I get asked about “buying good Chinese brewing equipment” all time. The price point makes Chinese brewing equipment attractive.
However, Chinese manufacturing suffers from pre-conceived notions of making poor quality equipment in many countries.
So today I want to dive into some of these pre-conceived notions; whether long held beliefs are still true today. Is it safe to buy Chinese brewing equipment?
But first a bit of background…
My name is Neil Playfoot and I have been brewing for 25 years. I first came to China in 2010. I now work in China as a brewing consultant.
I’m currently assisting with a small production brewery based in Shanghai plus, helping launch a new hazy brand called Fluffy Monsters.
Having brewed in China for an extended period of time, I’ve worked on a lot of Chinese made brewing equipment.
Furthermore, many people in my brewing network have used Chinese equipment too. So, I’ve got a good handle on equipment made in here.
So, let’s get started with our first statement.
1. Chinese Manufacturers Use Poor Raw Materials
People will say China uses cheaper, inferior grade stainless steel than the West when making industrial products for market.
The fact is cheaper doesn’t always mean inferior. In many manufacturing processes China can take advantage of economies of scale. As well as the fact they are many State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) making steel.
The article here explains it all very well. Let’s look at an example. If a Canadian steel manufacturer pays a worker $75,000 per year. Perhaps $35,000 of that is towards government taxes.
In China with a SOE you’re really paying your worker $40,000 per year, since the government would collect the tax anyway. Hence the true cost of human labor is cheaper.
Buying Good Chinese Brewing Equipment – The Indonesia Nickel Problem
This is a simplistic explanation I know, but another example involves Indonesia. Indonesia has the largest reserves of nickel in the world. Nickel is crucial in the making of stainless steel. More than two-thirds of the world’s nickel is used to make stainless steel.
The Indonesian government announced in September 2019; it was banning the export of raw nickel ores from January 2020. However, Chinese steel firms (like Tsingshan) were protected from this ban as they operate their own stainless-steel plants inside Indonesia.
It affected the US, Canada and European steel manufactures badly.
Is Chinese steel cheaper?
The short answer is yes. Is it of inferior quality? I will be honest; confirming there’s a full spectrum of stainless-steel of varying quality being made in China.
It’s worth noting, there are Chinese steel manufacturers making real innovations in their mills. Allowing them dominate not just the quantity market but produce quality steel as well.
For the standard stainless steel 304 and 316 (1.4404) used in brewing equipment manufacturing. China offers cheaper and good quality steel.
Always research the equipment manufactures you choose. Ask for references from overseas breweries who have already purchased from them. It’ll allow you to be confident in your choice of manufacturer.
2. The Electrical Components of Chinese Manufacturers Aren’t Allowed in the US and Canada
Yes, this is true in the US has the UL requirement and Canada has CSA standard. So typically, Chinese electrics will not be rated for use in these countries. However, it can vary from state to state in the US so check first.
A reputable Chinese manufacturer will be able to help you with this…
A Chinese brewing equipment manufacturer that regularly supplies North American (or the country/region you’re based in) breweries know that they have to use local electronics for the project. Allowing them to meet local requirements.
The same can be said for the rest of the world. First check with your local authorities whether the use of Chinese electronics is permitted.
Again, speak with your potential equipment supplier. They may already have experience of installing in that country. If there’s an issue then work with the supplier to figure out a solution.
I’ve helped breweries in various countries now, from the US, Australia, Europe, South America to the UK source brewing equipment from China. There are fabricators who know the necessary procedures and checks.
3. Chinese Equipment Isn’t Designed Well – Establish Clear Expectations
We are going to talk about Chinese quality control…
I hear people say “Chinese equipment manufacturers don’t understand brewing processes so the equipment supplied isn’t fit for brewing efficiently”. No, that’s on you…
When buying your brewing equipment, you have to be very clear on what you want. Some of the points to look out for are:
Agreed to specification list
So, what materials are to be used (e.g. do you want Chinese made solenoids or Western made ones?) If you’re clear from the start about what’s expected, both sides can be happy.
The type of brewery set-up you want
For example, do you want to have a hop filter to catch hop materials so they don’t clog the heat exchanger? Do you want to use a cold-water tank or two-stage heat exchanger?
Being clean and concise in the processes you require, and the set-up you want will save time, money and heartache. You’ll get supplied drawings of the equipment, manufacturers will be open with you.
The good Chinese equipment manufacturers want the project to be a success like you. It’s all about good communication and being specific in your needs.
For example, to you want a racking arm on you unitanks or will a stand pipe suffice? Do you need bigger mash tun for high-gravity brewing? As above, be clear in your intentions for your brewery.
Brewery floor plan and utilities outlets
If you want an efficient brewing system, it makes sense to have it tailor-made to fit your building layout.
That’s why if possible, you should work with your equipment manufacturer, supplying as much information about the building as you can. It will lead to a better outcome and a more efficient brewery.
You’ll have a brewhouse and cellaring that best utilizes your space. Making sure the utility outlets (water, electricity and gas) are where they needed too.
Buying Good Chinese Brewing Equipment – How to Size A Brewery?
Sizing your brewery correctly is key to success. Click the link to get our handy PDF guide to sizing a brewery.
If you are unsure about how to do so; a manufacturer can work with you to size a brewery.
If you want an efficient brewing system that fulfils all your requirements; then you need to know exactly what you want your brewery to do.
Also having an agreed-to specification list; will protect you and lead to better quality control. However, it’s also critical for legal reasons, if there’s an issue with the supplier at a later date.
You need to be particular about your requirements and make sure you relay that to your supplier. You need to be clear about the quality of parts you want to use.
I go into this in more detail in my article “What Equipment do I Need to Start a Brewery?” if you’re looking to put your equipment list together.
4. How Do I Know I Will Get What I Asked For? – Check the Equipment
When it comes to your brewing equipment you need to check it. Don’t just think about the final inspection (before shipping).
Before choosing your preferred manufacturer, it makes sense to visit several manufacturers on a visit to China. That way you can inspect their factory and see the quality of their work at source.
Before factory visits; it makes sense to reach out to suppliers asking for references. Preferably, from overseas breweries that’ve already bought equipment from them (locally to you if possible).
The cost of the equipment will still be cheaper than buying from Western Europe, even if you were to visit China. People often visit China for…
- Once for initial supplier visit
- During fabrication inspection
- Final inspection before delivery
If it’s possible, I would always recommend a visit during the fabrication process so that any issues can be sorted before it is too late.
If that’s not possible then find a third party to inspect the equipment for you who is already local. Such as brewing consultant based in China.
Note: I know with the current Covid-19 situation, it’s not possible to visit China. If you need help with an inspection please feel free to contact me.
What if inspections are not an option?
If that’s the case then:
- Write a “quality inspection required prior to shipment” on your P/O’s.
- If you’re paying by letter of credit, you can stipulate you want a passed inspection from third party quality control provider of your choice
- Make sure you keep track of intermediate inspection date and the shipment date, not just the shipment date.
Equipment Check – Conclusions
Now when it comes to buying equipment from China, consider the terms for the purchase. The most common method is T/T (bank transfer). When buying equipment, the below terms are typical:
- 30% of the total price within 5 days after signing the contract (before the start of production)
- 40% by the time of transport
- 20% after commissioning
- 10% paid 3 months later after the guarantee
Each contract may not be exactly like this; but, if the manufacturer demands a large percentage upfront be wary. They maybe trying to trap you.
I know of a buyer who was confident he would receive a good product that he paid full price before production.
He ended up with several delays and an inferior product. He had nothing to leverage with; as he had already paid 100%. This is an isolated case and the buyer didn’t do proper research or his due diligence on his chosen company.
Using payment terms that give you some leverage, but also fair on the supplier helps both parties. It gives you peace of mind. Structured payment combined with QC checks can avoid re-production costs, or order cancellation for the manufacturer.
5. Buying Good Chinese Brewing Equipment – Negotiations
When it comes to working with Chinese manufacturers; yes, price is a big pull, but it should not be the only point considered. It’s good to find the right balance between helping and arm-twisting to get the best price.
Yeah if I am Apple, I can act tough, but smaller business such a brewery needs to be more subtle. Here are some pointers:
Show the supplier that you know your industry
If you’re buying a brewery then you need to show the manufacturer you know what you want plus understand the brewing processes.
You need to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about. When it comes to the specifications and details of the brewery equipment required. This is a big deal to manufacturers.
Let Them Know That They Are Appreciated
I see it often people dealing with China and don’t show respect to Chinese companies. Yes, you’re bringing business to them but; they often have several projects already on-the-go.
They would like your business but not at all costs. When you have chosen your manufacturer take time to nurture that relationship. It’s all part of the important Chinese concept of guanxi (look it up or Google it).
Good communication though the fabrication process offering compliments when they do well. Though to promising to write a good testimonial for them. If you’re happy with the finished equipment will lead to better service.
Price Negotiations Are Expected
In China even with brewing equipment there is certain wiggle room on price. It’s expected in China to negotiate somewhat.
There is a limit to how far you can push a price. However; you can have an ideal figure after the initial proposal has been offered by the manufacturer.
It could lead to the manufacturer lowering the price a bit or walking away. It is fine to say that you’re looking at other manufacturers and have several quotes.
Many manufacturers work on low margins anyway. So; if you are unrealistic in your negotiations and they agree. You can end up with inferior equipment (like the grade of stainless used).
See pictures from a brewery provided by a company in Jinan below:
That’s also why we recommend an inspection during the fabrication of the equipment. A brewery I know of; haggled really hard on price eventually getting delivered some extremely poor equipment.
When the brewery complained they were told “You got what you paid for!” There price should allow the manufacturer to make some profit. They have to pay wages too.
Buying Good Chinese Brewing Equipment – Conclusions
It’s possible to get great brewing equipment for a good price in China. If you:
- Be specific in what you require
- Have good communication with the manufacturer
- Be respectful (guanxi)
- Have written agreements (agreed-to specification list) not just a contract
- Understand the manufacturer wants to make a profit too
- Have an agreed payment plan that suits both parties
- Make sure you do inspections at key stages
Buying Good Chinese Brewing Equipment – Help is at Hand
There is a lot to consider when it comes to buying good Chinese brewing equipment as you can see…
If you need help in this matter then I can offer assistance. I am UK brewer based in China (first came in 2010) and work as a brewing consultant here. If you would like to discuss a brewing project or need help with an inspection then please feel free to contact me.
My name is Neil and I’ve been brewing for 25 years in a number of countries, on many systems and done several installations. If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to email me at:
Or you can scan the QR code of your preferred network below. Add me, then message me directly there, if it better suits you.
Thanks for visiting my website, reading this article and I look forward to hearing from you.
Have a good day….