Some midrange and high-end models incorporate ceramic balls from Japan and Swiss-made tips to enhance writing quality.
Makers of ballpoint and gel pens in China are using better manufacturing inputs and upgrading product features to boost competitiveness. In line with these efforts, suppliers of midrange and high-end models are purchasing most of their requirements overseas.
Ningbo Beifa Group Co. Ltd, a major industry player, is among the suppliers of writing instruments in China that procure components overseas. The maker adopts ceramic balls from Japan for some of its upscale gel pens.
Premec tips from Switzerland, which cost at least $0.01 more than China-made versions but enable smoother writing, are used in midrange and high-end ballpoint and gel pens. Their use also helps prevent leaks and blotting.
Still part of enhancement efforts, some manufacturers are turning to better-quality materials.
Ceramic balls, for example, allow for smoother writing and are more durable and corrosion-resistant than other types. Tungsten carbide, however, remains the most common option for balls. Such components cost 40 percent more than stainless steel balls found in low-end models but can withstand rust and prevent leaks better than the latter.
As regards the points of pen tips, material options commonly revolve around brass alloys. Some companies, however, are using CuNi instead of nickel brass specifically for the points that go into gel pens. CuNi is more expensive but has greater hardness and resistance to corrosion. Stainless steel points are also used because of their compatibility with gel ink.
For plastic barrels, AS and ABS are common in upscale models. The former is transparent, as is MBS, a high-end transparent polymer adopted by some suppliers. PS and PP are also popular.
Under efforts to make environment-friendly releases, a number of companies utilize PLA, although it is double the cost of ABS.
The biodegradable thermoplastic is usually made of corn. Companies such as Ningbo Beifa, however, started using cassava and straw to save the grain, which is an important food source in China.
PLA pens are available in bamboo-shaped barrels with leaflike clips for enhanced visual appeal. They also come in recycled paper packaging in response to the 'green' trend.
For metal versions, aluminum and copper are the most widely used. The former costs less. Some suppliers also employ stainless steel. More expensive pens have zinc alloy bodies.
Performance, aesthetic upgrades
Most China makers are also improving the writing lengths of ballpoint and gel pens. Designs average 500 to 800 and 400 to 500m, respectively, although some releases now reach 1,000 to 2,000m. Quotes of models with a writing length of 1,200m are about 10 percent higher than versions that can be used for 800m.
Meanwhile, some suppliers, including Qingdao Changlong Stationery Co. Ltd, use a type of ink that has a viscosity between that of oil-based and gel ink. It has a writing consistency that is similar to gel ink but does not blot, which tends to happen to the latter.
Due to their high cost, however, gel-oil pens are usually manufactured as an auxiliary line. Such models are priced at about $1 per piece.
Manufacturers of erasable pens are also enhancing functionality, performance and user convenience.
Taizhou Hongjia Writing Instruments Co. Ltd, for example, offers versions that can write even in zero-gravity environments. Priced three times higher than ordinary pens, such models have plastic barrels, stainless steel points and brass ink tubes. The ink has passed SGS testing for heavy metal content.
For logos, designs and other barrel details, silkscreening is the most popular choice together with pad and heat-transfer printing. The last costs five times more, while another option, jet printing, increases product prices by $0.0026 to $0.0039.
To achieve better aesthetics, Ningbo Beifa combines two or more techniques, including silk-screening and heattransfer or pad printing.
As regards surface treatments, barrels, specifically of metal and opaque plastic ballpoint pens, are sprayed with paint. Others are electroplated or laser-engraved, which costs 10 percent more.
There are more than 3,000 makers of writing instruments in China. Ballpoint and gel pen suppliers are usually industry specialists that manufacture the former as the key category. They offer related products such as highlighters and markers as secondary lines.
A number of large enterprises, including Ningbo Beifa, Guangdong Genvana Stationery Co. Ltd and Ningbo Wenkui Pen-Made Co. Ltd, likewise produce various stationery items. All three operate ISO 14001-certified factories. ISO 9001 compliance is common among makers in the line.
The majority of suppliers are OEM- and ODM-driven. Small and midsize manufacturers have R&D departments with 10 to 12 members. They are assembly-oriented.
Some large companies employ up to 100 designers. Tier 1 suppliers usually perform molding, plastic injection, metal forming, printing and assembly in-house, although
Taizhou Hongjia, which emphasizes R&D on erasable ink, subcontracts barrel processing. Ningbo Beifa, meanwhile, also makes its own tips and ink.
Most China-made pens have EN 71 and ASTM approval. Some large companies adhere to CPSIA and REACH requirements.
Manufacture and exportation are concentrated in Zhejiang province, which is home to more than 1,500 suppliers. The city of Ningbo hosts the country's largest makers of stationery items. Most specialize in writing instruments.
Hangzhou, meanwhile, is a major provider of plastic ballpoint pens. There are about 560 businesses located in Tonglu county alone.This article "Ballpoint pens: Suppliers highlight use of imported materials" is originally posted in Global Sources.
Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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