Commercial Sound System Component Developer & Manufacturer
All businesses need to be cost effective in order to survive - is it more cost effective to source products from the EU or elsewhere in the world?
From the viewpoint of manufacturing a UK-originated design we have found a heavily controlled offshore production line to be useful, working to our budget and standards, and applying stringent quality control.
Some EU member countries have a developing manufacturing base, and economies which attract lower labour rates and lower delivery-to-UK charges. This means they are able to offer good product prices and, as a result, are an attractive option for UK suppliers.
When making a decision, one has to weigh up the pros and cons. Products from some EU countries may be cheaper to buy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are the most cost effective option. Companies need to carefully consider any additional overhead costs related to having products processed in another country; for example, the cost of engineer visits and transportation.
Notwithstanding quality issues, I feel we all have a moral obligation to evaluate EU-designed and produced products before those coming from elsewhere in the world. Yes, high volume production of designs originating from other non-EU manufacturing countries can provide for everyday requirements at competitive prices, but has anyone evaluated the potential long-term cost of ownership of these products?
What if the manufacturer goes out of business? Or, as experienced by one of my companies, they suddenly stop making the product without prior notice, or change the design? Often the EU importer, if there is one, may not know or even care, they just want to move high-margined products quickly. In my case the product was directly imported, which only serves to highlight the importance of pre-purchase research!
From whatever country the imported product is sourced there is always the need to ensure that the compliance matters applying to the importing country are maintained. In the commercial audio industry some years ago a basic sound amplifier was claimed by the UK importer to be 'CE approved'. However, investigation by a potential buyer proved it was not. The onus is on the buyer if they install a non-approved product as well as the importer; the same applies to compliance to RoHS and WEEE directives.
We have protocols in the UK regarding spares availability after a product is no longer manufactured, these should apply to imported products too as the importer / seller is responsible. In fact, accessibility to spares, or replacement products, is important to everyone in the chain.
There have been past instances where spare parts for an imported product have not been promptly available, or not at all; that sends the real cost of ownership of that product spiralling upwards - and what does the installer say to the installation owner "sorry, I can't get any spares for two weeks, you'll have to keep your premises closed"?
A recent 'real' example is about a product made in China and marketed in the UK; a domestic DAB radio marketed by EVOKE. They are unable to repair products made more than 4 years ago because they can't get the spares!
With UK manufacturers - and most EU ones too - you can be confident in compliance and that spares will be available for as long as regulations demand. Most manufacturers will have anticipated component obsolescence, with 'chips' being the most frequently discontinued or replaced. Moreover, EU-based manufacturers are likely to have designed their product for long life rather than planned obsolescence; it may be slightly more expensive to buy but you can be pretty certain it won't fail and that, as a result, the end-user will be sufficiently confident to give the installer more work.
Buyer beware, cheap(er) products may actually cost much more to own.