An Italian government investigation has found that 90 percent of plastics and rubber machinery imports from China fail European safety standards, raising the possibility of tougher government reviews.
In 2010 the Italian government — with support from the Italian plastics and rubber processing machinery association Assocomaplast — inspected about 100 Chinese machines coming into the country's ports. The inspections identified safety violations in almost all of them, a senior official with Assocomaplast told participants at a recent seminar on safety in China.
The disclosure, from Claudio Celata, secretary general of Milan-based Assocomaplast, came during a May 19 meeting of European and Chinese industry officials to explore cooperative development of safety standards.
Celata, who also heads a Europe-wide plastics and rubber machinery standards committee, said the violations ranged from serious problems that required the machines to be sent back to China, which happened in about 10 percent of the cases, to more minor problems that were fixed in several weeks, with the machines then sent to their Italian customers.
“Ninety percent of the machines inspected by our inspector were stopped because they are unsafe,” he said at the meeting, held in conjunction with the Chinaplas trade show in Guangzhou. “I am here to explain the big risk to the Chinese exporter to sell very cheap and very effective machines, from the technical point of view, if these machines are unsafe.”
A Chinese official with the country's safety-standard-setting organization conceded that some machines have not met European requirements, but told the seminar that the domestic industry has worked hard in recent years to improve industrial safety standards and close the gap with other countries.
The pace of China's development has in some cases moved faster than its ability to write standards, said Xia Xiangxiu, secretary general of the Beijing-based Technical Committee on Rubber & Plastics Machinery Standardization of China.
“We have some standards, but the implementation and promotion will have to take some time,” she said, noting that there are over 200 different kinds of plastic and rubber machines. “The industry developed quite late and quite rapidly. ... We have not yet formed a complete system of safety standards in China.”
Improving the safety of its equipment, including in plastics, is an important goal for China, she said, noting that one challenge is that many of the plastic and rubber machines use components from overseas and many people do not fully understand those parts.
Since 2006, China has developed 13 national standards for plastics and rubber equipment, including in injection molding and extrusion, but still lacks standards in some areas with significant hazards, such as plastic waste processing equipment, Xia said.
The honorary president of the Beijing-based China Plastics Processing Industry Association, Liao Zhengpin, told the seminar that safety in some Chinese factories is not up to world standards, but he predicted that rising labor costs and labor shortages in China will force more emphasis on industrial safety.
“We try our best to take relevant measures to improve our standards,” Liao said. “We are fully aware of the gap with other countries.”
Both Xia and Celata, who is chairman of the European Committee for Standardization for Plastics and Rubber Machinery, known as CEN/TC 145, said the Chinese and European organizations want to work closely together to create a harmonized safety standard.
Celata said he believes Chinese equipment is getting safer: “I know the Chinese progress is so fast in the last few years that I am sure that in terms of safety this problem will be solved.”
“I know the Chinese authorities are very sensible about safety,” he said. “I hope the standardization and the inspections of the health and safety authorities here [in China] will help the Chinese producers understand they cannot produce two types of machines, one for Europe, very safe, and one unsafe, for the Chinese market.”
“The future is one safe machine for everyone worldwide,” he said.
Celata said Assocomaplast and government officials started inspecting Chinese machinery imports in 2007, doing about 10 that year, and have steadily increased the number of machines reviewed since.
Assocomaplast helps support the cost of the government inspections because it is a more complex review than for consumer products, he said. Most of the inspections have focused on injection molding machines.
In an interview after his speech, Celata said that thus far inspections also have focused only on Chinese-made machines because “we have really very few injection molding machines imported by others.”
“The main suppliers are the Chinese.”
Chinese machinery imports have been increasing, he said.
“We are afraid because the trend is this —- the potentiality of the Chinese producer is very high, and the quality is very good in terms of productivity,” he said.
Italy has historically had one of the world's largest plastics machinery sectors, but its companies have been challenged in recent years by the growth of plastics machinery makers in places like mainland China and Taiwan.