back to the US. Here are the factors to keep in mind when considering this option:

Time zone differences that can cause a delay in production (ultimately effecting lead time) if a question arises and no one is available to answer the questions. This could mean having to pay a group to be on call to answer questions and resolve issues that occur during the day in China.

The Chinese New Year, and other holidays are different than those in the US. During the Chinese New Year (usually in February) both production and shipping grinds to a halt.  Shipping, especially sea freight, often takes several weeks to fully recover from the backlog created during this time. Make sure you plan around this holiday if you are on a tight schedule

Sample shots from T-0 on will often take several days to be delivered to a recipient in the US for evaluation and further instruction. This may impact the ultimate delivery of the mold

Import duties from China may also increase the cost if not included in the original quote. You will need to determine who will be responsible for this cost before reaching a final agreement with a company.