2013-01-15

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.

2013-01-14

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. 
 

2013-01-11

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.

2013-01-10

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.

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.

2013-01-08

The first day of tours started and it was an amazing experience. I've never been really super interested in the process of injection molding but after seeing how things are done, I found the subject fascinating. We started the day off taking the van to an injection molding factory. The owner of the factory welcomed us with open arms and surprisingly allowed us to take pictures inside the facility.

Our first stop was a meeting room where the owner brought out samples of injection molded devices for us to examine. Coleman, an injection molding expert from AQS (a contract manufacturer that's helping us organize the tours) and Bunnie were explaining how the parts were made, the materials, finish, what decisions went into making the mold, defects, and identifying the markings from the different parts of the mold. I was impressed how much information could be had just by looking at a plastic enclosure. They were able to reverse engineer the design tradeoffs that the designers had to make, some bad decisions, and were easily able to approximate the cost of the tooling and cost per part.

2013-01-06 - The Beginning

It started out with me, Bunnie, and some other members of Tokyo Hackerspace on one of his trips to Tokyo about six months ago. We were talking about possibly doing a summer hacker train trip across Northern Siberia using the TransSiberian Railway or the Baikal Amur Mainline which runs parallel to it to tour the back country of Russia. This actually turned into an active project and one of the (crazier) girls in Tokyo Hackerspace is organizing the trip for this summer. Here's more info.

Of course we were also getting buzzed off of beers at the izakaya we were at when Bunnie casually mentioned that he might do a month long workshop in Shenzhen for MIT Media Lab. The purpose was to teach the grad student designers about how to take their designs to manufacturing. My immediate reflex when I heard "month, shenzhen, manufacturing, bunnie" was to force myself into the project. 

So here I am, prepping to leave for Hong Kong today, then take a bus up into Shenzhen to meet up with Bunnie. He's arranged living apartments for all the participants including myself and Sean Cross (formerly of Chumby) as mentors. The MIT Media Lab students are grad student designers and this is technically an (independent activities period (IAP)) study project.