By David Dayton in "Silk Road International"
We've been involved in the sample and testing processes for 4 different clients and about 18 different SKU's of product for the last year and a half. Why has it taken so long to get the testing done? You might ask. And I'd be glad to tell you, if you did ask, that CPSIA is a huge pain in the butt. A complete racket from every angle.
First the rules are a complete burden to US businesses. Well, a burden to everyone except for testing companies, that is. We have one client that has closed down specifically because of the onerous requirements of CPSIA on their small start up company. We've had at least three others (that I know of) that have changed design and/or target markets and/or components so as get out from under the CPSIA regulations. The regulations are real nightmare.
Second, the actual testing process is a complete scam too. You can only use a testing company from a US govt approved list—and of course, those on the list charge more for their certification than companies who are not on the list. In addition to that, some large box stores also "strongly suggest" that if you want to place product in their stores you have to use a specific testing company. Why the hell should it make any difference?! That's like forcing everyone that sells to you to deliver their goods in Ford trucks even though Chevy, Audi, Toyota, Buick, VW, Honda and BMW (wow, can you tell I live in China?) all have legit truck options too.
Three clients switched testing companies after products failed their first round of tests. ALL three had the exact same products pass the tests after they switched to a different testing company!! (And they all switched in and out of the same two testing companies!) We pulled and sent all the SAME samples for ALL three clients and mailed them ourselves to the two different testing companies so I can personally testify that NOTHING changed in the samples between tests. But the results were different—radically different.
When testing, the responsibility is on whomever requested the tests to make sure that everything is done correctly—and really, how in the world can you know if it was done correctly or not?! Unfortunately, the reality is that if there are problems in the methodology, you'll never be told about it. We have one client with a personal connection to one of the testing companies US sales office and they were able to get some inside info and some help. The other two? Paid for everything twice (or three times).
FYI: If there are problems with the testing methodology you can get the tests redone for free (at least that's the policy of the two companies that we've been working with). The problem is, unless you get them to admit themselves that there is a mistake/problem, you'll never know that maybe you could have either passed the tests or you could have your stuff retested again for free. This is significant when testing for a single item can cost thousands of dollars.
Third, despite what our suppliers told us before we started samples and testing, CPSIA standards and the strictness of the processes that must be followed are not fully understood here in China. The fact that we'd be testing both before and during each and every production run was seen as unnecessary. The fact that we would still test production when suppliers already had other clients that they were sure had already passed testing was again not understood.
One Taiwanese/Chinese supplier, who has been exporting to the US in this industry for more than 25 years, was advertising "CPSIA CERTIFIED" at a trade show in the US this year and last. But when called, not only did his factory/staff not know what CPSIA standards were, they had NEVER testing anything. He had sold one item to a customer in the past who had told him that he had passed CPSIA tests, and apparently that was enough for him. Despite the fact that this supplier has hundreds of different products made from different materials and with different processes, he was selling his "certification" as a done deal based on the hearsay from one client. He did have some testing doc's from the EU, but no CPSIA. Over 50% of the product that we tested from this supplier failed tests (at two different testing companies).
When called on this fact, his answer was this:
"There are more than 300 colors and patterns available in XX. No one would send all to test CPSIA one by one. You may find tens [suppliers] in China, who can show you 300 certificates of XX? Who will prepare 300 kinds of XX material any time to be tested by CPSIA?"
Stupid me! Why should I think that if he advertised as being "certified" that he actually was?! Obviously, no one in their right mind would ever spend that kind of money! Duh?!
Without exception, the fact that we are actually testing our own products when suppliers could either buy fake certificates of completed tests (ANY test you want: LHAMA, RohS, CPSIA, ASTM, etc., 1,500RMB) or just change the dates on older tests ("It's all the same materials.") was completely not understood either. In fact, the idea that we would be testing and were tying payments to test results made more than one factory very nervous. We had one back out completely and two others expressed concerns along the lines of, "But we're not sure if we can control all the materials. What do we do if they don't pass the tests?" Which is precisely the point—you need to "control all the materials."
For us the processes usually goes something like this. Contract out with the supplier for the testing sample process—these means that we pay for what is often free, but we get agreements (in Chinese) that we can enforce later when we have to make sure that production matches 100%. Pull our own samples, send to independent third party testing company, sign new contracts and initiate PO's with suppliers and then pull, test and repeat.
While suppliers might not understand the necessity of strictly following the testing standards they know how to work the process. Where it gets really frustrating for us is either just before the PO's are placed or just after testing of actual production samples is completed. We sign agreements before we start because we know what's coming—suppliers realize after we've spent $10k or more and taken 6 months to test (and re-test) that they now have the upper hand. Since they are now "legit" they figure that can raise the price as much as they want (and request copies of our testing results) to release any goods.
Usually the new price requests result in a pretty big argument since we've already completed contracts in the US months before and contracts in China to ensure against this very thing with the suppliers too. This type of problem is difficult, but usually resolvable; even though getting past these changes and into actual production can sometimes cost a lot (time, money, face, emotion).
What's not resolvable is when a factory decides that they need to save money (aka: make more profit of this one order) and change either some of the raw materials or change part of the already approved production processes. If either of these things happens when doing both pre-production and in-line testing the supplier is going to get caught almost every time–but it still happens, often. Of course, now the entire production run will be rejected. And if you didn't have a fight on your hands before, you most likely will now.
If you can get correct production and pass the tests, the question, if you're not in the factory 24/7, still is: "Am I getting the product that I tested?" If you can ship to a secure 3rd party storage facility without paying the balance before the testing is completed, I encourage you to negotiate that—but we've never been able to do that. Usually we seal and sign all boxes to make try to minimize the chances of "replacements" being shipped to us after testing has been completed.
After having gone through this process over the last 18 months with 4 different clients in completely different industries, I would be completely shocked if all the product in the US that is "CPSIA Certified" really is, in fact, certified. There are just too many tantalizing options for individuals in the process to cut corners and take a huge one-off profit; there are too many people that just don't understand how important testing standards are; and there are just too many people involved that will NOT be held accountable if, in 5 years, some component is found to not comply with the standards.