Forum rules
Get help, and assist others in with open source kits and running a business! Do not ask for legal advice or for consulting services in this forum, only general biz questions!

Any tips on importing from China?

by imaginerobots on Wed Nov 09, 2011 9:09 pm

Hi All,

I would like to buy an initial order of 500 NEMA 23 stepper motors from the Chinese company below for my first home robot product:

http://www.longs-motor.com/

Any tips on what is involved with doing such a thing? Dangers, etc? I imagine that air shipping will be too expensive so things will probably be shipped by boat. 500 stepper motors won't fill a shipping container so how do I get it over to the US? The other option is to go through an existing US supplier of these Chinese motors who is willing to knock off 25% for a quantity of 250 motors. This is a lot of dough and I'm trying to figure out if it's worth the importing hassle.

Thanks,
Danh
imaginerobots
 
Posts: 23
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:05 am

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by IHeartEngineering on Wed Nov 09, 2011 9:34 pm

We have not imported anything from China specifically however we have found reasonable rates for Air Freight from Asia to the US.
You may want to look for a local 'Freight Forwarder' or get a quote from UPS Supply Chain Solutions which handles Air Freight and Sea Freight.

Air freight usually makes sense if the shipment fits on a pallet, and sea freight usually works for larger cargoes. Also, keep in mind that freight shipments will generally need to be picked up at the airport cargo terminal or at the port.

I won't say the paperwork part of the process is easy, but it is a learning experience. As for the dangers, I think most of it is about making sure both parties have clear expectations.
IHeartEngineering
 
Posts: 12
Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2011 3:36 pm

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by Technobly on Wed Nov 09, 2011 10:08 pm

One danger I can speak of, is you might get something that doesn't meet "the spec" that you initially agreed upon, and then you are kind of screwed. Unless you have a reputable MFG, they can and have been known to not respond to you anymore. Communication is very time consuming and difficult. It might be worth the extra money to deal with someone in the USA for initial quantities, until you get going and have extra capital to balance the risk.

If possible, do as much digging and research on the MFG as you can... and make sure the current consensus is they are reputable.
Best Regards,
Brett W.
Technobly.com | @Technobly | technobly@gmail.com
User avatar
Technobly
 
Posts: 111
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2011 10:06 am
Location: Chicago, IL

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by imaginerobots on Fri Nov 11, 2011 7:47 pm

The idea of importing intrigues me but at the same time my mind is all over the place and I need to be careful about doing too much. It's funny how small decisions can sometimes get blown up in terms of using more time, money and resources than intended.

I've been reading the book "Building An Import Export Business" by Kenneth D. Weiss as a good introduction to importing. However, I want to find people who've actually done it. Maybe I'll email Bre from MakerBot and see if they can give me some tips. I built a Makerbot Thing-o-matic and there are 3 Chinese stepper motors on it along with a geared DC motor for the automatic build platform that looks like it's made in China. My home robot design will have from 2 to 5 stepper motors on it so savings from importing can become significant.

UPS, Fedex, and DHL I believe do handle importing logistics from start to finish so that's my next research. 500 stepper motors at 1.5 pounds each is a lot of weight. I believe the stepper motor manufacturer said shipping by sea is pretty cheap compared to air so I'm leaning towards that. A 2 month lead time to get the shipment is ok for me. Actually, with some of the US suppliers who I believe get the steppers overseas, the lead time can be up to 14 weeks!

Quality is definitely an issue. The good news is that it's relatively easy to get a few stepper motor samples for Engineering evaluation. However, there's still the risk of a bait and switch if the motor you evaluate is not the one that gets shipped.

Adafuit,

How do you'll import items to the US? Do you use UPS, Fedex or DHL? Do you have a shipping banned or customs agent that you use or can recommend?

Thanks,
Danh
www.imaginerobots.com
imaginerobots
 
Posts: 23
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:05 am

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by adafruit on Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:20 pm

imaginerobots wrote:Adafuit, How do you'll import items to the US? Do you use UPS, Fedex or DHL? Do you have a shipping banned or customs agent that you use or can recommend?


all of the above, it really depends on the partner we are working with and the best method of shipment. we do not have a specific customs agent but we like to use UPS the most and most recently they gave us great rates because we do so much business now.

thanks,
adafruit
User avatar
adafruit
 
Posts: 11643
Joined: Thu Apr 06, 2006 3:21 pm
Location: nyc

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by imaginerobots on Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:58 pm

I'm starting to get cold feet about importing the steppers myself. I did some Google searches and saw complaints about the manufacturer.

My gut feeling says to focus on finishing the product design and testing the hell out of it. By going through a supplier that is US based (not necessary US manufactured) I get support and a one year warranty. Also, the data sheets supplied are of a much higher quality than from the direct Chinese suppliers.

Thanks all,
Danh
http://www.imaginerobots.com
imaginerobots
 
Posts: 23
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:05 am

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by lyndon on Sat Nov 12, 2011 3:00 pm

I get the feeling you're putting the cart in front of the horse.

Do you actually have orders for what you're building? 500 size 23 motors + shipping & import duties is probably going to add up to a lot. I may be projecting here, but are you sure you're not focusing on this as a way to avoid thinking about finishing your design and marketing & selling it? I know I tend to fall into that trap :-(

An old friend of mine once told me to never build anything without having orders for it. He's a bit extreme (he tends to build stuff that sells in units of multiple 1000's through distributors), but he has a point - that philosophy forces you to make sure you can sell something before you spend too much time & cash building it.
lyndon
 
Posts: 277
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:28 pm

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by Technobly on Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:02 pm

I completely disagree with that philosophy, taking orders before you have product to sell.

Especially in the kit biz where most of us are doing this on the side in our free time. If you take orders, even if you don't take money, you are enevitably going to make people angry because you will have part shortages, sourcing issues, family emergencies, sickness, etc..

Build and have it as ready to ship and keep your reputation as high as possible.

You don't have to start with such high motor quantities, but if you think the demand is there... And it's an acceptable risk, go for it.
Last edited by Technobly on Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Best Regards,
Brett W.
Technobly.com | @Technobly | technobly@gmail.com
User avatar
Technobly
 
Posts: 111
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2011 10:06 am
Location: Chicago, IL

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by TheFallen on Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:57 pm

I'd say do it in batches. Start off with a batch of 50 say, buy the stuff from a local (same country) supplier. Do this a couple of times to build up some cash / generate interest etc. And only then do you think about doing a 500 stepper motor sized order from China. You want to be able to absorb it if it does turn out to be a loss.
TheFallen
 
Posts: 92
Joined: Mon Feb 08, 2010 12:28 pm
Location: UK

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by lyndon on Sun Nov 13, 2011 2:19 pm

@FightCube: like all advice, it's situation dependent. My friend was correct that for his business model (batches of 1,000+ units) it would make no sense to build without having a customer ready to buy. For an electronics kitbiz, I agree that doesn't make sense in most cases. The important point underlying his philosophy boils down to "be sure you can sell stuff before you spend money building it."

That's the point I'm trying to make here: be sure there are actually customers for all these motors before you invest too much time, energy, and money building an international supply chain. It's really easy to get caught up in this stuff (it can be very interesting) and forget that the desired end result is selling a product.
As technology people we have a tendency to focus on the technical aspects of a project and try to delay the sales & marketing bits that are as, if not more, critical.
lyndon
 
Posts: 277
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:28 pm

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by imaginerobots on Mon Nov 14, 2011 8:42 pm

It really is a balancing act. Without a sales history I can't make any reliable projections. I'm reducing risks by using stepper motors that can be used throughout different product lines. If sales of the mobile robot with arms are too slow, I can also use the stepper motors in a stand alone robot arm, 3D printing/milling machine, etc. This sounds naive but there is no doubt in my mind that the product I'm working on will be successful. I believe in it enough to leave a 6 figure job along with putting my entire life's savings into the endeavor. You can imagine that some of my family members are quietly shaking their heads. That's ok because in 2 years I'll know if this endeavor is successful. At least I won't be laying on my death bed wondering what would have happened had I stayed in corporate America instead of going out on my own. Next year I'll show my product on an Adafruit Show and Tell. BTW- it uses an Arduino and some of the new Adafruit push button switches with the cool blue lights!

Thanks All,
Danh
http://www.imaginerobots.com
imaginerobots
 
Posts: 23
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:05 am

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by lyndon on Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:26 pm

Awesome, I love it. Have to believe in yourself!
lyndon
 
Posts: 277
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:28 pm

Re: Any tips on importing from China?

by bigmessowires on Tue Nov 15, 2011 8:04 pm

imaginerobots wrote:This sounds naive but there is no doubt in my mind that the product I'm working on will be successful. I believe in it enough to leave a 6 figure job along with putting my entire life's savings into the endeavor. You can imagine that some of my family members are quietly shaking their heads. That's ok because in 2 years I'll know if this endeavor is successful. At least I won't be laying on my death bed wondering what would have happened had I stayed in corporate America instead of going out on my own.


This x 1000!

Best of luck to you.
bigmessowires
 
Posts: 62
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 6:34 pm
Location: San Francisco