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Perfecting Playthings(HKTDC Toys & Games , Vol 01,2009)

Toy Seminar

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Manufacturers will need to make several key changes to their businesses, say industry experts

The biggest changes facing toy manufacturers are those concerning product safety, due to a number of prominent toy-recall cases that have resulted in new regulations in both the US and Europe.

"Governments around the world are introducing more stringent regulations and new requirements of manufacturers in response to recent toy safety incidents," noted Hong Kong Toys Council Executive Committee Member and Toys Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong Executive Vice President C K Yeung.

Safety first

He added that the Chinese government was also taking the matter of toy safety extremely seriously. "More strict inspection standards and direct communication channels with the US and EU are being put in place."

During a seminor at the last Summer Sourcing Show for Gifts, Houseware & Toys, Mr Yeung kept reinforcing the message that manufacturers needed to be aware of these new tough requirements and take appropriate steps.

For example, in the US a toy with a previous total heavy-metal count of 600 ppm could now contain only 90 ppm.

"A problem for manufacturers will be to ensure that the suppliers they use meet the safety standards," Mr Yeung observed.

He believed it was likely that manufacturers would need to obtain or be provided with lab tests from suppliers, which would then be passed to an engineer to see if the finished product fell within the safety standards.

Random lab tests of toy safety conducted by independent labs would also need to be provided to US Customs, as well as the manufacturer's own tests, so it was essential that manufacturers knew what was required of them.

Keeping track

Product traceability would also be important so that if there was a problem it could easily be tracked, starting with proper documentation of a toy's design through to the finished item. "If there is insufficient documentation traceability, a product will not be approved for safety," Mr Yeung stated.

He admitted that he "did not know exactly" when these and other new requirements would become mandatory, but did say it was imminent as the bills would be passed. "Some customers are already demanding products that meet these incoming standards," Mr Yeung added.

The EU guidelines implemented this month were similar to those of the US, he explained. "The new requirements are very demanding and manufacturers have to be prepared," Mr Yeung stressed.

Overall, a lot more documentary evidence of a product's safety and ability to meet standards was required and had to be attached to the product, while buyers also needed to meet increased documentary requirements.

In addition, customs were classifying factories into A-C gradings, and those continually graded C, indicating consistent daily problems, would have their licences revoked permanently.

Total Quality Management (TQM) was the suggested solution to many of the challenges presented by these new regulations in both the US and the EU, Mr Yeung maintained.

"If you want to continue to survive in this industry you must enhance your factory, your facilities and your TQM," he advised.

SY Leung, Senior Technical Manager of Hardlines Department, Consumer Testing Services, SGS Hong Kong Ltd, agreed with Mr Yeung and added that sustainability would also play an important part in the industry.

Sustainable success

"In response to global trends the toy industry will need to have sustainable development, with sustainable manufacturing and procurement processes that meet the needs of the present without compromising the future," he predicted.

Sustainability examples included innovative IT processes and adding new elements that enhanced production. "Product safety is part of sustainability and the new bottom line will be a triple P - People, Planet, Profit," Mr Leung maintained.

Ultimately, the Hong Kong Toy Council's Mr Yeung said, those manufacturers that took the necessary steps would continue to have a bright future. "The selling point of a product will no longer be about the price or personal connections - it will be about products of the highest quality," he believed.

Mr Yeung added that consumers would be willing to pay more for high-quality, safe products, and as a result buyers would be more willing to pay a higher price. "In addition, product innovation and value-added features will also be a competitive factor," he said.

Mr Yeung added that some manufacturers may choose to go beyond the safety standards required of a particular market in order to distinguish themselves from competitors. "Ultimately, if manufacturers can't provide quality assurance, buyers will not purchase their products," Mr Yeung warned.

Text BY Vicki Williams