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美国制造缘何撤离中国

Sheridan Prasso 2011年07月04日

与Sleek Audio数码音响公司一样,许多美国企业对中国代工产品的低劣质量已经忍无可忍,他们正在将产品生产撤回到美国本土。

    马克•科莱克和儿子杰森当年在佛罗里达州圣彼得堡市附近的一个小镇成立了Sleek Audio数字音频公司,生产iPod及其他音频设备使用的入耳式耳机。公司成立之初,他们曾向美国的几家生产商询问耳机的生产价格。当然,中国生产商的报价更便宜,所以他们将生产外包给一家广东的工厂,并在2007年推出了首款产品。

    但是去年,该公司遭遇了一系列麻烦:产品质量低劣、频繁出差、沟通不畅、交货延误以及成本上升。最糟糕的情况是,整批1万只耳机在运输途中报废,使公司损失了上百万美元,几乎让公司倒闭。于是,克莱克父子做出了一个重大决定:退出中国,将产品生产撤回到美国。杰森说道:“之前,我们的运作非常困难和吃力。而现在,我们自己可以控制产品的质量。此外,不会再出现交货延误的情况了。这真是太好了。”

    重新寻找代工工厂已经成为一种趋势,Sleek Audio仅是其中一家。一些公司认为在中国代工生产很麻烦,想把产品生产撤回到本国,而这其中又以小公司为主。经济衰退使得美国的企业成本降低,而且许多工人急于找到工作;对于美国制造业来说,这些都是利好条件。加州、德州及美国各地的小企业——甚至是诸如通用电气(GE)和卡特彼勒(Caterpillar)这样的大公司——都充分利用当地的激励政策,至少将部分制造业务撤回到美国国内,生产在美国市场销售的产品。

    代工业务撤回美国本土后,Sleek Audio的成本增加了15%至20%,但是用美国产的高档铝、钛和特种碳纤维取代此前中国产的塑料配件使该公司重新设计的耳机在质量上得以提升,价格自然也水涨船高。公司不仅获得了“美国制造”的标签,而且重新设计的SA7耳机获得了由美国消费电子产品协会(Consumer Electronics Association)颁发的2011年最佳创新产品奖。“虽然在中国生产可以节省大量的成本,但是最后算下来,节约的费用并没有预期的那么多,”马克表示。“经历过了才会发现,其实有很多隐性成本,比如交付延误和运输产生的费用。”

    2011年,Sleek Audio刚刚成立时,美国制造商对某个特定配件的报价是19美元或20美元,而中国制造商的报价仅为2美元。但是当克莱克去年决定退出中国,询问美国制造商同一配件的报价时,这一报价仅为8美元。此前报价为4至5美元的外壳现在价格仅为3美元。而且,克莱克父子还找到了一家从事工业设计的国防工业承包商,开车仅需10至15分钟便可抵达。“根据目前的经济形势,我们可以用较低的价格来外包我们的业务。我们清楚这一点,我们也了解价格行情。因此,我们可以直接对制造商说‘你不能向我们收这么高的费用。’现在,很多美国本土公司开始意识到,必须降低价格,从事规模化生产,才会有竞争力。”

    在中国代工生产的一个大问题是,公司需要委派全职员工监督生产,而这对于小公司来说是无法承担的。马克说,这意味着他们不得不经常出差、或熬夜到凌晨2点,通过电话与中国员工进行沟通,即使只是一些非常琐碎的问题。小公司的订单通常受到大规模订单的挤压,意味着他们经常会受到怠慢。马克表示:“我们在场时,他们会给予特殊照顾,让我们满意。”杰森补充道:“我们在场时,他们的生产质量很好,但是一旦我们告诉他们再生产10,000到20,000件,他们就会出现问题。”

    现在,公司的产品生产完全依照规范进行,克莱克父子能更有效地进行控制。他们估计,现在,不同公司提交的订单可以创造100个就业岗位。鉴于美国缺少一种特殊的红木原料,他们目前还不能在美国生产全部所有的产品,其中35%的配件仍在中国生产,他们计划在今年年底之前将80%的配件生产撤回美国国内。“我们的长期目标是,90%至95%的配件将来都在美国本土生产,”杰森表示。“我们将生产撤回到美国后,不断收到表达感谢的邮件。这种感觉真好。”

    译者:乔树静

    When Mark Krywko and his son, Jason, launched Sleek Audio, a small business making in-ear headphones for iPods and other audio devices from a Florida town near St. Petersburg, they asked several U.S. manufacturers for quotes on how much it would cost to make their product. It was, of course, oh so much cheaper in China, so they contracted with a factory in Guangdong province and launched their first product in 2007.

    But last year, fed up with low quality, too much travel, communications problems, shipping delays, rising costs, and -- worst of all -- a ruined shipment of 10,000 sets of earphones that cost millions and nearly brought the company to its knees, the father-and-son team made a big business decision: quit China and move their manufacturing back to the U.S. "It became very difficult and taxing on us," says Jason. "Now we control the quality of the product. No more waiting for production has been a wonderful thing."

    Sleek Audio is part of a trend called reshoring, in which primarily small businesses decide that China is a hassle and that they want to bring their operations closer to home, where the recession has lowered costs, created workers eager for jobs, and made it easier to justify U.S. manufacturing. Reports have emerged from California, Texas and all across the country as small businesses -- and even large ones like GE (GE) and Caterpillar (CAT) -- take advantage of local incentives and move back at least some of their manufacturing operations for products sold in the U.S. market.

    Sleek Audio's costs are about 15% to 20% higher because of the move back, but the company's redesign of earphones that replaced a formerly Chinese-made plastic component with U.S.-made high-end aluminum, titanium and special carbon fiber, resulted in a higher quality product that justifies the price. It not only gets a "Made in USA" label, but Sleek Audio's redesign of the SA7 earphone won a 2011 Best of Innovation award from the 2011 Consumer Electronics Association. "Even though there's a tremendous cost savings when you go to China, in the end it really isn't that much," says Mark. "It's the hidden costs -- the delays, the shipping costs, you pick all that up on a learning curve.

    When Sleek Audio got off the ground in 2005, they first found that U.S. manufacturers were quoting prices of $19 or $20 for one particular component that the Chinese were offering to make for $2. But when the Krywkos decided to quit China last year and asked around again about making the part the U.S., this time the answer was $8. A box that used to be quoted for $4 to $5 in the U.S. before was quoted at $3 now. And the Krywkos found a defense contractor doing industrial design that they hadn't known existed before, just a 10- to 15-minute drive down the road. "The economy has allowed us to get better deals. Now that we're aware and we know the pricing, we can say, 'You can't charge us this much.' But companies now realize that if they want to be competitive, they have to lower their prices here and work on quantity."

    A big part of the problem in China is that small companies cannot afford to have someone there full-time to oversee their operations. That means they have to travel, or stay up until 2 a.m. to talk to people on the phone in China over even minor problems, says Mark. Small companies often get their production runs squeezed in between larger orders, meaning that they can get short shrift. "Great care would be used to satisfy us when we were there," says Mark. Adds Jason: "We'd go there and they would do it perfectly, but when we'd say go ahead and make 10,000 to 20,000 pieces, that's when the differences would happen."

    Now, with manufacturing to their specifications done just down the road, the Krywkos have much more control. And they estimate that their orders from various U.S. companies now support 100 jobs. They haven't been able to make everything here -- in fact, a particular type of Rosewood can't be found in the U.S. But while 35% of their components are still made in China, they plan to have 80% back here by the end of this year. "Our long-term goal is 90% to 95% of everything we make made here in the U.S.," says Jason. "We've been getting thank you emails for bringing it back to the U.S. It feels very good."

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