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MIT Media Lab Shenzhen, 2013-01-09, Prosperous Manufacturing | Print |
Written by Akiba   
Friday, 11 January 2013

2013-01-09

 Okay, I think there were some issues with the old pages that I put the original journal on. I've just moved them to some new pages that should be faster. Sorry about that.

Anyhow, on with the story. Today, we went on a tour of a bag and luggage factory in the Dongguan area. It's really nice because it's a change from the decidedly tech nature of the trip. Many of the Media Lab members are interested in textiles and soft circuits, and Bunnie and I have pretty much seen a lot of electronics assembly lines.

The Dongguan bag factory caters to many name brand customers including Jansport, North Face, Adidas, etc. When we first got there, we got the obligatory meeting room presentation and video of the history of the company. Afterwards, it was on to the tour.

This tour was particularly interesting because it had very little to do with electronics and technology. The engineers were focused on quality control of fabrics and designing bags that were manufacturable. The amount of engineering it took was fascinating. We first started off in the receiving area where they received the fabrics. When the fabrics are received, they need to be inspected to make sure that there aren't any blemishes or imperfections in the fabric.

Once the fabric is inspected properly, its released to be used on the assembly lines. We saw many uses of fabrics on the assembly lines. One of the first stops we went to were the cutting stations. At these stations, the fabrics were cut to the correct sizes and shapes for the types of bags they're meant to go into. There are various ways to cut the fabric and we saw cutting via die and press, CNC, and also laser cutting.

After the fabric is cut, they have the logo either embroidered or silkscreened on to the fabric. The embroidery machines were impressive and they'd have computer automated embroidery machines that would embroider around 15 to 20 fabric pieces at a time. They also had a manual silkscreener where a person would silkscreen individual pieces of fabric, or an automated silkscreener where an automated machine would silkscreen multiple pieces of fabric at a time.

Once the pieces are finished with the pre-processing and cutting, they're sent to the sewing machine operators to assemble into final products. These parts turn into bags, coats, and other end products. There are up to 28 workers in one sewing assembly line. One bag can take upward of 100 steps so the steps are individually divided up by worker and an LED leaderboard shows what the throughput of each assembly team is.

After going through the whole assembly line, they took us to the research and development area. In this area, there were no cameras allowed so we weren't able to take pictures. However they showed us how they test each piece of baggage that they produce and how they emulate stairs, extreme temperatures, and also repeated zipper opening and closing.

They also showed us where they come up with new designs for the companies they work with. This was perhaps the most eye opening because it turns out that people at the factory come up with the majority of new designs for the brand name customers that they serve. Basically, most of the new designs come from the engineers at the factory since they're also familiar with the manufacturing and how to break down the design to fit the assembly lines. The manufacturers just sell based on their brand recognition. So basically, when I buy a particular name brand jacket, I'm mainly paying for the marketing since all the design and manufacturing costs are handled at the factory. 

That was pretty much the end of the tour. We took a photo for the factory in front of the company sign and then went back home. We actually got back early and Bunnie took us on a tour of the Shenzhen market, but those pictures can't do the market justice. I'm hoping to post some video of the market soon.

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