By The Pro QC Quality Assurance Team
Let’s start with this: what is the e-bike industry? Also known as an electric bicycle, an e-bike is essentially a bicycle with a lithium battery-powered electric motor which can assist in easier, speedier movement. It looks and pedals like a regular bicycle but allows the rides to gather momentum with ease. It’s also worth noting that e-bikes can be powered by lead-acid, nickel-cadmium (NiCd), or nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) batteries as well. For this post, we will focus on lithium batteries as about 90% of electronic bikes are powered in this manner.
The industry is booming. The global e-bike market is projected to be worth $21.7 billion by 2027, according to a Report Linker analysis published in August 2020. In Europe alone, 17% of total bicycle sales in 2019 were e-bikes.
China is the biggest producer of electric bicycles, overtaking Japan, with one figure stating that over 10 million e-bikes were produced by China in the first 5 months of 2018 alone.
So, what do you need to know before you jump into e-bike production in China?
- Recognize Standard E-bike Production Risks
It is important to know that countries around the world have implemented different regulations for what makes an e-bicycle safe for import into their market. The major risks are related to regulatory and quality issues.
In terms are regulatory requirements, the most important things to ensure are that the product is tested for Phthalates (for CE requirements) and that the battery and e-bikes are marked for the correct destination market (for Europe this would again be per CE requirements). Full documentation must accompany the products for customs.
Quality issues to be aware of include, but are not limited to:
- Supplier provision of batteries from the correct manufacturer
- Poor battery performance (charge/discharge, capacity)
- Poor insulation
- E-bike performance not matching specifications
- Bumps or ripples in the welding; porosity of the welding
- Dents and scratches on the surface
- Frames out of tolerance
- Issues with paint/surface treatment peeling
- Color not matching the Pantone color requested
- Misaligned mudguard/wheels/frames; unstable e-bike due to poor assembly
- Poor packaging can lead to damage during shipping
We have noted that harmful substances used in the paint, decals, and plastic rubber upholstery, are often reasons for the e-bikes to be detained at customs, especially when imported into Western European countries. This is due to the bikes not meeting regulations for harmful substances used in the raw materials for the components.Most risks can be prevented if caught during the assembly process, which is why in-process quality inspection is key.
- Mitigate E-bike Production Risks
Finding good suppliers who are qualified in terms of basic quality infrastructure and have a quality management system in place is critical. Such suppliers will have a higher likelihood of delivering a quality e-bike that meets relevant regulations and safety requirements.
Ensuring that raw materials used in the supply chain conform to regulations is an important part of a quality supplier. This is why quality inspection and quality control of e-bike components is imperative throughout the manufacturing process.
One of Pro QC’s clients was having issues and asked us to verify samples through an independent at-random-selection process (to ensure the integrity of the testing results) from the factory during production. This enabled confirmation that the production process was clean enough to avoid any external contamination.
A solid tip is to find e-bike suppliers in China who have either worked with automotive components before or who are set up to follow the automotive manufacturing approach. These suppliers will understand and are more likely to comply with regulatory standards.
- Perform Industry Standard Quality Assurance
As mentioned earlier, regulatory standards cover a broad remit which differs from country to country. Before starting production, a good approach is to implement Advance Product Quality Planning (APQP) to ensure that each critical component related to safety is considered.
A trial and pilot-run are also a good way to stress test the stability of the production line. As part of its quality control services for e-bikes in China, Pro QC often goes into factories to conduct process capability analyses to determine if production processes are stable enough to provide long-term manufacturing quality.
Aside from the general quality control required, it is important to pay special attention to the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes. Shipping companies classify lithium batteries as dangerous items, so importers need to be aware of individual import regulations.
Any lithium-ion battery over 100WH is classified as ‘Class 9 – Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods’ under the Dangerous Good Regulations for Transport by Road (ADR) and by Air (IATA & IACO). Importers, therefore, need to ensure that all e-bikes and e-bike packaging are correctly marked for shipping and market presence and that all necessary bills for customs are attached. These include a Declaration of Conformity, Bill of Materials, List of Applicable Standards, e-bike manual, AC adapter datasheet, battery datasheet, a risk assessment, and lab test reports.
Markings differ for individual markets. For example, European import regulations require compliance with these marking rules:
a) The frame must be visibly and permanently marked with a serial number at a readily visible location
b) The frame must be visibly and durably marked, with the name of the manufacturer or the manufacturer’s representative and the number of European Standard, i.e. EN 14764
c) The vehicle must be durably marked with the following words: EPAC according to EN 15194
During any product inspection for electric bicycles, Pro QC usually verifies the end-to-end journey of the product: quality inspections and quality control for e-bike product quality and performance, as well as final product inspection and verification of documents and markings on the e-bike and packaging.
Please get in touch with us for any further information on e-bike production quality or to further understand Pro QC’s quality control services in China.