Get the lead out??

I’m all for designers knowing more about the life cycle of the material that go into their products, even though more often than not they don’t always get what they want. But I don’t get this latest blog posted on Core. How would a desiger’s knowlage of LCA have prevented lead paint from getting on toys?

I KNOW FP designers and engineers didn’t spec it this way. What most likely happened is that this contract vendor changed paint suppliers because they could get the job done cheaper and make an extra buck on the production. US companies already squeeze these manufactures for every penny to get the lowest costs, so when these factories find a way to cut their cost they ususally do it. The only way to prevent this is to 1) own your factory or 2) inspect every shipment in detail which is done, but usually just visually.

Unless I’m missing something I don’t see what LCA would have to do with this, and I would bet anyone with experience dealing with a contract vendor in China would agree and have similiar stories. Anyone else have thoughts on this whole issue??

I agree. The latest rash of recalls because of bad quality from Chinese contract factories isn’t the fault of designers. It’s an epidemic caused by an unexpected villain. The US consumer.

I actually work for a Chinese company, and I’ve seen the chain of events first hand. Let me first say this isn’t happening at every contract manufacturer, but here is a scenario that has played-out many times…

  1. First a Chinese factory develops a relationship with an OEM company or a major retailer and begins shipping small orders. Things go OK.

  2. The customer or retailer starts placing progressively larger and larger orders so they become more important to the factory.

  3. Before long the retailer or OEM customer represents 40% or 50% of the factory’s annual sales. The customer now starts asking for price concessions and discounts. Eventually they decide to have a bid process or on-line auction for the whole product line to lower the product costs and enjoy fatter margins. The China factory now needs to find ways to reduce their costs.

  4. There is a meeting of the factory’s production people and they examine every penny that goes into their product and look for ways to cut corners. Some solutions are legitimate and others aren’t. This is when the true character of the factory ownership is tested. If there isn’t a top-down mentality of quality and responsibility things will go terribly wrong at this stage. I’ve seen this happen.

Some people call this “The Wal-Mart Effect”. A spiraling decrease in product quality as the US consumer demands lower and lower prices in the checkout line and retailers demand higher profits. You and I are responsible for some of this. Obviously we don’t put a gun at the head of the Chinese factory owners and tell them to use lead paint to reduce costs, but we start the chain of events in motion. Who doesn’t want cheaper plasma TVs or cell phones?

There are a lot of desperate factory owners in China trying to hold on to their business any way they can. The competition is fierce in the Shenzhen area and factories are closing daily because of skyrocketing wages and lost business. Frankly it doesn’t shock me that this is happening. It’s a casebook study of survival in a competitive environment. The big problem is factories have started using dangerous materials and poor quality to cut corners. Factories have been cutting corners for years, but now they’re getting stupid in their methods.

I don’t understand how LCA plays into this story.

I think the relationship with the consumer is complex. We have a +3% inflation rate, but consumers go ballistic when Starbucks raises the prices a nickel to compensate. They have to raise the hourly wage of their barista (you don’t stay on the top 100 place to work in the country without taking care of your people), the cost of their supplies and overhead are going up, and their consumers salary presumably went up. Raising the price a fair amount is acceptable, but is initially rejected by the consumer. The media is failing to explain to the consumer that if you want safe, quality products from companies with fair trade and employment policies, you can’t buy 5 t shirts for 5 dollars. You can’t say one thing and then not back it up with your purchases.

Exactly! As soon as I hear these stories I knew exactly what happened:

Contract factory got a huge order, but was told their prices were too high, so to ensure they’d keep the order (and also make a profit and stay in business) they changed to a cheaper paint supplier. It’s even possible that the factory didn’t know it was lead paint. The paint supplier could have lied, or cut the corner. This kinda thing has a domino effect.

I think any product designer in the field now with any experience working with a factory in china (or anywhere for that matter) understands this situation. I was just shocked that a site for Industrial Designers would post something that was so off base and uninformed.

Knowing a bit about the coffee industry, coffee price (green) have not gone up, nor has a more important ingredient to starbucks MILK. Everything else you said i agree with and as with the prior post good old consumers here and many places abroad just want more for less, not quality just MORE.

The next 5 or so years are going to be interesting. The prices are inevitably going to rise in China. The middle class is growing at an exponential rate. From everything I have heard, the competition for good workers is fierce. Along with it salaries are going to be on the rise.

10 years ago, Mexico was the place to go. China is the current manufacturing go-to guy for N/A. I see a huge flood to Indonesia and Africa over the next 5 - 10 years. There is a HUGE push in Africa to start industrializing so it is going to be interesting to watch.

The one thing that China has in its favor is its population alone allows it to sustain itself from a production standpoint.

Materials are a whole other issue.

BEIJING, China (AP) – The head of a Chinese manufacturing company accused of shipping hundreds of thousands of lead-tainted toys later recalled in the United States has committed suicide, a state-run newspaper said Monday.

Two toys of the same kind recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Zhang Shuhong, who co-owned Lee Der Industrial Company, killed himself at a warehouse over the weekend, days after China announced it had temporarily banned exports by the company, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.

Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled earlier this month by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint containing excessive amounts of lead. The plastic preschool toys, sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the U.S., included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.

It was among the largest recalls in recent months involving Chinese products, which have come under fire for globally for containing potentially dangerous high levels of chemicals and toxins.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said that a supplier, Zhang’s best friend, sold Lee Der the contaminated paint.

“The boss and the company were harmed by the paint supplier, the closest friend of our boss,” a manager surnamed Liu was quoted as saying.
Liu said Zhang hung himself on Saturday, according to the report. It is common for disgraced officials to commit suicide in China.

“When I rushed there around 5 p.m., police had already sealed off the area,” the newspaper quoted a manager surnamed Liu as saying. “I saw that our boss had two deep marks in his neck.”

A company official who answered the telephone at the Lee Der factory in the southern city of Foshan on Monday said he had not heard of the news. A man at Lee Der’s main office in Hong Kong said the company was not accepting interviews and hung up.

According to a search on a registry of Hong Kong companies, Zhang – whose name is spelled Cheung Shu-hung in official documents – is a co-owner of Lee Der. The other owner, Chiu Kwei-tsun, did not return telephone messages left for him.

The recall by El Segundo, California-based Mattel came just two months after RC2, a New York company, recalled 1.5 million Chinese-made wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint.

The maker, Hansheng Wood Products Factory, was also included in the export ban announced Thursday by the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, one of China’s quality watchdogs.
The administration also ordered both companies to evaluate and change their business practices.

Lead poisoning can cause vomiting, anemia and learning difficulties. In extreme cases, it can cause severe neurological damage and death.
The quality watchdog also said police were investigating two companies’ use of “fake plastic pigment” but did not give any details. Such pigments are a type of industrial latex usually used to increase surface gloss and smoothness.

Telephones rang unanswered at the public security bureau in Foshan and at Dongxing New Energy Company, which is the paint supplier.
In its report, the Southern Metropolis Daily said Zhang, who was in his 50s, treated his 5,000-odd employees well and always paid them on time.
The morning of his suicide, he greeted workers and chatted with some of them, the newspaper said.

Chinese companies often have long supply chains, making it difficult to trace the exact origin of components, chemicals and food additives.
On Sunday, a Chinese court sentenced a reporter to a year in jail for faking a television story about cardboard-filled meat buns in a case that has drawn even more attention to China’s poor food safety record.

Zi Beijia, 28, pleaded guilty to charges of infringing on the reputation of a commodity during his trial at the Beijing number two Intermediate Court, the official Xinhua News Agency said. He was sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of $132, it said.

Zi’s story, reportedly shot with a hidden camera, appeared to show a makeshift kitchen where people made steamed buns stuffed with shredded cardboard softened with caustic soda plus a little bit of fatty pork.
Zi paid four migrant workers from China’s northern Shaanxi province to prepare the buns according to his instructions, Xinhua said. The buns were then fed to dogs, it said.

The story was first broadcast on Beijing Television’s Life Channel, where Zi was a freelance reporter, on July 8 and then again on China Central Television. It was also widely seen on