Yesterday and today are free days that we had to work on our own stuff, but David organized an optional trip out to OCT (Overseas Chinese Town) which is kind of an artist's district in Shenzhen. The name comes from the company that created the area. It seems the people that made the area are overseas Chinese and wanted to create a place that reminded them of the artsy districts in other countries like the US. It's in a slightly wooded area and has a indie shops, book stores, restaurants, and coffee shop. It's a refreshing break from the hustle of Hua Qiang Pei, the electronics district here in Shenzhen.

David organized a talk with Cyril from HAXLR8R about what HAXLR8R is and how incubators work so the media lab designers could get a better idea about it. The talk was going to be held at the ChaiHuo Makerspace, a makerspace started in Shenzhen. I actually brought some things to work on for the Makerspace, mainly because I wanted to get an idea of what it's like to try and do projects at a hackerspace in Shenzhen.

Today our destination was a motor manufacturer called Lotus. This manufacturer is used often by AQS and so they were able to set us up with a very hands on tour. As opposed to the Huawei and CTS tours, pictures were allowed and we were able to get deep into the process and parts. One of the things I've taken a liking to is working with the small and medium sized manufacturers rather than the larger ones. At a smaller size, customized designs are much easier and the processes are flexible enough that changes can be made sometimes on the fly. The larger manufacturers are much more rigid in their processes and methodology. Although they're more polished, it usually comes at a price so it's difficult to make changes or do small batch test runs.

Lotus is a medium sized motor manufacturer and the facility we visited manufactures DC motors. They have a separate facility to manufacture stepper motors as well, but we were not able to go to that factory. Once we arrived at the factory, they took us to the sample room to talk a little bit about the types of motors they manufacture. After this, we went to a small room where they put together customized sample motors. These are custom DC motors that are requested by their customers and the initial sample quantities are handmade.


This post is out of chronological order because I wanted to wait for the custom clothing to be finished before posting it.

It's the weekend so Bunnie offered to take us on a fun trip to the LuoHu fabric mall. It's a place where you can get raw materials and also contract tailors to make custom clothing. The fabric mall itself was an impressive collection of stalls selling all kinds of fabric like denim, linen, cashmere, etc. Walking through the place was just floor to ceiling fabrics of all types. In the back, there were a bunch of tailors that would custom make the clothing for you from the available fabrics. All you had to do was go to a tailor, specify the clothing you wanted, either from the available magazines, a picture you have, or even a sketch. Then an assistant goes with you through the fabric stalls and helps you find the fabric that you want to use. Once it's done, then you negotiate the price of the fabric and the labor. Once the pricing is settled, you take your fabric back to the tailors shop, get the measurements, pay for the labor, and your custom made clothing or bag will be available in approximately one week.


Today's tour destination was Huawei. For those that don't know, Huawei is a gigantic Chinese communications equipment provider. They're also an MIT Media Lab sponsor so the tour could be lined up through the mutual relationship with the lab. In the first part, we'll be meeting with the R&D engineers, they'll be demonstration what they're working on, and the students will be giving a presentation on what they're working on in the lab. In the second part of the tour, we'll go out to Dongguan where HuaThe wei is establishing a new manufacturing facility. Over there, we'll be able to see their SMT, test, and final assembly lines for their cell phones. They are a major manufacturer of cell phones in many countries except the US from what I understand. Unfortunately, Huawei also has a strict no camera policy and we weren't allowed to bring any type of camera, laptop, or memory stick to their R&D and factory areas.

At first, they gave us a tour of the exhibition area and explained what Huawei does. There was a lot of infrastructure communications equipment down there and it was kind of nice getting back in contact with my communications background. Bunnie and I were geeking out over a lot of the big iron rack mount communications equipment there, while Jie and Pip were geeking out over the designer furniture they had there. Engineers versus designers.

Ha ha ha.


It's Monday and the factory tours are starting up again. Today's destination is a logistics facility called CTS that works with big brands like Apple, Beats by Dre, etc, and suprisingly, Little Bits. The security was extremely heavy at this facility and we needed to provide passports and go through security clearance before we entered the facility. Cameras were unfortunately not allowed since Apple products are housed there so there are no pictures of this facility. 

The first area we were taken to is the packaging department. For mass production, most people including myself only consider the production of the actual product. However there are also separate assembly lines for the packaging. We were watching one popular consumer product getting packaged up and there were eighteen people in the assembly line. It starts with an empty acrylic box. Paper inserts were put in the front and back with the company logo and product picture. A molded insert was then added to hold the product, labels were added, barcode stickers, documentation, accessories, styrofoam bag to encase the main device, and then the final product was put into a shipping box. 

Day four of the Shenzhen trip and the destination was a contract manufacturer called Eagle. They had both a plastics injection molding side and also an electonics assembly manufacturing side. Bunnie chose this site to provide a contrast to Colinda which is the injection molding factory we saw earlier.

For the injection molding side, it's our third plastics factory we visited so there wasn't a whole lot that was new to us. However it was interesting to see how their process differed from the others. It was obvious that Colinda was a smaller factory, Kunda was specialized in huge automotive tooling and specialty plastics, and Eagle had more of a polished operational process.


This is day 3 of the MIT Media Lab organized Shenzhen Trip and it feels like it's already been an eternity. I can feel a lot of my attitudes towards design changing by seeing the manufacturing flows and factories. Previously I would unconsciously limit myself to different possibilities because things like doing an injection molded enclosure felt outside of my reach in terms of cost and volume. After seeing and talking to the people here, many are willing to take on all kinds of projects and offer a lot of help. It all depends on the relationship you have with them. It's a very Asian thing.

Today we're taking a break from the factory tours and going to the South China Market. This market is kind of in the middle of nowhere about an hour's drive outside of Shenzhen. It's a huge market spanning probably a few kilometers on each side and rather than small stalls, each manufacturer occupies a proper shop space. The storefront is just a showroom and you go into the shops to discuss business with each manufacturer.