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Every now and then, I'm approached by a potential manufacturer who guarantees to cut my kiosk manufacturing costs without finding out what my expenses are. I think to myself, "Can this manufacturer really be that much cheaper that I'm guaranteed to have lower costs?" Typically the answer is yes because the secret is that all of the construction is outsourced to China for a fraction of the price.
When I first started in the kiosk industry, this deal sounded like a no-brainer, but after getting some experience in evaluating hardware, I realized buying kiosks from overseas manufacturers may not quite be the cost savings that it seems. Take some time to consider these drawbacks when outsourcing kiosk manufacturing.
Limited control over manufacturing process
Typically, the laws regarding manufacturing overseas are a lot less rigid than in the U.S. Unless you're a huge company like Apple that has the leverage to impose quality-control stipulations, you run a high risk of buying kiosks built with low-quality metals and components. Especially when maintaining outdoor units, high-quality materials are important. Poor-quality materials used in outdoor kiosks could leave you with a rusted mess in a little under a year, and unless you have a solid manufacturer willing to fix the problem you're left with a very ugly, expensive unit that no one wants to use.
Quality of materials is also important when considering touchscreen monitors, thermal printers and computer hardware. Chances are you may have saved a bundle on monitors and other hardware from brand names that you can't even pronounce. There's also a good chance that those same manufacturers have very questionable hardware drivers that are not entirely compatible with your software, leaving your programmers with lots of extra programming time to get everything working.
Standardization of parts
Having a standard reference design is especially important when it comes to repairs. My company's older kiosks were all the same model, and I had about 20 of them. When it came time to do repairs or fix broken parts, I had to order new parts and sometimes used the same parts from other machines to fix them. To my surprise, even though I bought the same model, not all of the internals were the same. Screws were in slightly different places and certain electronic components were constructed completely differently, leaving it very difficult to fix these problems.
Availability of replacement parts/ease of replacement
Kiosks from overseas might be constructed with materials readily available overseas that are not readily available here. I bought a lock from an American distributor, but I only got two keys and I needed more. When I took the keys to a locksmith to get keys made, I was informed that I couldn't get these keys made because they were a size only available in China and was not available stateside. To top it off, I could not even get the lock replaced, because the lock was proprietary. The manufacturer keeps no replacement keys on hand, so I couldn't even order new keys, essentially leaving me with a non-functional lock if I ever lost the two keys (my client has already lost one).
This last problem is typically the most important. Whenever you're trying to order a product as complex as a kiosk, you typically need to follow very rigid measurements and guidelines to ensure everything works. When talking about digital kiosks, any design needs to take into account proper ventilation and measurements so that all of your components fit. The more intricate the design of the kiosk, the more opportunities there are for small mistakes. So the chances are pretty high that when building something overseas, something is going to come back not quite the way you want it leaving two options: either sending it back for revision or buying a completely new unit. With either option you run the risk of having to go back and forth with several models until you get a perfected design. But communication is key to getting the perfected design. Lack of communication could leave you going around in circles with your overseas manufacturer.
Cutting your potential cost per kiosk in half is an incredibly tempting proposition, but there are times when spending more money at the beginning will save you even more money and manpower in the future.
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