Exploration and challenges of high-quality development of CNAS-accredited bearing industry laboratories in China

Abstract: Bearings are core basic components, and China has become a bearing production powerhouse, ranking third in terms of sales and production. CNAS-accredited laboratories in China’s bearing industry have played an important role in improving the quality of bearing products. This article introduces the current situation of CNAS-accredited laboratories in the bearing industry, analyzes the characteristics of accredited laboratories in the industry, and proposes corresponding suggestions for their high-quality development.

Keywords: China bearing industry; accredited laboratory; high-quality development

1、Introduction

In the “14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035” released in March 2021, it is pointed out that the “strategy of building a manufacturing power” should be implemented, and the “industrial technology basic public service platforms, such as production application demonstration platforms, standard metrology, certification and accreditation, inspection and testing, and experimental verification, should be built.” The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposed: “High-quality development is the primary task of building a socialist modernization country in an all-around way.” Achieving high-quality development is one of the essential requirements of Chinese-style modernization. In 2022, the State Administration for Market Regulation pointed out at the National Certification Accreditation Inspection and Testing Conference that entering the new development stage is the historical position of China’s development, and the new development stage is also a high-quality development stage. Certification, accreditation, inspection, and testing, as an important part of the national quality infrastructure, will undoubtedly play a more significant role in the high-quality development stage [1]. Therefore, CNAS-accredited laboratories in China’s bearing industry will also face significant opportunities and challenges.

2、Current situation of accredited laboratories in the bearing industry

With the sustained and rapid development of China’s bearing industry, the entire industry has developed steadily during the “13th Five-Year Plan” period. The types of bearings produced are becoming more and more diverse, and there is an increasing demand for accredited laboratories that can provide testing data. The technical scope and specialties of accreditation are becoming more and more extensive, and the speed of capacity change is also accelerating. Therefore, CNAS-accredited laboratories in China’s bearing industry will face more business volume and more complex testing/calibration tasks.

2.1 The number of accredited laboratories in the bearing industry is increasing.

According to incomplete statistics, as of December 2022, there are more than 100 accredited laboratories related to China’s bearing industry that can be found on the CNAS accreditation official website. Some of them are single-bearing enterprise laboratories, some are part of comprehensive laboratories, and some are third-party laboratories that undertake commissioned testing business [2]. Since the beginning of the “13th Five-Year Plan” period, there have been 30 bearing testing laboratories in China’s bearing industry, including 27 enterprise laboratories HSN Bearing Group (not described here due to space limitations) and three third-party laboratories. They are the testing laboratories of Hangzhou Bearing Test and Research Center Co., Ltd. (L0309), Luoyang Bearing Institute Inspection and Testing Co., Ltd. (L0995), and Shanghai Shangzhou Bearing Quality Testing Co., Ltd. (L1290). Compared with other industries, the proportion of bearing accreditation testing laboratories in the entire accredited testing laboratories is not large, even in the mechanical field, the proportion of bearing accreditation testing laboratories is relatively small. In recent years, the bearing industry has continued to develop well, and the production of bearings has become more substantial, which requires more laboratories to issue product testing reports, assist bearing enterprises in continuously improving product quality, cope with domestic and foreign trade measures, expand the market, and enhance enterprise competitiveness. This has caused many mechanical-related research institutes to expand bearing testing and calibration projects, competing for the bearing testing and calibration business in China, which inevitably leads to some disorder.

2.2 The geographical distribution of accredited laboratories in the bearing industry

In the process of allocating market resources, China’s bearing industry has formed five industrial agglomeration areas: Wafangdian (Liaoning) Bearing Industry Agglomeration Zone, Luoyang (Henan) Bearing Industry Agglomeration Zone, Suzhou-Wuxi-Changzhou (Jiangsu) Bearing Industry Agglomeration Zone, Zhejiang (Zhejiang) Bearing Industry Agglomeration Zone, and Liaocheng (Shandong) Bearing Industry Agglomeration Zone [3]. As shown in Table 1, the accredited laboratories with bearing testing capabilities are also mainly concentrated in the five industrial agglomeration areas. In addition, several accredited laboratories are distributed in Shanghai, Fujian, Hubei, Sichuan (Chongqing), and other regions, most of which are industrial heritage left over from the planned economy era. Overall, the distribution of China’s accredited laboratories for bearings is related to the industrial agglomeration, and the stronger the bearing agglomeration effect is, the more accredited laboratories with bearing capabilities the industrial agglomeration area will have. The geographical distribution of accredited laboratories is positively correlated with the degree of local industrial development and the level of trade activity. It also illustrates that accredited testing laboratories for bearings, as technical service institutions, serve bearing manufacturing enterprises and provide strong technical support for the high-quality development of bearing products.

2.3 The wide range of technical capabilities accredited by bearing testing laboratories and their professional diversity

Due to the wide variety of bearings, if classified according to the testing category, they can be divided into bearing products, bearing parts, metallic materials and products, ceramic materials and products, and mechanical parts. When further subdivided, bearing products can include rolling bearings (parameters), sliding bearings, splint bearing, joint bearings, etc. Bearing parts can be divided into bearing parts (parameters), steel balls, ceramic balls, carbon steel balls, needle rollers, rollers, bearing seats, etc. Metallic materials and products, ceramic materials and products mainly involve testing the physical and chemical properties of materials. Mechanical parts mainly include the geometric measurement of parts. If divided according to testing parameters, they can be divided into conventional size accuracy, clearance, vibration noise, cleanline ss, metallography, chemical composition, fatigue life, sealing performance, etc. Table 2 is an example of how a bearing testing laboratory’s accredited technical capabilities can be presented.

Table 2 Example of how a bearing testing laboratory’s accredited technical capabilities can be presented

2.4 The rapid changes in accredited bearing testing laboratories

The changes referred to here are from the five aspects of “personnel, equipment, materials, methods, and environment” that affect the laboratory’s technical capabilities. The rapid turnover of personnel in the bearing industry, the accelerated updating of instruments and equipment, the accelerated revision of standards, and changes in the external environment (changes in international trade patterns, government policy reforms, epidemics, etc.) have led to accelerated changes in bearing testing technology.

In today’s society, talent introduction has become a key issue faced by governments at all levels to develop the economy. Talent introduction is part of talent mobility. As a traditional labor-intensive industry, it is an indisputable fact that the bearing industry has high work intensity and low income for employees, and the migration of high-end technical talents among various enterprises is also a common phenomenon. Therefore, it is not uncommon for laboratory technical responsible persons and quality responsible persons to leave their jobs due to personnel staffing problems. Secondly, personnel changes will also be affected by the external environment. When the government promotes laboratory policy reforms or the industry is impacted by some uncontrollable factors, it will also affect the flow of personnel in enterprises.

In addition to the above two factors, with the progress of time and technology, the speed of instrument and equipment updates and iterations has accelerated. This involves accredited laboratories purchasing, accepting, calibrating, confirming capabilities, and periodic verification of instrument and equipment management. Similarly, bearing industry standards are also diverse, in addition to universal bearing standards (dimensional tolerances, vibration speeds, clearances), there are also various special bearing standards. At the same time, in addition to national standards, standards also include military standards, international standards, industry standards, local standards, and group standards. In addition to bearing industry standards, method standards may also involve standards and methods in other industries. These standards are managed by different departments and may be difficult to coordinate. The inclusion of testing methods may also result in conflicts. At the same time, with the rapid development of technology, a large number of non-standard methods will be generated in the application of bearings. The effectiveness of these non-standard testing/calibration standards and methods will directly affect the effectiveness of certification and accreditation activities.

3 Analysis of Characteristics of Bearing Industry Recognized Laboratories

 

3.1 Lack of Awareness of Quality Management System in Bearing Recognized Laboratories

Some old laboratories in the bearing industry have undergone more than 5 evaluations. Once the old laboratories have been in operation for many years, the management of quality activities tend to become lax and complacent. From the highest management level to all laboratory testing personnel, they are only satisfied with business expansion and ignore basic equipment maintenance, personnel education and training, and environmental facility improvement, resulting in a discrepancy between system regulations and actual operation. For some small-scale laboratories, they have just completed the establishment of CNAS recognized laboratories, usually carrying out quality and training rush in the months before certification and evaluation. Once they obtain the recognition certificate, they are considered to have completed the task and believe that their quality management level has improved, thereby ignoring internal quality management. This creates a phenomenon of two different levels between actual operation and quality management system. Regardless of the type of laboratory, if the effective operation of the quality management system is not adhered to, short-term economic benefits may be gained, but it is not conducive to the sustainable development of the enterprise and does not conform to the trend of recognized laboratories moving towards high-quality development. [4-5].

3.2 Weak Professional Service Capability of Bearing Recognized Laboratories

Bearing recognized laboratories provide technical services for the industry to move towards high-end development. However, compared with the entire bearing industry which is gradually moving towards “specialization, refinement, and novelty”, bearing recognized laboratories still lack compatibility in professional abilities. For example, there are problems in some inspection areas such as “unable to inspect, slow inspections, and inaccurate inspections”; domestically produced testing instruments and equipment face the phenomenon of “neck blocking”. The low utilization rate of testing equipment, rapid flow of high-end technical personnel, insufficient confirmation of new personnel’s abilities, and lack of emphasis on customer satisfaction surveys will lead to insufficient professional service capabilities of the bearing industry’s CNAS recognized laboratories. This directly leads to a decrease in laboratory business volume and a downgrade in capabilities, which will indirectly hinder the continuous improvement of the bearing industry.

3.3 Uneven Testing Ability of Bearing Recognized Laboratories

The testing abilities of the 30 major bearing industry recognized laboratories were statistically analyzed, as shown in Table 4. Of the recognized laboratories in the industry, 28 have bearing product testing capabilities, accounting for 93.3%. Of these 28 labs, only 6 contain rolling bearing parameter testing capabilities, 9 contain 1-3 types of specialized bearing testing capabilities, 8 contain 4-9 types of specialized bearing testing capabilities, and 5 contain 10 or more types of specialized bearing testing capabilities. Additionally, 27 recognized laboratories have bearing component testing capabilities, accounting for 90% of the recognized laboratories in the industry. 29 recognized laboratories have metal material testing capabilities, accounting for 97% of the recognized laboratories in the industry. The above data shows that although the recognized laboratories in the bearing industry are numerous, the testing capabilities of many internal corporate laboratories are relatively single. More than half of the corporate laboratories contain only rolling bearing parameter testing capabilities or less than 3 specialized bearing testing capabilities, while more than 10 specialized bearing testing capabilities in third-party recognized laboratories account for 60%, and internal corporate laboratories only account for 40%.

Table 4 Statistical Analysis of Bearing Industry Recognized Laboratory Testing Capabilities

There are 25 recognized laboratories in the industry that have both bearing product testing, bearing component testing, and metal material testing capabilities, accounting for 83.3% of the recognized laboratories in the industry. Excluding testing capabilities, there are 6 recognized labs that have calibration and measurement capabilities, accounting for 20% of the recognized laboratories in the industry. This also demonstrates that corporate recognized laboratories are focusing on enhancing the extension of recognized laboratory capabilities and continuously improving testing abilities.

Three third-party recognized laboratories mentioned in the article, Luoyang Bearing Research Institute, Shanghai Shangzhou and Hangzhou Bearing Test and Research Center, are not limited to external business but also provide quality testing services for their own bearing products. Hangzhou Bearing Test and Research Center is the first third-party testing laboratory in the industry to pass ISO/IEC 17025. It is a unique bearing industry quality inspection and research institution established by the United Nations to assist China’s Ministry of Machinery in 1980. These three third-party recognized laboratories have a wide testing range, strong testing capabilities, and complete instrument equipment, making a certain contribution to the overall improvement of the industry’s quality.

3.4 Challenges Faced by the Bearing Industry Recognized Laboratories

During the transition from high-speed growth to high-quality development in the bearing industry, bearing industry recognized laboratories face both opportunities and challenges.

(1) Requirements for State Policy Reform. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposes encouraging and guiding social technical resources and efforts for quality of the industrial foundation and industry chain, layout of key fields, cross-industry, cross-domain public welfare national quality standard laboratories. Strengthening open sharing and industry leadership, improving basic industry capabilities, serving industry quality upgrades, and promoting high-quality industrial development.

(2) Requirements for Quality and Safety Control. With the spread of the epidemic situation both inside and outside of China, the bearing industry in China is also strengthening the new development model of promoting both domestic and international circulation. In the bearing industry chain, bearing recognized laboratories are an important part and play an irreplaceable role in the quality and safety of the bearing industry chain.

(3) Requirements for Enterprise Transformation and Upgrade. In the process of transforming new and old kinetic energy, bearing enterprises are also gradually increasing the requirements for “people, machinery, materials, methods, and environment”. The core is to improve product quality, meet user needs, solve user pain points, and concentrate on user experience. Among them, the recognized laboratories will provide customers with value-added services, providing strong support for enterprise transformation and upgrade and the deep transformation of old and new kinetic energy.

(4) Requirements for Continuous Improvement of Recognized Laboratories. In order to meet government supervision and market demands, bearing recognized laboratories serve as a trustworthy platform for improving the quality of Chinese bearing products. Professionalism and authority are the direction of recognized laboratory development. Ensuring recognized quality is the lifeline of recognized laboratories. Recognized laboratories should continuously improve service capabilities and levels, innovate systems, and serve development.

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