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Buying LED bulb lights from Chinese manufacturers: A complete guide

By Fredrik Grönkvist

Planning to import LED Bulb Lights from China? Keep reading, and learn more about buying Private label LED bulbs, assessing suppliers and technical specifications. In addition, we also explain what you need to know about mandatory product regulations, documents and labeling requirements – and, why ensuring compliance in the LED bulb industry can be really challenging for small buyers.

 

Buying ODM (Private Label) or OEM (Custom) LED Bulb Lights

Most LED Bulb light manufacturers can offer a range of ODM products. These products are, to a varying degree, made according to a fixed product specification. Buying ODM products is often sufficient, especially for small buyers. That being said, the supplier still expects you to request a draft of their ODM specification. For LED bulb lights, this includes the following:

• Bill of Materials

• Circuit Drawings

Even though ODM products are supposed to be made according to a fixed set of specifications (i.e., made using the same components on each batch), this is not really the case in China. ODM Bulb Lights can be customised to a certain degree, and this is even expected, by the supplier.

Buying OEM LED Bulb lights is also an option. However, this requires that you have the technical expertise to create a Circuit diagram (fairly simple for an LED bulb, if you have the training) and list all components.

 

What differs LED suppliers?

LED bulb light manufacturers are assembly suppliers. As such, they procure virtually all components from subcontractors in, and outside, of Mainland China, only to assemble, test and pack the produce. While this is a major challenged that should not be underestimated, it does come with implications in your business:

a. Product quality depends on the components the supplier procures. In turn, this depends on your product specification (i.e., they buy the components they are instructed to purchase).

b. Equally, the pricing is based on the components you choose, not the supplier (even though there are exceptions).

Instead, what makes, or breaks, a supplier is the following:

1. Product Compliance: Is the supplier experienced in manufacturing LED bulb lights according to EU and US product standards? (i.e., FCC Part 15, UL 8750 and Low Voltage Directive).

2. Quality Management System: Is the supplier ISO 9001 certified? If yes, do they really apply the principles in their day to day operations?

3. Social Compliance: Has the supplier passed any social compliance audits (i.e., SA 8000), or are they part of any CSR organisations?

4. Subcontractors: Which subcontractors do they work with? Can they supply the components you need?

 

Product Specifications

LED lighting China

Even if you intend to buy an ODM product, you should not count on the supplier to provide you with a ready-made spec sheet. To be sure that you don’t leave gaps in your spec sheet, you must request the supplier to confirm as many relevant specifications as possible. Below follows an example for what an E14 LED bulb light specification might look like:

• Lamp Luminous Flux (lm): 560

• Color Temperature (CCT): Cool White

• Lamp Body Material: Aluminum

• LED Chip: Epistar (Taiwan)

• Input Voltage: AC85-265V

• Lamp Luminous Efficiency: 80 lm/w

• Working Temperature: -20 – 50 

• CRI: 80%

• Dimension (cm): D6*H13.8cm

• Net Weight: 120 g

• CRI (Ra>): 80

• Working Lifetime: 50,000 hours

• Base Type: E14

• Work Frequency: 50-60Hz

• CCT: 2700-6500k

• Certification: Low Voltage Directive, EMC Directive, RoHS

While all specifications are not explained in this article, some to need additional exposition:

LED Chip

The LED chip is the core component in the bulb light. There are various brands in usage. While some suppliers allow the customer to choose between a range of manufacturers, most are exclusively using Epistar (Taiwan) for their export produce. Other famous LED manufacturers are Cree (USA), Osram (Germany) and LG (South Korea).

Working Lifetime & Warranty

LED bulb lights may have a working lifetime anywhere between 5,000 to 30,000 hours (or even more). That translates into years of daily usage. Some suppliers also claim to offer a warranty, based on the working lifetime. While this is a good sign, there’s no universal definition of what a warranty is. In general, this warranty is not much more than a vague promise of a future replacement of defective units.

Input Voltage & Frequency

Different countries have different standards for electricity distribution. While most Chinese manufacturers can deliver products that are compatible with the voltage and frequency of any country, you should specify in which you plan to sell your product. Below is a list of countries and markets, and their respective electrical standard:

• United States: 120 V, 60 Hz

• European Union: 230 V, 50 Hz

• Canada: 120 V, 60 Hz

• Australia: 230 V, 50 Hz

• New Zealand: 230 V, 50 Hz

• Nigeria: 240 V, 50 Hz

• Russia: 220 V, 50 Hz

• Japan: 100 V, 50 & 60 Hz

Base Type

Most LED bulb lights are made with standard light bulb base connections (i.e. the Edison screw base). Click here for an overview of common base types.

 

Product Regulations, Document Requirements and Labelling Requirements

Like other electronic products, LED bulb lights are regulated by various safety and technical standards. In short, electrical product compliance is based on three legs:

1. Technical Compliance: Adherence to specific technical standards (i.e., IEC and UL standards)

2. Documentation: Test Reports, Circuit Diagrams and other Product Documentation

3. Labelling Requirements: Compliance marks and other labels (that may or may not apply specifically to LED bulb lights and other electronics)

Ensuring compliance is the responsibility of the importer, not the manufacturer. This is also the most complex aspect of buying LED bulb lights from China. Let me explain why:

a. Not every LED bulb light manufacturer has the expertise and experience required to ensure compliance with overseas product standards. As such, this is a critical qualification requirement. If you choose a supplier without a previous compliance track record, chances are they cannot manufacture compliant products. Hence, you’d end up importing illegal products. As explained in this article, non-compliant LED lighting is a serious problem.

b. Ensuring compliance requires more than just obtaining a test report. For example, when importing LED lighting to the EU, buyers need to create a technical file. This technical file is a set of documents, which must include both the circuit diagram and the component list. Sounds simple?

Well, there’s a catch. Many suppliers simply refuse to provide such documents before an order is placed… which in turn expose you to serious risk, as you cannot assess whether they can provide compliant goods, until after you’ve paid them. This is not an issue if you own the factory, but it does become complex when buying from China.

Established buyers can solve this problem by creating their own documentation – either by reverse engineering an ODM product or developing their own OEM product. However, small buyers who lack the resources and expertise to do this are stuck in between. There are ways to solve this, and we are working on methods to regulate this procedure.

Ensuring compliance with labelling requirements is, luckily, not nearly as complicated. Basically, it’s just a matter of knowing how the product shall be labelled. Below follows a checklist:

• Compliance Marks: CE Mark, FCC Mark, Energy Star, UL Mark

• Seller Identification

• Technical Specifications: Power, Base Type

• User Instructions

• Warning Labels

• Country of Origin: Made in China

An unfortunate fact is that many importers, especially smaller sized businesses, decide to not even bother with these things. They tend to motivate their decision using any of the following argument:

1. This is the supplier’s responsibility, not ours.

2. Our competition doesn’t really care either, why should we?

3. It’s too expensive and time-consuming.

Remember, if anyone is injured, or if the property is damaged, by your products – you will be held liable. Placing cheap and substandard products on the market is not only extremely dangerous to your customers, but also your future finances. Mandatory safety standards have been put in place for good reasons.


Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on www.chinaimportal.com, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on www.chinaimportal.com/contact-us/.

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