“Made in Germany” and “Made in Japan” say an awful lot and both those sets of three little words can be an extremely valuable sales tool. They imply the highest standards of design, manufacture and quality, and provide immediate differentiation from similar items that do not bear either of those wordings. This doesn’t mean that other countries don’t also make exceptional products, it’s just that German and Japanese manufactured goods are generally pre-eminent. Unlike “Made in Japan”, “Made in China” leaves me in a quandary. Many Chinese companies produce goods of high calibre, others produce goods that offer outstanding value for money, but unfortunately many produce complete and utter junk. As with most industries, over the years more and more writing instrument manufacturers have been shifting their production base from their traditional locations to China. For example you will find “China” on a proportion of Pentels.
The city of Ningbo, China, is a little south of Shanghai, and is home to a significant number of writing instrument manufacturers. I imagine Beifa would claim to be the leader amongst these manufacturers. From the Beifa website:-
After 11 years of development, Beifa Co., Ltd. has become the third largest pen manufacturer in the world, and the largest pen manufacturer in China. With an annual manufacturing capacity of 2 billion pens and annual sales of 1 billion RMB (£71 million), of which 100-million-dollar (£57 million) sales from exportation, Beifa’s manufacturing capacity is in the top 3 in the world, and its annual sales in the top 10. Beifa’s products are sold in more than 150 countries worldwide.
Many big retailers and wholesalers such as Staples, Office Depot, Wal-Mart, National Pen, Myron and Metro, have been Beifa’s customer for many years and kept a longtime business relationship. The company is named as State Level High-Tech Enterprise, received more than 750 patents and inventions worldwide, and certified as ISO9002 Quality System and ISO9000 Company by DNV.
They further claim to have over 3,000 staff, the largest writing instrument factory in the world, and “Beifa Group was honored 2008 Beijing Olympic Office Suppliers Exclusive Supplier”
No doubt much of their export sales are under customer and house brands, but earlier this year I was in a Dollar Shop and saw a Beifa brand mechanical pencil. I thought that considering the price I should check it out - after all, they are one of the largest manufacturers in the world so surely it couldn’t be complete rubbish?
So, without further ado, I present the Beifa MC1002 Mechanical Pencil.
(clickable for hi-res)
Actually I can’t find it on the Beifa website, but the MB100200 appears to be the same mechanical pencil. The difference in product coding could simply relate to the packaging – my pencil was blister-packed on a retail hang-sell card along with a container of lead refills.(clickable for hi-res)
First impressions then. Well, this is a wide bodied lightweight plastic pencil. I’m not a great fan of fat side-clicker type mechanical pencils so this isn’t really to my personal taste. Having said that, a closer inspection is generally favourable. The transparent plastic body seems to be a high quality moulding. Good hard glossy surface, no scratches, flow lines or other visible flaws.
The mechanism is a side-button activated ratchet advance, ten clicks will get you about 6mm of the 0.5mm lead. The button is quite stiff to push and the mechanism gives a very loud positive sounding click as the lead advances. The lead sleeve is a short retractable metal cone so the pencil is pocket safe.
The rubber grip is somewhat unusual in shape, having those two lower ridges and then a plain smooth area. I didn’t really like the feel of those ridges under my fingers. The rubber grip is a medium hardness compound with a little give in it. It’s not particularly grippy so it’s all rather debatable whether it actually improves your grip or not.The pocket clip is quite good and strong for an integrally moulded plastic clip.The only marking I can find on this mechanical pencil is the printing on the pocket clip - the rather uninspiring insipid looking model number and Beifa name. The moulding part-line runs down the middle of the pocket-clip and as you can see that interferes with the printing. It’s hard to imagine any of the more well known brands considering that print quality acceptable.The pocket clip is part of the twist-out eraser section. The whole section seems well secured to the main body so I don’t think it’s likely to come off inadvertently. You pull the whole section off to access the lead refill chamber.
So far this mechanical pencil has been doing quite well but the twist-out eraser system is a real let down. Firstly, it only twists out about a 7mm length of 6mm diameter eraser. That’s such a short length, why bother? If you are going to the expense of a twist out cartridge surely you want to accommodate a decent length of eraser? Next the eraser extension is not very secure. By that I mean it pushes back in under reasonable pressure, so whilst erasing the screw threads might just suddenly disengage and the eraser will fully retract. Third and last, the eraser compound itself is a very mixed bag. At first it was utterly and completely useless. It didn’t erase at all, and when I say 'at all', I mean 'at all'. It was hard and scratchy, and it just smeared graphite all over the place. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong, but wondered if perhaps there was some sort of hardened outer-layer causing this problem so I deliberately pressed and rubbed really hard to try and break though and remove any such layer. This did indeed improve things, so there clearly was some sort of outer surface layer problem, and once that outer surface was removed things improved dramatically. The eraser went from utterly useless to…not particularly good. The smearing stopped, but it still didn’t erase anywhere near as well as Staedtler Mars Plastic and similar benchmark products.
In summation then, as an economy price range item, this Beifa MC1002 mechanical pencil is reasonably good, except for the eraser system, which quite frankly really lets the side down and cancels out the good points scored by the rest of the pencil. It is the sort of poor design and quality that keeps “Made in China” from having any marketing value.
- Best Points – Mechanism and body moulding seem surprisingly good.
- Not So Good Points – Everything to do with the eraser.
- Price Range – Economy.
- Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No.
Dimensions – Length 140mm, diameter 12mm. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.
I don’t normally include the leads supplied with a mechanical pencil as part of the review process. Being able to swap the leads to your favourite brand and hardness is an inherent aspect of mechanical pencil use, but of course the leads supplied with a pencil do reflect back on the pencil brand. One would not expect poor quality leads in a well known brand mechanical pencil, but I personally do generally expect poor quality leads in economy grade pencils from the Dollar Store and its ilk. So, it is with some surprise that I feel I must report that the leads supplied in this Beifa mechanical pencil weren’t actually that bad. Certainly the folk at Pentel or Mitsubishi Pencil wouldn’t be losing any sleep over these leads as possible competitors, but compared to my previous experiences with Chinese leads they were a pleasant surprise. In a nutshell, they were actually usable – reasonably dark, reasonably strong, a little on the scratchy side, but overall they were…reasonable. What more can you expect for peanuts at the Dollar Store?
As I said back towards the beginning, I purchased my mechanical pencil as a blister-packed combo with a container of lead refills. They are labelled as ‘ACH’ brand, 0.5mm HB, 60mm x 15pieces, item code WL685A. I assume Ach is a brand of or associated with Beifa. Here’s another thing I can’t fathom – the graphic design of the container is terrible. That silver metallized surface seems to have edge areas that are deliberately darker and less shiny so the whole thing just looks used, second-hand and worn. The Ach and other lettering is in a dull lemon yellow colour which just doesn’t stand out at all on the metallic background. Perhaps this sort of graphic design and colour scheme looks different to people of an Eastern cultural background, but I honestly can’t imagine any western schoolchild getting a passing grade in their beginner graphic arts class if they came up with this lot.