China suppliers of glass and crystal crafts are starting to incorporate cleaner energy into production.
One way of doing so is through the use of LNG in the heating and forming processes. Compared with LPG, coal and electricity, LNG is the cleanest and safest energy source. It is also 30 percent less expensive than LPG.
Xiaoguanzhuang is home to more than 90 glass and crystal crafts makers, most of which currently run LPG ovens.
To encourage the use of LNG, the local government laid down a natural gas pipeline in November 2008.
Taiwan-invested Dongfeng Christmas Arts & Crafts Co. Ltd, is one of the two enterprises in Xiaoguanzhuang that signed a deal with an LNG provider there. The first to adopt LNG in its factory, Dongfeng Christmas has an annual output of $25 million.
Other suppliers, however, are not quick to follow suit due to the high cost required in building pipelines in their plants. Instead, some midsize and large businesses focus on R&D and postprocessing, and subcontract the heating process to manufacturing facilities that use LNG.
Materials & treatments
Hard, stained, fused glass
For this particular line in China, models are generally made of hard, stained, fused and artificial crystal glass containing potassium.
The last is commonly referred to in the industry as K-content glass, which is often used to create scale models and laser-engraved pieces.
China-made glass and crystal crafts come in a range of finishes, including sandblasting, foil coating, silk- screening, embossing and decal firing.
Painting is another surface treatment option. On its own, carrying out this process by hand is already costlier than the automated method, but painting the interior raises prices further and is therefore rarely done.
In addition to these techniques, Yi Fon Gift Fty uses dyeing and flocking.
Apart from visual appeal, suppliers are addressing buyers' safety concerns. On request, makers can offer nontoxicity test reports from third-party laboratories such as SGS.
Still on product safety, Huatai Industrial Ltd complies with RoHS and CE requirements for its Europe-bound models.
Figurines from China come in holiday themes, and animal, flower and vehicle shapes. Such designs can come in either hard or stained glass.
Ranging from 3 to 40cm and topping $5, models in the former material are priced higher due to their complex manufacturing process. Hard glass needs to be heated and softened prior to forming. Various types of metal oxides are added during heating for color. Red is the hardest to achieve and therefore the most costly.
Shaping is done manually or through casting. Between the two, models made by hand are more expensive.
Manual forming uses various tools that blow, pull, twist or wind the material while it is still flexible. Casting involves pouring molten glass into molds.
In contrast, stained glass does not require heating. Instead, glass is cut into pieces and then soldered or glued together using handheld tools.
Fused glass, meanwhile, is commonly utilized to make airplane figurines and paintings suitable as wall hangings, and desktop and garden ornaments.
Some models have dual functions, doubling as candle holders and wind chimes. Products from Quanzhou Deyu Arts & Crafts Co. Ltd range from 10x10 to 18x18cm and are priced between $0.60 and $7.
Scale models of buildings, boats, cars and trains are the most popular in China's K-content glass segment. Some products have detachable bases that are usually also made of crystal glass, although plastic can be adopted on request.
Cut and glued together by hand and featuring foil coating on select parts, designs are priced according to the size and number of pieces that form each product. Quotes at Shanghai Fine Trading International Ltd for a 15x20x10cm model range from $3.15 for simple styles to $126 for complicated versions.
Laser-engraved pieces are available as well. Designs include buildings, vehicles, food, scenery, animals, plants and sculptures. Models in this line are usually cuboid, although the more expensive versions come in round, trapezoid and irregular shapes.
Prices also depend on size, and the complexity and clarity of the image. Items about 2.8 to 12cm long are between $2 and $100.
For instance, Huatai's 12x5x3cm TR-002 model is priced at $20. It features a car design with laser-engraved seats. The wheels are deep engraved.
China suppliers adopt two grades of K-content glass: K9 and K5. Between the two, the former is about 15 percent more expensive.
Compared with natural crystal, however, K9 goes for less, although some high-grade variations cost more due to their transparency and rigidity.
Prices of models with K9 glass bases increase about $4 if fitted with LEDs and $3 without diodes.
K9 and K5 glass come in 20 to 30 types, each with a cost difference of $0.71 to $0.85 per kilogram. Suppliers use K9 glass sourced primarily from Chengdu, Sichuan province, and Changchun and Jilin cities in Jilin province.
Both hubs boast high-quality K9 glass as they are also key manufacturing centers for military telescopes, which require superior optical glass. The material goes for $2.84 to $4.25 per kilogram in Changchun.
K5 variations, on the other hand, are usually procured in Zhejiang province.
Both K9 and K5 glass can also be purchased in Xiangfan, Hubei province, and Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.This article "Glass crafts: Makers embrace 'green' manufacturing" is originally posted in Global Sources.
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