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Beware of cheap imported centrifuges

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Alex Henderson

Aston Business School graduate who has been the Managing Director of Henderson Biomedical since January 2015. Passionate about helping laboratories keep their vital equipment operational and compliant. Architecture enthusiast, fitness fanatic and dog lover!

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President Xi Jinping’s warm welcome by David Cameron during a recent state visit to the UK reinforces our clear intentions to do more business with China. Indeed, many key infrastructure projects have already been awarded to Chinese firms as the UK aims to form a closer relationship with the world’s newest superpower.

For a long time now, China has been known to produce a wide range of products at a very low cost. From plastic widgets to the latest iPhone, China has a huge manufacturing base. The country benefits from an almost infinite supply of cheap labour combined with a very strong work ethic. As such, China has clawed its way from a low income country with poor infrastructure and a weak economy to arguably the world’s most powerful country, certainly in terms of manufacturing.

At the moment, equipment found in hospitals across the UK is generally from European or American brands. Even if the product has been assembled in China, it has often been designed and developed elsewhere in the Western world. However, it is inevitable that as China’s manufacturing base becomes more sophisticated and the quality improves, the country will steer away from simple assembly on behalf of European or American manufacturers and focus more on the development of their own products. A laboratory technician will almost certainly see more and more Chinese equipment make its way into their lab over the coming years.

In the case of centrifuges, the UK market is dominated by European brands such as MSE, Hettich and Eppendorf or American brands like Thermo. In the UK, there is strict European legislation making sure that these brands of centrifuges are designed in such a way that they are safe to use. Quite often the cheap Chinese imports do not comply with this legislation.

For example, all centrifuges should have a lid locking mechanism preventing the user from inadvertently opening the instrument during a run. Refrigerated centrifuges should be CFC free and all types of centrifuges must be RoHS compliant, meaning the equipment is free from harmful materials such as lead and mercury. All centrifuges should also be CE marked and properly EMC tested.

Although the vast majority of centrifuges available in the UK comply with these safety and environmental guidelines, there are the odd rogue ones, usually from China that make it into our labs. These often do not comply with EU legislation and could be unsafe to use either now or at some point in the future.

For example, some Chinese manufacturers falsely claim on the rating plate that their equipment is CE marked. To avoid any legal battles, these manufacturers space the letters C and E in such a way that it doesn’t exactly match the correct CE logo. However, to the naked eye, one can easily mistake this for a proper CE mark. When questioned about this, Chinese manufacturers have said that the CE doesn’t stand for ‘Conformité Européenne’ as expected but instead for ‘Chinese Export’, which bears no relation to the quality or safety of the product.

Indeed, here at Henderson Biomedical, we have seen Chinese centrifuges without lid locks being used in certain laboratories. This of course is highly dangerous and we always recommend that the user replaces it with a model that has the proper safety features one would expect of a centrifuge.

However, it is not just China that is trying to break into the UK market with equipment that is unsafe to use. Indian manufacturers of centrifuges are also trying to get a foothold into the UK, producing very cheap but also potentially lethal equipment.

Of course, not all Chinese and Indian centrifuges are unsafe to use. There are some good ones out there. However, our advice is: if the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is! Go with a brand you can trust, which not only complies with all the EU safety laws but also gives you the excellent after sales service and support you would expect. By purchasing a centrifuge from Henderson Biomedical, you can be sure you are getting a quality product which is safe to use. We offer a range of high quality centrifuges from established brands like MSE and Hettich. So be sure to consider us when looking to buy your next centrifuge.

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