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MIT Media Lab Shenzhen, 2013-01-27, The End | Print |
Written by Akiba   
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
2013-01-27 The End

Well, that was an epic tour of the Shenzhen industrial complex. I think I've talked a lot about the different processes we saw and my feelings about the factory tours. This trip was a lot more than that though. I got to know a great group of people as we navigated our way through the complex markets, vast industrial factories, language miscommunications, and various other obstacles that we hit on this trip. Everyone pulled together and helped each other out and for an industrial tour of this scale, I think it was a huge success.
 
Bunnie outdid himself in planning all the tours and this trip will undoubtedly leave a heavy mark in everyone's lives and careers. Even though I'm been in the engineering industry for a long time, I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to experience this much condensed manufacturing knowledge at one time. There's no way I could ever return to being the same designer I was one month ago. I'm pretty sure everyone else feels the same way.

I'd like to thank AQS as well who set up alot of the tours along with Bunnie. It was through their contacts that we were able to get such in-depth tours where we were allowed to take pictures and document the whole tour, rather than just be whipped through a manufacturing line and then led out the door. They also spent a lot of time with us explaining the ins and outs of manufacturing in China as well as drinking with us on many occasions. I'm really happy I got to meet everyone from that company.
 
I had thought I'd have more say after spending three weeks seeing and learning about the manufacturing processes of various industries as well as being awestruck by the huge markets in Hua Qiang Pei. All I can really say though is that if you're involved in hardware and/or manufacturing, you should probably go out to Shenzhen and experience it for yourself. I was asked what I thought was the difference between manufacturers in Japan and manufacturers in Shenzhen. The difference isn't really in labor cost, since there are many hidden fees in the cost of labor here. The main advantage Shenzhen has over any other place in the world is that they've built a huge network of interdependent suppliers and factories that are condensed into a small area. The luggage factory is near the fabric manufacturer as well as the manufacturer of the sewing machines. The PCB assembly house is near the Hua Qiang Pei component markets as well as pick and place repairmen, solder paste distributors, solder stencil cutters, and anything else they might need. Plastic injection molding shops are near plastic pellet suppliers, tooling specialists, etc. If you need something CNC'd, you could just go to the local CNC house nearest you. SLA rapid prototyping 3-D print shops dot Shenzhen as well as laser cutter houses.
 
Shenzhen is really a self-sufficient manufacturing machine. The whole city and outskirts is geared towards making stuff. I can see why Zach, Matt Mets, Ian, Seeed, and many others in the hardware community gush about this place. As Zach put it, "Shenzhen is the world's manufacturer". That city is like a huge hackerspace.

I hope you enjoyed this series. Since Bunnie went through all the trouble of preparing the trip and letting me tag along, I figured the least I could do was document it. Little did I know that it'd turn into quite possibly the most epic tour in the history of open hardware. One thing's for sure. I'm going to be going back there a lot more.
 
These last pictures are some of the more personal pictures from this trip. The past three weeks have been overwhelming, overstimulating, and sometimes just plain tiring. There were a lot of times when we just needed some down time. Some of the best times I remember are just having beers with everyone or going to the park for a quiet evening flying kites.
    
Lastly, I'd like to thank all the people that put up with me on this trip.
    
The Staff: Bunnie Huang (Bunnie Studios), David Cranor (co-founder FormLabs), Sean Cross (formerly Chumby Industries)

The Students: Dhairya Dand, Jie Qi, Pol Pla, Lining Yao, Philippa Mothersill, Gershon Dublon, Akane Sano

The Miscreants: Ian Lesnet (Dangerous Prototypes), Matt Mets (Blinkiverse), Max Henstell (Blinkiverse), Zach Hoeken Smith (HAXLR8R), Cyril Ebersweiler (HAXLR8R, SOS Ventures)
     
I hope I didn't miss anybody. Thanks for everything!     

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Thanks for the nice coverage..
written by Chinpen, January 30, 2013
It was definitely eye-opening for someone with no experience in manufacturing but interest in electronics. smilies/smiley.gif
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Excellent stuff!
written by Wolfgang, January 30, 2013
Thank you, Akiba, for writing everything up! Being only experienced in board level design, it is extremely interesting to learn more about (large-scale) manufacturing. Your writing already gave a lot of insight - and still I envy you and the students for this opportunity! ;-)

Maybe one of the most fascinating things I learnt from your reports is that it seems having something manufactured in Shenzhen might be possible even for low quantities, as long as one manages to get everything set up properly. One more reason to finally get started and improve my Chinese skills...?
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written by Akiba, January 30, 2013
That's exactly right. Many of the factories we visited are willing to work with customers even at low quantities (a few hundred) for the chance to move to higher quantities in the future. Customization is also possible at low to medium quantities and for very reasonable prices. It really boils down to your relationship with the factory and the people which is why it's important to get down there and meet people in person. Chinese also helps smilies/smiley.gif
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managing director
written by bob barrett, February 14, 2013
I appreciate the detailed posts about this tour and what it takes to manufacture "hardware", however, I'm surprised that an MIT group learned so much in China and does not even consider looking at home grown solutions to help designers such as Detroit! You have to consider the massive infrastructure needed to produce cars and other hardware that is a few hundred miles from Boston.
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written by Akiba, February 15, 2013
I think the main reason Shenzhen was chosen was because of the infrastructure to produce consumer electronics. The supply chains have all moved over there which was, in my opinion, a mistake by a lot of US management in the 90's/2000's.

I think Detroit would also be a good place to go because of it's proximity to Media Lab and you should organize a tour of the factories in that area and coordinate with ML or other groups that might be interested. I'm sure there are many people, especially me, that would love to check out the factories out in Detroit.
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product design
written by Alex Kellum, February 22, 2013
Hey, Thanks for your blog about your trip through Shenzhen. I wish I had known about it previously as I was in Hong Kong at the time and am loosely planning my own trip through Shenzhen soon to visit factories. I am coming more from a designers perspective and am interested in factories that might be able to make design objects? I don't know if you have any recommendations on this subject. Any advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much, Alex.
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written by Akiba, February 22, 2013
You'll probably want to work with a contract manufacturer to help you navigate through all the twists and turns for manufacturing in China. We worked closely with AQS (http://www.aqs-inc.com) and PCH (http://www.pchintl.com) to help organize the factory tours. They'd probably be a good starting point in a search for trustworthy contract manufacturers to work with. PCH mostly works with large companies (ie: Apple) so there may be difficulties getting time with them. AQS works with small and medium size companies so they're probably a bit easier to work with. There are also numerous accelerators out there including HAXLR8R and PCH's accelerator program. You may want to apply for one of those programs.
Hope that helps.
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